ScoMo’s masculinity becoming toxic to his brand

 

The past month has been so spectacularly bad for the Morrison government that what was impossible on New Year's Day is suddenly a real chance.

Yes, the Albanese Labor opposition is again competitive through no real work of its own.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins's allegations that a colleague raped her in a parliamentary office would be enough to repel some female voters. And other sexual assault allegations against federal Liberal Attorney-General Christian Porter could increase the number of fleeing Liberal women.

In isolation, the accusations might have been made without too much damage to the Liberal brand. But when added to a perception the Liberal Party has handled the accusations poorly they potentially mean a female exodus from the Liberal voting base on a scale never before seen.

It still surprises many that a "gender gap" even exists in Australian politics. Not only is there a marked difference in the number of women in the parliaments around Australia compared to men, but also in the way men and women make their vote choice.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison won in 2019 partly because of his strong, masculine image. It would be ironic if he lost in 2022 because of that same persona. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison won in 2019 partly because of his strong, masculine image. It would be ironic if he lost in 2022 because of that same persona. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

 

During the First World War, men overwhelmingly supported the conservative parties to bolster conscription while women turned to Labor in opposition to sending their men off to war.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, women gravitated to the urbane Robert Menzies as Liberal PM while men opted for an earthy Labor party.

Occasionally the gap between women and men's party preferences closes. In 1996, the sexes voted for John Howard's Liberals in equal measure. But, just two years later, men deserted Howard over the GST before the sexes again endorsed the Liberals equally in 2001.

By 2004 and 2007, slightly more women than men again voted Liberal - a position reversed in 2010 when just 42 per cent of women voted Liberal compared to 45 per cent of men. It was then commentators alleged the Liberals had a "woman problem".

Any perception of an alienation of women wasn't helped when Liberal leader Tony Abbott urged "housewives" to consider Labor's carbon tax "as they do the ironing".

Somehow it was inevitable Labor PM Julia Gillard would make that famous "misogyny" speech in 2012.

 

It was inevitable that Julia Gillard would make that famous “misogyny” speech in 2012.
It was inevitable that Julia Gillard would make that famous “misogyny” speech in 2012.

 

By 2013 and 2016, the gender gap was still seeing more men than women vote Liberal - a gap that grew to a chasm in 2019 when 48 per cent of men and just 38 per cent of women voted for the blokey ScoMo.

The Higgins and Porter cases uncover far more than an entitled masculine culture in Australian politics (no one should assume this problem is the Liberals' alone). It also reveals that internal party processes when handling sexual assault allegations are woefully inadequate. It seems no one wants to talk about it if it means losing votes.

But that's precisely what occurs when voters even suspect such crimes are being swept under the carpet. That's why Morrison quite rightly appointed an independent inquiry into how sexual harassment allegations are handled around Parliament.

But Morrison's refusal to set up an independent investigation into the Porter allegations is beginning to look like an own-goal. The PM says he will not give in to "mob rule", especially since police have closed their own investigation. But oppositions and pressure groups call for inquiries all the time.

 

 

The critical point is that whether or not it is legally, ethically or even morally correct to resist an independent inquiry, the PM's reluctance risks alienating (especially) women voters who all share one major concern - the need to feel safe in every workplace from a minister's office to the builders' worksite.

The reality is that sexual harassment of women at work is not ideological. It's not about quotas for women in parliament or equity in male-dominated professions (although these reforms do mitigate the problem).

No, combating sexual assault is a human issue that transcends the party-political divide. The problem is that too many men in political parties fail to understand this. Indeed, many blokes reading this will comment that it's merely a function of feminism, adding that men get harassed, too. But do men feel powerless in their work space?

Tragically, many women do feel powerless working for creepy, "handsy" male bosses and colleagues, and any male politician denying this reality risks the support of women comprising half of any electorate.

Morrison won in 2019 partly because of his strong, masculine image. It would be ironic if he lost in 2022 because of that same persona.

Dr Paul Williams is a senior lecturer at Griffith University

 

Originally published as ScoMo's masculinity becoming toxic to his brand


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