Firstly, a little context: I am a Brit who has returned to Australia after ten years in the UK. My two weeks here have convinced me that yes, life Sydney-side is pretty good, although it’s BLOODY expensive and my brother was less than thrilled about being called a ‘Pommie ‘c*nt’ during an innocent stroll about the suburbs. As Aussie citizens we are eligible to vote in the upcoming Australian Federal Election, an event which has revealed what is perhaps the least pleasant aspect of life Down Under, discounting the frankly bemusing immigration policy (‘flog ‘em and send ‘em home’) and the variety of poisonous and/or vicious wildlife. 'What’s that?' I hear you cry. Surely the land of Oz is a beers-on-the-beach utopia*?
Well, considering that Australia is generally perceived as pretty progressive, there is a shit-ton of sexism here. This isn’t just the overt, stereotypical Aussie ‘blokey’-‘oi-sheila-bring-me-another-beer’-type sexism, but is entrenched in Australian politics.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the 2013 Federal Election campaign. I will briefly mention that the comedy heights are many and varied in this electoral race. Cue entry, Messrs Kevin Rudd (Labor) and Tony Abbott (Liberal). The former described himself as a ‘happy little vegemite being PM’ (sweet) when he was actually acting as foreign minister, awks; on the other hand Abbott recently made world news in an unfortunate fashion, when he made a slip of the tongue that confused ‘repository’ with ‘suppository’, as in “no one can be a suppository of all wisdom”. If you’re going to make verbal slip-ups, Tony, it's probs best to avoid the rectal area. Jussayin’. Anyway, moving swiftly on, no gratuitous bottom jokes here. They would only hit a bum note and we prefer our readers prolapsing with laughter.
Rudd recently popped back into the picture after knocking out the country’s first female PM Julia Gillard, but more on this frontier-smashing (aka ‘BARREN’) woman in a moment. Rudd has served as Australian PM before; Abbott has not, but it wouldn’t be a great shock if he won the glitterball of Aussie politics come September 7th. There are a whole host of reasons why this looks to be a very very very baaaaad thing, but in particular there is Abbott’s truly dodgy sexist record (didgeridoo to replace the usual SEXISM KLAXON).
Let’s take something relatively innocuous to start. Comparing two Liberal candidates, Abbott told interviewers that “they're young, they're feisty...I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal”. In a spectacularly uncomfortable clip, Tonyboy’s daughter is shown wincing at the ‘daggy dad moment’ to end them all. If my dad said something similar, I wouldn’t just wince, I’d vom, so this girl is clearly a model of restraint and composure. Tony put his comment down to exuberance. But aside from this most recent toe-curling gaffe, (after all, female politicians do have to be hot - right?) it seems safe to say that Tony has plenty of form.
Here are a couple of the most delightful conversational snippets, which are a bit harder to dismiss as mere ‘exuberance’ (ew): “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons” (SHIT the man’s right, women are CHILD-BEARING MACHINES, it’s simple physiology!!); “every abortion is a tragedy...[it’s] the easy way out” (reproductive rights? Disgusting females) and lastly, “Gillard won’t lie down and die”. Whatta gentleman, that man; such a charming turn of phrase.
So now it’s perhaps time that ex-PM Julia Gillard enters the scene, as our dear Abbott has had plenty of illuminating things to say about her. Tony says he respects women, cos he has three daughters and a ‘strong’ lady-wife. Obviously women can only be respected in the context of of familial ties, which was perhaps the cue for T-dawg to suggest that Julia Gillard ‘make an honest woman of herself’ and marry the then-‘First Bloke’ (just get married already, ya harridan.) However, treatment of Gillard both by Abbott and the Australian media suggest a rather different reality. Respect? Not so much.
GILLARD ‘Ditch the witch’
You may think old Blighty’s political scene is rather bleak when it comes to getting gals on top (pun intended) but Australia’s first female Prime Minister only popped up in 2010, ousting Kev from his then-role as Labor leader. Three years later she is out of the top spot, removed in the same assassination style that took Rudd; she is now retiring from politics. Of course, most politicians don’t go into this game to make friends, but I doubt many men in a similar position to Gillard spend their time in the limelight being referred to as a ‘failed experiment’. She's a woman, guys, not a CIA mind-control programme.
Gillard made political mistakes, but was nonetheless fairly successful as PM. Australia did not just escape economic meltdown, but the economy grew by 14%**. She implemented massive reforms in educational policy, put Oz in the UN for the first time and introduced groundbreaking new disability legislation. Along the way however, she had to deal with a veritable shitstorm of sexism, both from the media and her political opponents; rational debate was eschewed in favour of vitriolic rhetoric.
Her Liberal opponents described her as ‘deliberately barren’ (WOMAN, YOU FORGET YOU ARE CHILD-BEARING MACHINE), while Abbott openly sneered at her ‘lack of experience’ in her parental policies. He was previously snapped posing next to signs reading ‘Ditch the witch’ or calling her a ‘bitch’. Other attacks on Gillard included the declaration that her partner must be gay and that her dad had died of shame.
In response to this onslaught, Gillard hit headlines when she gave this brilliant speech, in which she denounces Abbott for the sexist dinosaur that he is, quoting the following gem: ‘“what the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing....” [Abbott’s reference to the proposed carbon tax]. She responded “oh, thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.” Despite her strong defence against the sexism exhibited by Abbott and his colleagues, the underhand tactics persisted. Gillard’s treatment made international news earlier this year when a Liberal party fundraiser menu featured ‘Julia Gillard quail’ with ‘small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box’. Ah, classy tactic; make fun of the country’s PM with tacky references to her body, which literally portray her as a piece of meat. Good one, guys, haha!! The candidate behind this shabby ploy had his wrist slapped, but kept his seat - just a bit of harmless fun, innit?
Kevin Rudd denounced the shitty Liberal menu as “snide, dirty and, I think, a sexist trick”. (ya think?). When Abbott slipped up most recently with the sexy-sexy lady pollies quip, Rudd quickly demonstrated how fab and family-friendly he is: “my policy's pretty simple, that in modern Australia, neither sexism nor racism nor homophobia has any place whatsoever. I believe people look to our national leaders to set that sort of example.” Fine words indeed, Kev. It is a real pity that Labor candidates have a less-than squeaky clean record themselves, as is so often the case in the cess-pit of modern politics. When Abbott made his latest election blunder, ex-Labor leader Mark Latham was asked for his opinion on national radio. He said that Abbott had “bad judgment...it shows he has low standards”.
So far so good; advertising a candidate on the basis of looks rather than policies does seem rather poor judgement, amIright? Ho no. No, Abbott has low standards because Scott is actually a minger, mate. As the miserable Mark went on to explain, “I had a good look at Fiona Scott on page eight of The Australian today and she doesn't have sex appeal at all. She's a rather plain ordinary-looking woman and Abbott has exaggerated massively to try and win her vote among the blokes...Tony had the beer goggles on”.
Yeah, so that’s the issue here, silly me. Abbott shouldn’t be PM because he can’t pick a fine piece of ass out of his own party, the wally. Labor candidates’ stupidity doesn’t only extend to failing to recognise a sexist gaffe when it’s sitting on your face. Another Labor candidate, Jason Yat-sen Li, made his name back as a fresh-faced young’un when he denounced a model’s refusal to wear the classy slogan t-shirt ‘Give an Australian the Head Job’; he claimed she had “missed out” on “the chance to be the tits of the nation” (sweet aspiration indeed). Sigh.
So the message you might take away from this fun, fact-filled rollercoaster ride is that both sides appear pretty crap, hardly as progressive as we might expect. It doesn’t look like this will change, as the hideous 1950s throwback that is Tony Abbott appears ready to take up the reins come September. ‘Heavy Kevvy’ has floundered in the latest Australian polls and Abbott is lurking, ready to step in as next leader; I hope you can sense my joy.
Australian children still proudly sing the national anthem at school, perhaps because this country is relatively new and shiny. The song is called ‘Advance, Australia Fair’. With men like Arsey Abbott and Rudderless Kev at the helm, ‘advance’ is perhaps not the most appropriate lyric. Ladies of Oz, BE AFRAID. Do please excuse me while I jump down the nearest mine. And this being Australia, it isn’t far away.
*no beer allowed on the beach
**explains the mental prices here. $8 for a fucking sandwich?!?