Women are no longer disadvantaged

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott greet each other, er, somewhat awkwardly.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott greet each other, er, somewhat awkwardly. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Last week, the only thing more ubiquitous than the heady cocktail of fury and shame experienced by most of the nation was the phrase ‘gender wars’. If nothing else, the most impressive thing about these two words is their ability to carry some enormously evocative power despite the not insignificant disadvantage of being almost entirely devoid of meaning.

The gender wars began, you may recall, when the Prime Minister delivered a speech to a group called Women for Gillard. In this address she suggested that ‘under an Abbott government, women would be banished’, a phrase which turned out to be the oratory equivalent of assassinating an Austrian Archduke.

This, as it turns out, was not the smartest thing to suggest. Not just because it was hyperbolic, or because saying ‘banished’ makes you sound like you’re addressing a Renaissance Fair, but because in suggesting this, the Prime Minister pissed off Julie Bishop something fierce, and she took to talk shows nationwide to let her ire be known.

Julie Bishop in action during question time.

Julie Bishop in action during question time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

And fair enough too - despite the fact that there are fewer women on the Coalition front and back benches, it’s still not a little galling to claim that this constitutes a banishment. Bishop was well within her right to appear on television and correct the record, pointing to any number of capable women in the Coalition. Only that’s not what she did at all.


Blanketed as we were under the fog of war, distracted by the heat of battle, Julie Bishop managed to say some pretty extreme things last week without being held to account for them. No, really.

Here’s what she had to say on Sky News’ AM Agenda when asked about the PM’s comments:

I can say this about the Coalition women, every single one of them  was preselected on merit - they've earned their right to be there. Every single Labor woman is there because of gender, because Labor have a quota system.

I’m sorry what? Whatever your views on Affirmative Action, this is not how you talk about it. Bishop just responded to the accusation that there weren’t enough women in the Coalition by essentially saying  ‘yeah, well all of yours are shithouse anyway’. And because why? Quotas? It takes a very special kind of nastiness to assume that the presence of a quota must mean the absence of merit.

It’s  reductive and simplistic and is also profoundly disrespectful of any other beneficiary of Affirmative action. 

Bishop was also the guest on Meet The Press five days later, she repeated the comments, and went a step further. Here’s an interaction with Hugh Riminton.

HR: Are women in Australia disadvantaged by their gender?

JB: I don’t think so, when you see that we have a female Governor General, when the PM is a female -  women can achieve whatever they want in life.

Now, there’s an obvious difference between refusing to be seen as a victim and refusing to engage with reality. For Julie Bishop to suggest that women are not at a disadvantage in Australia is to ignore some pretty unassailable truths backed up by some pretty unassailable numbers. Why not peruse, Deputy Opposition Leader, Greg Jericho’s Wonderful Emporium of Entirely Depressing Graphs?

It’s extremely unlikely that women faced with a 17.5% pay gap look to the fact that we have a female Governor General for comfort or as a sign of no disadvantage. Bishop pressed on:

The laws are there to give women opportunities. We have to change attitudes…I’m not saying everything is equal (author’s note: yes you are, that’s what it means when you say there’s no disadvantage) I’m saying that they’ve broken through the so-called glass ceiling. There are women in very powerful positions in this country.

Unless, I suppose, you’re talking about women like Penny Wong or Tanya Plibersek, because they’ve apparently managed get to their powerful positions by circumventing the flawless meritocracy of preselection.

Julie Bishop reckons women are at no disadvantage and her evidence is that we have a couple of women in powerful positions? You’re right, we do - we have 14% of the directors in the ASX as women, 22% of senior positions at law firms are occupied by women, 24.7% of the House of Reps are women. So yes, there are some women in powerful positions – but is that really your metric for success, Deputy Leader?

For mine, the comments of Julie Bishop are just as bad as anything Tony Abbott’s thrown up in the past few years, and a question that I’d like answered more than anything else is this:

Julie Bishop has said that women are at no disadvantage in Australia. Is that the position of the Coalition?

Ben Jenkins blogs at abafflingordeal.com Follow him on twitter here.


  • Nothing new , look at Cleopatror Boadicea.right through to Queen Victoria and Elizabeth 11.Its always been a myth based on the fact that the world had slaves so didnt need women in the workplace, thats all.

    Date and time
    June 20, 2013, 8:57AM
    • Ben, on average, men do earn more than women.
      But why don't you also link to the statistics that show that men have a higher workplace fatality rate? (Some studies show the ratio is 13:1) Or higher injury rate? Or that men work longer hours? Or that men take fewer sick days per year? I'll happily include links in another posting, to reduce the risk of this post getting censored.

      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 9:05AM
      • Just a couple of issues with that. Firstly what has the number of fatalities got to do with it ?? Far too simplistic. Secondly men may work longer longer PAID hours. But it is women who still do the majority of the housework :) It's also women who are expected to carry the burden of childcare which may , but doesn't allows, lead to more sick days.

        DIDI K
        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 10:27AM
      • It means that men take on dangerous work where they may die. These jobs pay better. More risk = more reward.

        You are totally missing the point that women can chose to do less work and that is what they end up doing. They chose to do it and it result in less money.

        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 11:12AM
      • If men work longer PAID work they get PAID more (that's one connection). Hazardous jobs pay more than non-hazardous jobs (that is another link). These are just two reasons why men earn more. It is not a patriarchal, misogynist conspiracy why men earn more. Men: work longer hours, take more hazardous jobs, take less sick leave, take less carers leave, do more overtime, women gravitate to lower paying jobs, etc.

        In research I have read, never married women without children, earn more than their male counterparts because they, focus on their career, work longer hours, take less carers leave etc.
        Women have always had the choice; focus on career earn more money, focus on family earn less money than men. It’s called choice.

        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 11:28AM
      • @Trevor
        You are right about all of those things.
        The difference is, those stats are acknowledged and there are programs and systems in place to address them (except for the longer paid working hours - you'll probably have to blame capitalism for that one).
        It seems with the issues affecting women, the response is often to dismiss them as fantasy and myth. The first step to addressing an issue is to accept and acknowledge there is a problem.
        So, put all the crap that men have to face aside - it is considerable, I know, I'm with you on that - and look at all the things that women say are affecting them. Do you acknowledge their struggles? Do you recognise that women face significant hurdles purely because they are women?
        This is not a contest.

        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 12:04PM
      • DIDI K@June 20, 2013, 10:27AM

        Although it may be true that women statistically do more unpaid work at home in those surveys... what exactly does this have to do with workplace remuneration?

        The number of workplace fatalities and injuries is actually quite relevant as it shows that statistically men perform more dangerous and physically taxing jobs than women. Are you saying that someone that puts themselves at risk of physical harm on a daily basis shouldn't be compensated for this additional risk?

        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 12:05PM
      • Men have to carry the burden of missing out on a huge chunk of their children growing up - childcare isn't a burden if your priorities are in the right place

        I hate pies
        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 12:10PM
      • I've also wondered why the analysis is not based on women without children as they tend to earn more than men for the same positions. Its women with children that earn less. This also affects families (men and children as well) not just women. The bias has always been against families not women without children. The prism to look through is that of men, women and another group men & women with families.

        Don't Know
        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 12:37PM
      • Those things are irrelevant to this. When pay difference between men and women are studied, they don't look at the pay of a miner vs a secretary (i'm making a generalisation that most miners are men and most secretaries are women just for this example), they look at the average wage of men vs the average age of women in the SAME profession. Now, I don't think the difference just comes down to discrimination against women, but you would have to be blind not to see that it does play some part. As for women having the "choice" to work hard and get the same pay, I say that is a false choice. Society often sees men's higher paying jobs as more important, therefore the women are expected to take more time off to look after the kids.

        Date and time
        June 20, 2013, 2:21PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed