Ladies (of the Morrison Government) we need to talk: Why put up with it?

Ladies (of the Morrison Government) we need to talk: Why put up with it?

Liberal Party

When will you rethink your services in support of the patriarchy, and faith in benevolent sexism?

It’s not even serving the goals that experts believe motivates you to subscribe to this belief system.

Just look at Senator Jane Hume, who earlier this week learned that her Liberal colleagues referred to her as “indulgent”, “bizarre” — and the classic go-to slurs men opt for when they want to put a woman down — “mad” and “unhinged”.

Her crime? Wait for it… she openly talked about the challenges of juggling a high-profile career in politics with motherhood.

This latest episode follows reports that Hume was subject to standover tactics and had her pre-selection challenged ahead of the 2018 leadership spill, with some going so far as to demand that her vote in the leadership ballot be monitored or shown to others.

Honestly, it’s so predictable it’s boring.

And that’s why I’m wholly uninterested in unpacking the behaviour of Liberal Party bully boys here today.

To me, the far more interesting question is why some women in the Liberal Party, including Hume, continue to put up with it — and serve a party that clearly does not serve them.

For years I have watched quite a few women in the Liberal Party engage in what experts call “benevolent” sexism.

“Benevolent” sexism, as opposed to “hostile” sexism, is the belief that women should be respected and protected by men. Benevolent sexists prefer a society that is patriarchal because they believe that it is the natural order of things.

But in return for men’s position at the apex of that order, they are expected to bestow “respect” and “protection” to the women lower down the food chain, in particular those who actively and vocally act to prop up the patriarchy.

“Hostile” sexism, by comparison, is more overt and sometimes violent.

So why do some women subscribe to this way of thinking, rather than grab a protest sign and take to the streets, as so many women in Australia and around the world have done in recent times, demanding a fundamental re-ordering — or “smashing” — of the very patriarchy these female benevolent sexists work in service of?

There are a few reasons.

According to research published in The Australian Journal of Psychology, some women feel supported by the patriarchy rather than restricted by it.  The lead author of that study, Helena Radke, has said that they subscribe to what is called “social dominance orientation” and perceive women’s lower status position as legitimate. The female benevolent sexist is comfortable viewing men as her protector, and she believes she benefits from doing so.

What’s more, according to the study, women adopt a benevolent sexist attitude because they believe it affords them protection from more hostile forms of sexism and its detrimental consequences.

“They find themselves in sexist environments which would severely punish women for challenging men’s dominance over women,” according to Hadke.

Sound like the factional playground that is Liberal Party politics? Why yes, I believe it does.

In Hume’s case, I have watched in disbelief as she appeared on Q&A in 2018 and said she opposed a pre-selection quota for women because they should simply “work harder” to get what they want. “Don’t get bitter, get better,” was Hume’s rather interesting feminist mantra. (I’m not sure I saw that on any of the signs at the Melbourne Women’s March I attended back in March of this year, but I digress.)

And then after *that* infamous 2020 budget, which journalist and advocate Georgie Dent pointed out was the biggest spending budget in history but only allocated roughly a third of 1 percent of its funds for women’s economic security, Hume took to social media to scold Dent, telling her (with a straight face) that the budget wasn’t “gendered”. The next year she and the whole Morrison government conceded that the budget was indeed “gendered” and re-instated the long-lost Women’s Budget Statement. Interesting.

In Hume’s defence, hers was not the most egregious example of a female Liberal benevolent sexist sent out to defend the indefensible. That honour goes to Senator Anne Ruston, who somehow justified the budget’s disproportionate focus on male dominated hard hat projects like infrastructure because women will “enjoy” driving on all those roads.

I could go on about Hume and refer to the time she gave a speech to the Women in Super Summit, also in 2020, and effectively blamed women’s economic (in)security on the fact that they are financially illiterate. But I think I’ve made my point.

My main message is not just to Hume, but to all the women in the Liberal Party who subscribe to benevolent sexism. If you believe it offers you some benefit or, at the very least, some protection from more hostile forms of sexism from your peers, you are, sadly, mistaken.

And if this way of thinking isn’t even meeting your individual, selfish goals, maybe it’s time to consider if you’d be better off joining “the sisterhood”.

Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica

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