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November 21st 2012 print

Peter Smith

Misogyny crosses the floor

The plague bacillus of Tony Abbott's sexism is so virulent, even otherwise sound male members of the Gillard cabinet are displaying signs of advanced infection. This time, unlike other matters, our Prime Minister cannot deny the evidence with a shrug


I thought this misogyny stuff directed at Tony Abbott was simply an enormous beat up perpetrated by a group of female political haranguers (albeit self-identifying as being extremely capable) led by She Who Claims To Have Done Nothing Wrong. Well I was wrong and I am man enough to admit it. Though perhaps I should say man or woman enough to admit it, for fear of implicitly reflecting poorly on the opposite sex?


It is now clear to me that a bout of misogyny is afoot and spreading like a contagious disease right into the heart of Labor Party ranks. Though, make no mistake, Tony Abbott is undoubtedly the source of its latest manifestation. Already Ms Plibersek, one of the aforementioned capable women, in her capacity as Minister for Health, is demanding that the spread of misogyny be contained by secluding and quarantining Mr Abbott.

The cause of the alarm is ex-trade union official, now federal minister, Brendan O’Connor. He is attacking, there is no other word for it, Julie Bishop; a woman no less. Leave aside the vacuity of the attack itself (she was a lawyer representing her client’s interests); that is not the point. Right or wrong, vacuous or substantive, he is out there flinging barbs at a woman.

I don’t know what’s in his past? Has he ever uttered the odd sexist remark; allowed any woman in his life to iron his shirts or do the house cleaning unaided; or, God forbid, sat by, sipping multiple glasses of red wine, while dishes were washed by the very same woman who had prepared his dinner? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but I do say that he has these and other questions to answer.

I looked at his website. There is a photograph of him walking with a couple with a baby in a pram. Guess who is pushing the pram? The woman, that’s who. It is sickening. Condemned, I say, by his own association with sexist behaviour, which he depicts without shame.

Of course, sometimes misogyny runs so deep that the potential perpetrator has no conscious appreciation of his ingrained tendencies, which can remain dormant for long periods. So a man can think he is a New Age metro-sexual but often sexism lurks, waiting for the opportune time and circumstances to show its ugly face. Moreover, it is a well known fact that overt misogyny on the part of others can be fatal in teasing out latent extreme sexism from the unwary man.

Mr O’Connor’s Otto Weininger alter ego, as it were, may well have remained hidden but for Abbott’s deplorable sexist behaviour. His reference to his wife’s greater ironing skills being particularly egregious. Inadvertently, the exposure of Abbott’s misogyny by She Who Specialises In Self-Exculpatory Denials might have triggered O’Connor’s fall from grace. And let’s not leave Mr Slipper out. The exposure of his behaviour might also have excited O’Connor’s latent proclivity.

In turn, O’Connor’s demonstrated misogyny might infect those around him. Ex-trade union official (what else?) MP Stephen Jones has already succumbed. Or did O’Connor succumb to Jones? It’s hard to figure out the direction of causation sometimes once misogyny takes hold of unreconstructed men.

Contagious misogyny bodes ill for breaking those yet unbroken glass ceilings. Though, gratifyingly, there isn’t a single sexist thought in my subconscious to be teased out nor, I imagine, in Malcolm Turnbull’s. And I am fairly confident of there being at least one or two other thoroughly modern men out there.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics