The Degenderisation of Politics.

Gender matters, from the parliament to the playground.

(Sometimes the parliament is a playground, but I digress.)

Yet commentators continue to brush off claims of sexism and misogyny as “simplistic”.

In the Weekend Australian, Angela Shanahan called Tony Abbott’s problem with women a “repetitive myth”. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/women-are-not-fools-at-the-ballot-box-they-vote-for-policies-not-a-leaders-personality/story-fn562txd-1226461949947

She accused Julia Gillard of “cleverly using charges of sexism… as a way of wriggling out of any real trouble”.

But both leaders are viewed through the prism of gender, in the same way boys and girls are stereotyped in the sandpit.

According to Newspoll, one of the reasons women voted for Julia Gillard to become Prime Minister was to create a precedent.

It was my main motivation.

Sitting on the lounge, with tears in my eyes, I turned to my five-year-old daughter and said, “See? One day, you could be the leader of this country”.

Labor’s popularity with women has grown over the past 15 years because of the number of female candidates and strong policies on health and education, according to Newspoll’s Martin O’Shannessy.

In 1996, 41% of males and 40% of females planned to vote for Labor. Now, it’s 31% of women 28% of men.

It’s the opposite for the Coalition, with 49% of males and 44% of females saying they would vote for Tony Abbott.

“He’s suffered a bit lately, when it comes to women,” Mr. O’Shannessy says.

Overall, women are more dissatisfied with the Opposition Leader, and men with the Prime Minister.

You only have to listen to the language of talkback radio to understand the influence of gender.

Julia Gillard is a “bitch” who should be “thrown out to sea in a chaff bag” because she’s “destroying the joint”.

Every time I’m on air at Radio 2ue, I’m shocked by the number of men who ring up and start a sentence with “That bl*#dy woman…”.

Meanwhile, women’s websites are full of Tony’s comments about mothers doing the ironing, virginity being a gift, and abortion as a national tragedy. http://thehoopla.com.au/trouble-tony/

Angela Shanahan says it’s insulting to suggest women are so emotionally driven that we’ll vote on “likability”.

But politics is part popularity contest.

Former Howard Government Minister Amanda Vanstone is wrong when she writes that Abbott’s problem is “not his unpopularity, but his team”. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/abbotts-big-problem-is-not-his-unpopularity-but-his-team-20120902-2588g.html

All of us – women and men – vote on a complex range of issues including policy, leadership, personality, and gender.

The most comprehensive research in this area has been done in the United States.

After a 72-year struggle, women gained the right to vote in 1920.

They don’t take it for granted: Research by the Center for American Women and Politics shows women cast between four and seven million more votes than men in recent elections.

Historically, women were more conservative than men.

But voting patterns changed in the early 1980s when Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice presidential candidate.

Then, the Democrats made a foolish assumption: That women would always vote for a woman over a man.

The Republicans under Ronald Reagan won by focusing on economic interests, targeting working women.

This trend is being mirrored in Australia.

While gender played a part in the election of Julia Gillard, “The latest polling shows she doesn’t have any ‘gold card’ with women,” Martin O’Shannessy says. “Now, she’s being judged on her policies.”

He adds, “I hope we’re seeing a degenderisation of politics.”

While this is admirable, it is unachievable.

Studies show journalists are more likely to address the personal characteristics of women candidates, and the policy platforms of male candidates.

Even more worrying is research done in Australia on 17,000 people vying for federal seats.

It found, for no reason other than gender, a female candidate got an average of 12,500 votes fewer than her male counterpart.

Really, we’re pushing shit uphill.

In the playground with my son and daughter on the weekend, I overheard a parent telling their young boy to “Stop acting like such a girl”, because he was scared of climbing the ladder to the slippery dip.

“What?” I felt like screaming. “A girl like Margaret Thatcher, who sent troops to the Falklands? A girl like Angela Merkel, guiding Europe through its financial crisis? Perhaps a girl like Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State? Or a girl like Julia Gillard, pushing tough legislation through in a minority government?

We need to talk about the g-word.

Assumptions about gender play a conscious, and unconscious, role in our decision-making.

Acknowledging discrimination exists is an important step in bringing about its end.