I got a real shock this election.
No, it was not about Rudd or Abbott, the candidates, the parties or my fellow workers (even “enemy” opposition workers) on the Pre-poll and election day hustings.
My shock was about us, women voters.
I knew that Julia Gillard had copped bucketfuls of abuse for merely being a woman bold enough to take office. I deplored that other prominent women were treated in the same way as she had been or were, only slightly more acceptably, treated with paternalistic care or humour. But I had no idea about just how far the status and self image of women had fallen since last time I spent a considerable time on a political campaign.
I spent nine long days handing out how to vote forms for one party in this election. The last time I spent so much time occupied this way would have been in November 1999 almost 14 years ago. At this election there was much less vitriol and very much more indifference and annoyance at having to vote than at the Referendum. I have no problem there or difficulty in understanding why.
But on this occasion I noticed a huge gender difference had arisen in these 14 years.
In my area we probably had equal numbers of older men and women handing out material spruiking our different political persuasions. As usual we engaged in much pleasant and respectful discussion of the vagaries of our and other political systems and proposing our own different alternatives for improvement. I also met four delightful, very young men, or possibly at my age I can get away with calling them “boys” without being demeaning or sexist, who were supporting a variety of candidates and freely discussing and revealing their deep understandings of our system. But there were no equivalent young women or girls.
As for the older voters, I saw a number of powerful women, like sailing ships under the wind, steering a direct course to one party and waving others aside. The man following obediently in her wake would often surreptitiously take someone else’s form and quickly stow it or, if there were no time for that, would give a revealing nod or wink.
But the women who followed their bossy husbands did not do that. They bowed their heads or gestured meekly to us that he was collecting for them. Often they would actually say, “He knows all about it”.
But it was the very young women who really disappointed me. With all their education, their opportunities and the examples of prominent women before them many (thankfully not quite all) pranced into the booths overtly proud of their ignorance, bored with the processes and meekly deferring to male companions. It made me really wonder why the suffragettes bothered.
I know that dress does not really matter and I am often told by my children that I appear to be over obsessed with the role it plays in sexism but, particularly in the case of women, it does really send a message, and not just an individual message but one about our entire gender.
We were all very surprised and, to some extent it was the entertainment highlight of our day, when one man yesterday presented to cast his vote in nothing but budgie smugglers. Without comment to him we gave him the relevant papers but had some amused sympathy for the AEC worker who had to deal with him at table height.
But this man was only outstanding because every other man who voted was modestly dressed (a few T shirt prints only raising eyebrows).
This cannot be said for a majority of the young voting women. Nothing was left to the imagination. The tightness, briefness and/or transparency of their garb left very little to the imagination. Considerably less than the budgie smugglers had done. Yet this was (and is) so common that it caused no comment. It was as if it were accepted that their sexuality completely defined them rather than was merely one aspect of their gender. It was all they had to offer.
As for the candidates, visits to booths by the male candidates were mostly made in neat slacks and shirts although one visit by a male candidate was in a business suit. Female candidates and workers also usually sported slacks and shirts, perhaps the occasional woman substituting a skirt for slacks. But the female candidate who now appears to be likely to be the one who has won the seat visited as a “power dresser”. Her heels were stilettos each of the times I saw her. Her dresses were tight and expensive and she wore obvious nylon stockings on a hot steamy day.
Women of Australia, what are we doing?