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Federal

Jul 28, 2010

Cox: the tricky gender issue facing Gillard

The PM was pitching her virtue as a highly financial value-driven decision maker, who was there to protect the hard-earned tax paid by decent hard-working taxpayers. Given the two programs in question are from the doubly soft areas of welfare and women, support for them also fits the inappropriate stereotype of women as more caring politicians.

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I have just listened to Julia Gillard’s media conference on the leaks. It adds another dimension to Bernard Keane’s excellent analysis of the media campaign against Gillard, the woman. She was putting herself up as the tough, no-nonsense pragmatist who clearly assessed every policy proposal on its affordability.

This approach therefore made a virtue of her questioning the costs versus benefits of the pension rise and paid parental leave. She therefore acknowledged that she was questioning if they were value for money. She denied categorically that voter tendencies were part of this discussion.

It was an interesting approach given the gender undertones of much of this campaign.

The PM was pitching her virtue as a highly financial value-driven decision maker, who was there to protect the hard-earned tax paid by decent hard-working taxpayers. Given the two programs in question are from the doubly soft areas of welfare and women, support for them also fits the inappropriate stereotype of women as more caring politicians.

The attacks were obviously designed to add to the “evidence” that Gillard is in no way feminine or feminist. What could be worse than a women not supporting the sisterhood’s one major political victory or responding to needs of the many older single women on pensions?

Gillard’s response was very clearly designed to avoid the trap by saying she obviously supported the need to address these issues but only if they passed the value-for-money test. This ultimate financial bottom line decision maker model of policy is one many feminists, myself included, claim undervalue fairness and social needs. However, I do not think that women supporting such views should be treated differently to men who do.

The danger is that the mix of the attacks on her femininity, and now on her presumed feminism, could create an unfair set of political risks. I am very concerned that women may judge her performance and criticise it just because she is a woman saying it. If the PM’s stance on prioritising financial criteria turns off some women voters because they come from a woman, then she will be unfairly judged.

All of this shows that gender is a very difficult issue to factor in because it is still a relative rarity. Not giving extra points just for being a woman is one side of the equation and not adding extra judgements for not acting like a stereotype is another. But as I said in an earlier article, for voters who find little party based difference between policies or performance, gender may be a decider.

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