On Saturday I had breakfast with a friend I have known most of my life. We went to school and university together and she is now a scientist turned public servant living in Canberra.
We discussed the ongoing drama of the Labor Party. My friend lamented the inevitability of a change of government. Although my friend is a smart, strong woman who would undoubtedly define herself as a feminist, she didn’t vote for the government in the last election just because the party leader is a woman. Like many women I know who voted Labor in the last election, the gender card had very little to do with it.
It wasn’t even about misogyny, and it won’t be again when we vote this year. It’s insulting for political commentators to suggest women are that simplistic in our judgment.
Also, there are not just two types of women, as suggested by Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine yesterday. Women who would rather speak with men are not necessarily men’s women. It’s not that black and white. Women are not either flirtatious with men or supportive of women. Miranda was clearly making a point to skewer PM Gillard as a man’s woman. I have no idea how our PM conducts herself in mixed company but why should she have to prefer the company of women because she is a woman?
At the odd dinner party, I have been known to slip into the kitchen with my husband and the rest of the men to discuss politics and the economy. Does that make me a man’s woman? I would argue not. I love the company of my girlfriends. I have made a career of supporting women. But I prefer to ignore the gender divide if there is a better discussion to be had. I manage a business during my working week and so have things in common with some of the men. Our Prime Minister may be a woman but as she is running a country with a majority male leadership team then perhaps it seems reasonable that she would spend time consulting some men. When her time in office comes to an end I will be keen to see if the women in the Cabinet and Outer Ministry accuse Gillard of excluding them. The strong public support that she receives from women like Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong and Kate Lundy would suggest the opposite.
When we head to the polls this year my friends and I will be voting for the party we believe will do the best job of leading this country. We care less about gender and more about character, smarts and policies. Which is why my friend had her head in her hands at what she saw as the inevitability of a change of government following the ‘leadership challenge that wasn’t’ debacle.
The Liberal Party policies on industrial relations, climate change, women’s health and asylum seekers have characterized Tony Abbott during his political career. My friend cares less that he may or may not be a misogynist and more that he is extremely politically conservative. She doesn’t care that he’s not a woman but is concerned that his own party appears to have advised him to keep his mouth shut lest he stick his foot in it by saying what he really means.
“How can we encourage Malcolm Turnbull to challenge for the Liberal leadership?” she asked.
Do you care more about gender or character in the running of the country?