There may be no more convenient means for the Australian reader to scorn International Women’s Day than by purchase of a book released this week. In an understanding based on published excerpts and recently broadcast opinions of its author, The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government looks set to advance the lot of my gender every bit as much as the vajacial — another expensive novelty sold to the persistent fear that women are powerfully filthy inside.
In the odd case you’ve not heard, journalist Niki Savva has released a book that claims that the intimacy between former prime minister Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin, his chief of staff, was sufficiently toxic to impede foreign policy, produce a spill and starve Margie Abbott of both affection and actual meals.
Look, I’m all for almost anything that enfeebles the Abbott legacy. And I’m opposed to almost everything that uncritically cheers for the Power Blouse of liberal feminism. But Savva’s document of Freudian terror is even too much for me. And this is not because the document, which seems to suggest that an entire nation was held hostage by an individual’s Moody Menstrual Calendar, is “bad for women”.
Lots of things are bad for women, and a sensationalistic biography that fails to engage directly with its subjects — and is for this, and other reasons, unlikely to ever emerge as a reliable history — is the least of our concerns.
It’s because Savva attributes the fault of an entire belief system to a single relationship. She deodorises the Coalition by insisting Credlin is responsible for its stink and, in so doing, gives history the equivalent of a vaginal facial.
This is not to diminish the personal injury done to Credlin, a potential future litigant who is perfectly right to be cheesed by claims that her smoky eye and Aerosmith hair were conscious weapons in a wanton war on reason. But it’s not to overplay it, either. Persons who hold great power can expect great scrutiny and they can also expect a good deal of this to be conducted from the gutter. There never was an age where petty scruples were not brought to bear on public figures — and to claim that it’s harder for girls is to have a very limited civic memory.
It’s just a little different for girls, and Savva, despite her apparently reasonable claims that it really didn’t matter if Abbott and Credlin were going at it in a COMCAR hammer-and-tongs (to be clear, the published evidence that they were is non-existent) mines this difference. In excerpts, Credlin emerges as the most cartoonish kind of siren, soaked in the spume of sexist centuries.
The author can claim all she wants that Australians have a right to learn of an alleged rapport between two prominent figures. But we actually learn from the book itself little about this rapport; we just find out there were party room fears it was a bad look. And from the book’s enthusiastic reception, we learn that there is a quaint, persistent faith that certain glamorous women are able to rule men with the merest Kegel flex. Both of which are things we already knew.
And these were things that Savva — who continues to defend her decision not to speak to either Credlin or Abbott on the curious grounds that they can speak to the charges anytime they want — knew were well established. Again, to be clear, my understanding of the book is derived entirely from released teasers and Savva’s own, rather prurient defence. But it seems to me that what we have here is a gynophobia of convenience.
Let’s not blame party-wide policy for the failure of the Abbott government, or for the more recent failings of Abbott’s successor. Let’s say that it wasn’t a political fault, but the fault of primordial female horror.
Psychoanalysis may have fallen very badly out of favour as a way to interpret the culture. But it seems to me as useful in a reading of Savva as it remains in reading fairytales. Social or political paralysis is not held to be the work of the social or political; it’s the work of some evil queen.
For the last few days, The Australian has been full of covert praise for Savva’s Snow White narrative. Whatever Savva’s personal intention has been in making these non-revelations of passionate political congress, her work suits the agenda of the paper very well. Not for a moment could the Oz be given to consider that the electorate has begun to lose faith in neoliberalism — an agenda concealed more artfully by the Mardi Gras-attending Turnbull than it was by the culturally conservative Abbott. Nah. Public dissatisfaction is all down to some poison vagina apple.
I am of the unfriendly view that anyone who worked as hard as Credlin did to re-establish social inequality in Australia merits no real feminist exertion. To spend too much time defending Credlin against sexism is special pleading. But to defend Savva’s scandal as history is just as wrongheaded. We have likely learned nothing more useful here than it’s still pretty easy to blame a chick. Even for centuries of now-faltering ideology.
*This article was originally published at Daily Review.