Last month, the “angry woman effect” shook up the status quo in elections across the US. The trend is set to continue, with experts predicting 2018 will be the year of the woman. As sexual assault and harassment allegations hit closer to home, will Australian women follow their lead? Kristine Ziwica takes a look.
A little over a year after Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” video leaked and he was, despite it, elected to the highest office of the land, a record number of women were inspired to run for office; others carefully considered how they would cast their vote. The wave-upon-wave of further sexual harassment and assault allegations that culminated in the “Weinstein moment” added further fuel to the fire.
Those who asked whether the Million Women March and “hash tag activism” like #MeToo would really change anything got their answer when US voters went to the polls. The “angry woman effect” disrupted the status quo of US politics.
Women take to US politics in record numbers
This year, 20,000 women registered their interest in running for office with Emily’s List, a US based political action committee that recruits, supports and funds pro-choice women -– the biggest surge of interest in the organisation’s three-decade history.
Among the many individual woman’s victories that had a certain poetic justice, there was the story of New Jersey resident Ashley Bennett, a first time candidate who defeated Republican John Carmon for a seat on the Atlantic County Board. Carman had shared a meme on Facebook during the Women’s March asking whether the protest would be “over in time for them to cook dinner.” Outraged, Bennett decided to run – and won.
Looking ahead to the 2018 US elections, the trend is set to continue. Many have predicted 2018 will be the year of the woman. Already, 40 women are planning to run for governor, and 353 women have filed to run for the House of Representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics – that’s more women running for Congress than at any other point in American history. Both trends raise the possibility of electing more women in the US than ever before.
In July, the Pew Research Center found that nearly 60 percent of women said they were paying more attention to politics, compared to just 46 percent of men, and Democratic women were more likely to have increased their focus compared to Republican women.
Will the events of 2018 provide the spark in Australia?
Here in Australia, it’s not yet clear if the full force of women’s anger will disrupt the status quo. But as the first allegations of serial sexual predation by a high profile Australian media personality, Don Burke, are published and with veteran journalist Tracey Spicer promising there’s more to come, it’s quite possible that Australian politics may yet feel the ripple effects of women’s anger as allegations hit closer to home.
And arguably, Australia’s appalling track record on gender equality in general, falling 15th to 46th in a decade in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Equality Index, ranking 50th in the world for equal representation of men and women in Parliament, the fairly intractable pay gap, the completely unacceptable rates of violence against women with rates of sexual violence actually increasing, the high cost of childcare, and the fact that women retire with, on average, half the super of men has made for a combustible situation.
Will the events of the next few months provide the spark?
We know there is a trend towards greater engagement of women in Australian politics – they participated in the same sex marriage plebiscite in greater numbers than men in almost every age bracket, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Australian political leaders failing to read the room
Yet, it’s fair to say that many of our current political leaders are, as the expression goes, failing to “read the room” and ponder the very real possibly that angry woman could change the political landscape.
To be honest, at times it feels like women are being mocked.
We asked, but still can’t explain why the Minister for Women crossed the floor to support Cory Bernardi’s anti-abortion bill https://t.co/Ava0IMa6A7
— Women’s Agenda (@WomensAgenda) November 20, 2017
In the last few weeks alone, we had the Minister for Women cross the floor to support Cory Bernardi’s anti-abortion bill, John Alexander the Liberal candidate for the Bennelong by-election forced to apologize for rape jokes, and Milo Yiannopoulos, who has described feminism as cancer and denied the existence of the pay gap, invited to speak at an event held at Parliament House.
And then there’s my personal favourite. Last Friday, I was playing along to everyone’s favourite game, Where are Michaela Cash’s Advisors?, when I read an article written by Buzzfeed’s political correspondent Alice Workman. In addition to noting investigators inability to locate Cash’s former media advisor, David DeGaris, who is alleged to have tipped off media about the union raid, Workman also noted the recent departure of another advisor Simon Berger, who resigned to take up a position as Deputy Director of the Liberal Party.
While Workman wondered if this was further evidence of tumult in Cash’s office, I couldn’t help but focus on another part of her report and ask, what on earth is a man with Berger’s history doing as a senior advisor to the Minister for Women. What “history” you ask?
Berger made news in 2012 after hosting a Sydney University Young Liberals dinner where Alan Jones said former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard’s father died of shame. He also arranged the auction of a jacket, signed by Jones, which was made from a chaff bag. Jones had previously said on his radio show that Gillard should be put inside a chaff bag and dumped at sea. Berger voluntarily resigned as the government relations manager for Woolworths following the Jones scandal.
If you, like me, waited with bated breath to see if our political leaders could possibly top the tone deaf antics of a week in September, when Tony Abbot shared a photo of himself at a young Liberals meeting awash in a sea of young white men, Queensland LNP MP Luke Howarth responded with “that’s f***ed “ when asked about the lack of female representation in the LNP, and his colleague Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly tried to mop up the mess only to say women breastfeeding in Parliament was “over the top”, you didn’t have to wait long.
I can’t help but wonder how long our political leaders can continue to insult the intelligence of women voters before there are consequences. Earlier this year, veteran lobby correspondent Katherine Murphy asked in the Guardian what would happen if “nasty women and others of the national morality play” developed the collective courage to fight their corner.
Recent events in the US have shown us what that might look like. With a sexual harassment and assault reckoning in Australia coinciding with the timing of numerous state and Federal elections and women’s increased engagement in politics, things might just get interesting.