“There’s no sign of improvement in my view, certainly not online or on Twitter.”
These were the words of former MP Craig Emerson yesterday, when asked about the treatment of women in Parliament since Julia Gillard’s prime ministership eight years ago.
His opinion might be blunt, but it’s sure as hell not wrong.
If you need some evidence, turn your gaze toward the weekend’s breaking news. No sooner had Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer announced her resignation from Parliament, than a barrage of abuse swept across social media with the Minister labelled everything from an “ugly bitch” to a “dog”– a slew of vitriolic, degrading comments about her personal life and family following suit.
Just some of the vitriol thrown at Kelly O’Dwyer today. Reluctant to give these appalling people a platform but this is a disgrace and as bad as the abuse Julia Gillard had to deal with. #auspol pic.twitter.com/QNnYPPqvRm
— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) January 19, 2019
Irrespective of whichever side of politics you sit on, Kelly O’Dwyer is a woman who has dedicated a decade of her life to serving the Australian public.
To our knowledge, she hasn’t abused tax payer funding, been caught up in sex scandals, corruption or allegations of violence– claims which sadly can’t be made by a number of her male colleagues.
In fact, by all accounts, Kelly O’Dwyer has done her job honourably and well. She’s certainly furthered the agenda for gender equity during her tenure as Minister for Women (of course aided by the fact she’s actually female) and been a trailblazer as the first woman to hold a treasury portfolio– all with two small children.
Yet, even if she had been the most irredeemably incompetent member of Parliament, she still wouldn’t deserve the sickening and patently gendered abuse she’s been subjected to over the past three days. And it’s time we paid attention to this trolling, because it has incredibly real consequences outside of the obvious trauma that Kelly and her family are likely going through right now.
For starters, why would any woman put her hand up for a role in politics when this is the experience?
Research from Plan International last year, found school-aged girls were reluctant to pursue a career in politics, fearing they’d be treated unfairly. It’s not surprising this is the perception.
Remember Julia Gillard? Our first female Prime Minister? If anyone deserved respect, she did. And yet she stood there, month after month in leadership, taunted by the opposition and public; branded as a ‘barren’ ‘bitch’, ‘ witch‘ ‘slut’ and subjected to numerous death threats.
Of course, it doesn’t help when politicians join this very ugly chorus. Only last year, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was forced to take legal action after Independent Senator David Leyonjhelm made a series of public comments about her sex life.
Right there, on the floor of parliament, Leyonjhelm suggested Hanson-Young “stop shagging men” amid a debate on legislation seeking to prevent violence against women. The irony knows no bounds.
Too often we hear the same baseless rhetoric that women in parliament lack thick enough skins for the game. When former Liberal Minister Julia Banks quit the party last year she was accused by some colleagues of being too weak for the rigours of political life.
She wasn’t at all. She was tougher than most.
But she did acknowledge in her resignation speech that many would seek to silence her for calling out the government’s obvious problem with women: “Often when good women ‘call out’ or are subjected to bad behaviour– the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones; the liar, the troublemaker, emotionally unstable or weak,” she said.
The inescapable truth? Women who disrupt the status quo should prepare for a direct spray of misogynistic venom to follow. Our standards for female leaders are still set unimaginably high and our treatment of them is unimaginably low.
And if it doesn’t stop soon, we’ll not only lose more of the good ones, we’ll stop others from throwing their hat in the ring altogether.