Whether it was the ALP’s conference declaration on female MPs or a staffer who just couldn’t stand the sight of another party room Pirelli calendar, something gendered happened this week in the Liberal Party. Federal MP Sharman Stone called on her party, whose lady-presence has dwindled in the Senate, to positively preselect female candidates and uttered the dirty word “quota”. Christopher Pyne, who kick-started this round of public conversation, echoed the sentiments of the PM and of every other neoconservative when he said that he “did not believe” in quotas. He does, of course, believe in the principle of merit, which holds that equality in all things, including parliamentary representation, is there for the taking. In other words, women face no obstacles other than themselves en route to power, and Pyne suggests “other measures” for equal participation.
What these “measures” might include — perhaps deportment class for interested ladies? — is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that it is not intrinsically Liberal for Stone to suggest, as she did, that it is always a “miracle” when women manage to grab a little power. She’s correct, of course. In the Liberal Party and many other professional and political realms, most women must miraculously dispose of obstacles that do not appear before most men. You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far, etc. But to concede that the social has any real impact in the face of Personal Striving should be just as much of an impediment to Liberal Party success as actually being a woman.
Stone may be factually correct, but that doesn’t mean she’s right, and it certainly doesn’t mean that she, a member of a party to which the idea of a prevailing “natural” equality is foundational, gets to have it both ways. If she believes that the struggle of women for equal economic and political participation is not something that is up to the individual lady but should instead be the focus of institutional reform, she might want to think about switching parties. Pyne, whose belief that the possibility of upward mobility is located exclusively in the individual, is the one holding true to Liberal values here.
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The member for Murray needs to shut it if she cares for her party at all. This kind of thinking, after all, is a slippery leftist slope. It starts with urging an institutional response to one social problem, and it never ends. If we concede that working women need even more than indexed allowance for childcare in those “precious few first months of a baby’s life” (like the following 200 months have less financial value) in order to achieve equality, what next? We may be forced to admit that the unemployed are not undeserving and that Aboriginal Australians are not entirely responsible for the theft of their own land.
Popular feminist analyses currently have it that Stone and those who join her in the bid for quotas are doing the just thing. Which is as may be, but for a card-carrying Liberal, it’s also absolutely potty. And I say this not just because I personally oppose any growth to a poisonous party of stump-dumb ideologues whose history has been as inimical to my gender as it has been to all socially marginalised groups save for Jesuits. I say this because you don’t get to buy a hate cake and cram your pie-hole with it, too.
You can say all you wish that anything that “advances” the “cause” for women is good. And, publications like The Guardian do so routinely. The argument goes that success for one woman is success for all women and that to diminish the pleadings of, say, Peta Credlin for a less hostile environment is un-feminist. Even if one woman, the chief of staff, advises a man who upchucks hideously myopic and sexist policy that impacts a majority of women
Of course, it is true that Credlin is subject, as Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has recently been subject, to a gendered kind of critique. And of course it is true that both women must face an antique, if mannerly, brand of sexism within their party. Call the whaambulance and administer 10 CCs of “you’re a flagrant hypocrite” immediately. You don’t get to sob about sexism in a party whose only means of policy address to women is to help them have babies. It’s like suing the company that made the “Cookies and Lard” ice cream you ate two litres of for making you feel ill. All the warning you needed was on the label.
Equality feminists will drone on and on about how every individual success for women somehow translates to a win for all women. Neocon women will absurdly continue to demand equal representation in organisations openly committed to quashing the possibility of economic equality. The individual will continue to flourish at the centre of all public discourse and somehow, “women” will remain the sole locus for very mild conversation about how social complexes can sometimes, you know, just a bit, impact individual life. Nothing will change in these discursive terms, and we will all be forced to hear “You Go Girl” as another argument is begun and ended in a world that agrees, even if it chooses not to admit it, with the merit principle of Christopher Pyne.