When people like Andrew Bolt are speaking out against women becoming collateral damage in the battle for political point scoring, Kristine Ziwica has reason to feel optimistic about change.
Liberal Senator Michaela Cash has done it again. I’m sure I don’t need to rehash the most recent episode that has led many to lay head in hands in utter despair that a senior woman in this government, a woman who until recently held the position of Minister for Women, cares so little about women. You all know what I’m on about.
“Weary” is the word I have seen commonly used in the media and on social media.
“Despite four decades of second-wave feminism, sexual liberation, no fault divorce, #MeToo, #TimesUP and Harvey Weinstein, the old double standard is flying high,” feminist commentator Jane Caro offered to articulate the precise nature of her “weary” ennui.
But while I appreciate where that’s coming from, I’m not quite sure “weary”, defined as feeling or showing extreme tiredness or a reluctance to see or experience any more of something, quite describes the collective sentiment and response.
Though I am indeed pretty tired of this kind of thing and would love to see the back side of it, I feel quite animated by my desire to articulate that this behaviour simply cannot stand. I’m not sure the Oxford dictionary can offer a tidy word to sum up this feeling.
Let’s go with mightily pissed off.
Fuelling this initial rage was the knowledge that this most recent outburst from Cash was not an isolated incident in politics. Women are fast becoming pawns in a political sleeze match, and that’s just not okay.
But the thing that has prevented me from going over the weary cliff edge is the knowledge that I am not alone in this sentiment — the feeling that this cannot stand — and that’s very important.
This insight was facilitated by a most unlikely, but it seems increasingly sympathetic, feminist ally Andrew Bolt. I kid you not.
“There is a pattern here, the leaking, this misuse of state power to crush the government’s enemies,” he said on yesterday’s Bolt Report. Bolt then proceeded to point out that the metaphorical grenade used to lob over the fence of a political opponent usually involves women as collateral damage.
Look how the confidential complaint of sexual harassment filed against former Deputy Leader Barnaby Joyce was leaked and then the woman’s named leaked against her will, to, as Bolt suggests, “add pressure on Joyce to quit, as the prime Minister wanted.”
Bolt shook his head with disapproval, “Another woman, just trashed.” Yes indeed.
After the events of the last few weeks, why would any woman who has experienced sexual harassment in politics come forward? Or why would any woman decide to work in politics full stop if her credibility can be called into question by virtue of her gender.
Also this week, we had a cautionary tale about what life is like for women in politics who become political pawns. Monica Lewinsky penned a moving essay for Vanity Fair timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Starr investigation.
In the essay, Lewinsky reveals that she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress as a result of being “publicly outed and ostracised”.
She writes about how in the #MeToo era she has come to realise that her relationship with Bill Clinton, though consensual, was a “gross abuse of power” — a view many are now taking from a different cultural vantage point.
And she writes about the double standards, the scrutiny and the shame that she was subjected to for years, while Clinton was able to be re-habilitated into public life, almost excused as a “naughty boy” or “absent father”.
Writing about an era in American politics when fact, rumour, sex, scandal and extreme partisanship dove-tailed to ruin a young woman’s life, Lewinsky writes that, “We watched the wholesale dissection of a young, unknown woman—me—who, due to legal quarantine, was unable to speak out on her own behalf.”
Sound familiar? Sound like something we want to replicate here in Australia as we navigate a new era when the “private” lives of politicians come under further scrutiny?
So here’s why I’ve landed well short of the weary cliff edge. Despite Cash’s outburst and the concerns it raises, and despite the fact that this is part of a worrying pattern, I am heartened by the swift response from women in Parliament (and yes Andrew Bolt), who quickly jettisoned any concerns I have that we have failed to learn the lessons of the past or may embark on a similar path.
Whichever side of politics you sit on, Penny Wong, who promptly marched into the chamber armed with an icy stare to extract an apology (I think she might well have gotten one just from that stare alone) did us all proud.
Andrew Bolt, pointing out the pattern and expressing his disgust when women are “trashed” as collateral damage in political point scoring did us all proud.
Maybe, just maybe, we need not be weary. Perhaps this week has provided evidence that something has truly shifted, and though we may not agree on much in politics, we all agree women must not be pawns. It would be nice to have the Prime Minister add his voice to the many on all sides of politics who have now expressed this view.
Hands up if you want to deliver that particular #MeToo memo to Minister Cash, if the Prime Minister is unwilling?