Obligatory Tony Abbott Said What Now? Thread

I’ve been discussing Tony Abbott’s interview with the Women’s Weekly elsewhere and neglecting to write about it here.

After conducting a charm offensive over the summer break and rejecting suggestions his conservative social views were a turnoff to women, the Liberal leader has been subjected to a grilling in the next edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly about his views on sex, marriage and his own daughters’ virginity. (The Australian)

Some of you may have been reading along with the several threads discussingAbbott’s statements, Julia Gillard’s response, and George Brandis’ response to Gillard over at LP. (For those reading from overseas, Abbott is the leader of the Federal Opposition, Julia Gillard is the Deputy Prime Minister, George Brandis is a Senator for Queensland in the Federal Parliament, and the Liberal Party in Australia is fiscally and mostly socially conservative.)

Make no mistake. Having the nation start up a debate on premarital sexuality when it’s an issue that has hardly been on the political radar is no mean feat, and Abbott is aiming to shift the Overton Window on this and other social matters. He’s quietly signalled that contraception is also on his agenda, since he makes a point of emphasising how in his view it has liberated men as much or even more than women, meaning that women are “used” as a result.

Here’s a couple of quotes from MSM editorials:

SMH: Virginia Hausegger

Virginity is not a ”gift”. To suggest it is, as Tony Abbott has, is absurdly childish. It’s also ridiculously romantic. None of which would matter if the discussion stopped there. But it doesn’t.

Instead, the Leader of the Opposition has raised the very ugly spectre of female virtue as a tradable, marketable, sellable commodity. By telling his daughters their virginity is ”the greatest gift that you can give someone” and ”the ultimate gift”, he’s unwittingly reduced their myriad talents, strengths and capacity to love to mere crumbs, compared to the single act of deflowering. Abbott’s logic suggests a female’s most precious and important asset- above all else – is her sex. And that asset is most highly prized when it’s presented new and unused.

My biggest turnoff with Abbott though is not just his slut-shaming views on sexual morality; it is just how readily he uses his private life to grandstand on sexual morality, and how callously he casts aside his family’s privacy to do so. When a young adoptee who Abbott thought was his illegitimate son with a university girlfriend sought a paternity test so that he could know for sure, Abbott trumpeted it all over the media about how wonderful it was that the mother had chosen not to abort, all before the test results were in, putting his family through the resultant scandal entirely unnecessarily since it turned out that Abbott was not the biological father after all. Then he tells a story about how his daughter allegedly called him a “lame, gay, churchy loser” in the privacy of their own home when he tried to talk about a sexual morality matter, just for the rhetorical self-deprecatory effect in a press conference, with no concern for how it makes his daughter appear judgemental (ableist, homophobic etc) in the public eye.

The Drum: Marieke Hardy

Mere seconds after Tony Abbot thrilled virginal types nationwide by suggesting their chaste choices were the height of coolness and La Gillard bit accordingly (get a room, you two), Liberal MP George ‘stop me before I kill again’ Brandis cut to the core of the matter.

“Would someone please shut this barren heathen up before she drags us all down to her hideous amoral level?” he seethed, or words to that effect, adding that J. Gillard should immediately cease and desist passing comment on anything related to: a. parenting and b. children, as she simply does not get it.

“I think Julia Gillard who is – has chosen not to be a parent – and, you know, everybody respects her right, in the vehemence of her reaction, in fact, shows that she just doesn’t understand the way parents think about their children when they reach a particular age,” was one particular point made, along with the fact that Gillard is “very much a one-dimensional person”.

Too true, Brandis. You forgot to add “in my day, women knew their place” and “I SAW GOODY GILLARD WITH THE DEVIL”, but I’m sure those particular press releases can be attended to in time.

I love (i.e. hate) how Brandis just assumes that Gillard is childless by choice. None of us knows whether it is a choice or not, and none of us need to know, either. As for his ridiculous idea that only people who have direct experience of parenting should express an opinion on premarital sexuality (any of us who have actual experience in premarital sex have no opinion worth hearing, obviously), is it any better for being a general smear on a large proportion of the electorate, rather than just smearing Gillard personally? I doubt that it will go down with the voters all that well, especially with new voters.

My favourite bit of Marieke’s piece though is this, which starts on a pithier version of the same point raised by Virginia Hausegger above and then skewers Brandis’ position. Emphasis added:

I don’t regret a moment of [losing my virginity], nor do I feel in that submitting to a beautifully awkward and momentarily painful experience left me with nothing left to “give” a suitor (limping along with merely a personality and mind to offer potential husbands, the shame of it).Whether or not parents insist that their little ladies keep their virginities as a lovely gift-set to unveil before future grooms is something I’m sure they’re able to figure out for themselves, though it’s nice to know Tony Abbott cares enough to spout forth.

I can’t speak any further about the subject as I’m not a parent and as George Brandis sensibly points out, nobody should pass opinion on anything ever unless they have hands-on experience and can prove it via depositions and authorised certificates.

Accordingly I look forward to his maintaining a dignified silence when it comes to matters of Indigenous affairs, refugees, the legalisation of drugs, and absolutely anything to do with vaginas unless he’s got a secret hidden one he’s not telling us about.

Which means that political debates in future shall be between white, middle-class people who are mostly gentlemen representing the population and what they think about tax-payer funded junkets and the intricacies of Parliament House catering. And I hope you all enjoy my future columns devoted to the topic of 33-year-old women who write for The Drum. Stop me if I get too one-dimensional.



Categories: gender & feminism, media, parenting, Politics

Tags: , , ,

42 replies

  1. I hadn’t seen that piece from Marieke Hardy. It’s fabulous! Mostly – the ‘limping along’ is off-putting.
    I loathe the ‘barren’ epithet. In some of the darkest moments of our infertility, I referred to myself as ‘barren.’ I imagine that many women who are struggling to have children were hurt by Brandis’ words. FWIW, Helen Clark was regularly derided for not having children. Of course, any woman in politics who does have children is immediately asked “But what about your children? Who is going to look after them? Gosh, you must be a BAD mother.”

  2. Even the word “premarital” says a huge amount about how these people view the world, and expected life trajectories: child -> premarital adult phase -> marriage. Finis.
    OK, we know they think “extramarital” sex is teh evil, but how about just plain old nonmarital sex? And what of those of us who have postmarital sex? Where do we fit in?

    • @lauredhel

      OK, we know they think “extramarital” sex is teh evil, but how about just plain old nonmarital sex? And what of those of us who have postmarital sex? Where do we fit in?

      You’re all fornicators, which is bad, mmmkay? The only way to have sex without it being fornication is in a religiously blessed union while remaining open to conception. So, I’m married, but since my husband has had a vasectomy, we are evil fornicators (and we aren’t religiously married either, so by some lights we were just fornicating back when we were deliberately trying to conceive). QED.

  3. adding that J. Gillard should immediately cease and desist passing comment on anything related to: a. parenting and b. children, as she simply does not get it.
    Of course, Gillard has actually been a teenage girl and adult woman, so you’d think that it would be pretty obvious that she does, in fact, “get it”. The idea that she should just shut up rather reveals that the whole debate is about male ownership of wives and daughters, and punishing women who don’t adhere to the “rules”, as Abbott so succinctly put it.

  4. I’d like Abbott to start being honest and talking about “FORNICATION” in the news media, plz.

  5. And once again, teh gays don’t exist (Mr. Abbot sure isn’t supporting making it possible for me to have sex inside marriage).
    What y’all said. The way this treats women like some sort of walking uterus/ property without emotions/ thoughts/ skills is somewhat distressing. If the Opposition Leader wanted to preach, he should have stuck with the church.

    • The way this treats women like some sort of walking uterus/ property without emotions/ thoughts/ skills is somewhat distressing.

      Yet they’ll simultaneously decry raunch culture (with which they conflate all forms of casual sex) as degrading women as objects of lust without the blink of an eye. Both views are just as grounded in the notion of women as life support systems for penetrable orifices above any other attribute.

  6. I should make it clear that I haven’t read the article itself. Just hearing of it made me feel both nauseated and angry.
    Regarding your anger towards his lack of consideration for the privacy of the family especially as regards his comments on his daughter, tigtog, I’m totally with you and it’s just staggering. There’s not only a lack of care about how judgmental it makes his daughter sound but a/ a revelation that she has not willingly played ‘happy churchy virgin’ which might be difficult socially for her depending on what social circles you move in, is b/ a rather unforgivable disclosure of what most kids would consider a privileged communication between themselves and a parent and c/ a nastily condescending ‘silly child but I talked her around’ take on her views instead of considering that perhaps her anger towards him had merit, that perhaps she could form and act on *her own views* rather than his. The man makes me *sick* for so many reasons.
    I find Hardy hit and miss a lot of the time, but that was a smackdown and a half.

  7. And once again, teh gays don’t exist
    Gay ladies don’t have real sex, silly. We just sit around in our pyjamas, knitting reusable menstrual pads and thinking of names for our future cats.

  8. Ooh, now I’m interested in a knitted menstrual pad. Silk, maybe. Anyone tried it? I have no cat though, so I guess I’m \saved///* from lesbianism from the time being.
    [ * for forward/back slashes, read Gospel-hands.]

  9. There are no words for how much I loathe Tony Abbott. Seriously, every time I try to address what’s brought up in this post, I get all frothy and swear-wordy and it’s very ugly.
    If he even goes near the contraceptive thing, talking about making it more difficult for women, shit is gonna get real, yo. Nobody gets between me and my pain relief. Nobody.

  10. @ tigtog … I read your comment over at LP where you drew a distinction between raunch culture and casual sex (as above in this thread). Got me thinking. I’m trying to get a handle on Betty McLellan’s chapter in Getting Real where she says:
    ”As soon as the contraceptive pill became available in the 1960s and women could enjoy sex with little fear of becoming pregnant, those who sought to profit from exploiting women’s sexuality began to confuse this newfound sexual freedom with feminism. The message conveyed to society was that a feminist is a woman who is willing to experiment with sex and to make herself available to men for all kinds of sexual experiences. It didn’t matter to those promoting such ideas that they were actually the antithesis of the feminist message, which is, above all, about mutual respect and equality.”
    I think she’s saying, in the rest of the chapter, that women are not truly able to freely exercise their sexual agency because of the pressure to be part of raunch culture: that it’s not a choice but conformity to an expectation. Clive Hamilton in the same book seems to agree.
    Can you shed light? And, is that best done here or over a long lunch?

    • I think she’s saying, in the rest of the chapter, that women are not truly able to freely exercise their sexual agency because of the pressure to be part of raunch culture: that it’s not a choice but conformity to an expectation.

      While I would agree that there is pressure to conform to the expectation of being sexually available, it’s a fairly long bow to say that this pressure negates women’s independent sexual agency. It’s just one of many competing social pressures on women regarding sexual activity that they need to weigh against their own desires. The religious pressures to remain virginal are just as strong as the raunch culture pressure to be wildly promiscuous – most women end up navigating a path somewhere in between.

  11. Tony Abbott shits me to tears.
    The only consoloation with having him as Leader of the Opposition is that it ensures that those right-wing [ableist language redacted ~L] stay in the political wilderness for many years to come.
    Not that Rudd is proving to be much better, but at least he only prostitutes his animals, rather than his children.

  12. Yes, it’s the long bow that’s been bothering me.
    There is a very strong collective view in the book (Getting Real) that a sexualised culture imposed on girls (and boys) from a young age takes away from them the ability to discern the right path. Raunch culture becomes the norm, and the children know no different.
    Perhaps the difference between this book’s view and yours has to do with the age of the girls and women we’re talking about? Older women might have been less exposed to this culture? Little girls are experiencing it from pre-school?
    Is it only religious pressure to remain virginal?
    ps lunch ?

    • @Sheryl, I think the excesses of raunch culture are just as likely to induce revulsion in young girls/women as they are likely to induce conformity/acquiescence.
      Just like any cultural pressure, parental input is vital, and the best parental input IMO is encouraging the development of critical thinking skills. Even when those critical thinking skills lead one’s children to choose a different path from what the parents might hope. (edit) After all, if one cannot defend one’s arguments rigorously, why should they defer to them?

      Is it only religious pressure to remain virginal?

      What other pressure for virginity before marriage is there? Sensible, safe and sane is an effective standard for premarital experience, and I for one definitely pity the woman who goes to her marriage bed a virgin only to discover that her husband lacks a sense of sexual reciprocity and/or willingness to learn technique.
      p.s. lunch sounds like a great idea – call me

  13. tigtog: it’s not pressure to remain virginal until marriage, but I recall as a teen finding the teen mag emphasis on having your first time be a meaningful experience in a mutually caring relationship more than a little bit strong. It crossed the line for me into being judgemental: if your first time was not especially ‘special’ emotionally (they tended to advise not to expect anything astounding physically at least), you’d done it in a suboptimal way. I recognise that their editorial line on teen sex is going to be rather constrained, but as I recall “your first time as an expression of deep love” is not a lot more representative of my circle’s first or early sexual experiences than “of course your first time will be your wedding night!” and furthermore that emotionally uninvolved or emotionally complicated teen sex was not a huge tragedy in and of itself. Deceit and disrespect existed just as much in relationships that at least one and often both(/all) parties thought were deeply loving.
    Young adult fiction was the only place I recall finding reasonably accurate (for me) representation of the actual emotional context of inexperienced teen sex. Non-fiction aimed at teens seemed constrained to represent teen sex as something that best took place in a relationship you at least believed was nearly marriage-like in its emotional significance.

    • Mary, good points about the double standard for teen girls about having one’s first time be a special romantic experience, whereas fellas are expected to only want sexual gratification with a minimum of emotional involvement for their first time. In my experience there are a large number of intensely romantic teen boys seeking twoo wuv and a large number of pragmatic fun-loving girls who are reluctant to dive into romantically intense relationships, but there seem to be few cultural narratives addressing either population.

  14. He’s quietly signalled that contraception is also on his agenda, since he makes a point of emphasising how in his view it has liberated men as much or even more than women, meaning that women are “used” as a result.

    This is only really possible if you think of women as things that have things done to their things.
    Uh… yeah, anyway.
    The whole view is privilege masquerading as concern. It works the other way too; if contraception were not available then manly men would use women for sex then dump them, leaving them with the results: STDs, pregnancy etc., because “real” men have no other use for disgusting females other than as pleasure/menial labor dispensers. The “contraception liberated men” schtick is only the same thing: either way, women get all the all responsibility and the impossible task of controlling the bad behavior of others while having no power or autonomy themselves. It is taken at face value that we do nothing for ourselves, that we are incapable of sharing or valuing anything in anyone else and we exist as empty vacuums to be filled temporarily by males (who are likewise incapable of sharing or valuing anything unless it’s with other males). I can’t imagine a more negative, reductive, hateful view of humanity than that.

    • Abbott’s effort today:

      What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially, it’s gonna go up in price, and their own power bills as they switch the iron on are gonna go up every year, I mean…

      Even housewives who are meticulous ironers hardly embrace the idea that it is their ironing that defines their politics. As Zoe tweeted @crazybrave:

      I would like to iron Tony Abbot’s budgie smugglers. While he was in them.

  15. Tig-Tog, my jaw smacked my knees when I heard him say that. I mean, I know he’s a conservative party leader, but that crap is just beyond the pale. Like, one cannot believe what they are hearing. I think he forgot the part in his job description where he WANTS people to vote for him, even if they identify as women.

  16. Sorry can’t blog, too busy ironing and (apparently) getting so worked up about the increased cost of ironing that I will vote Liberal1!!!!? Mister Abbott I do not think your logic makes sense.

  17. I’m sure there is a little voice in Tony Abbott’s head saying “But John Howard got away with this stuff all the time and he got voted in for three terms”. Yup Tony and there is no way we are going back there.

  18. Mr Abbott is obviously deeply prejudiced against the anaemic community.

  19. The WTF just keeps on coming.
    The Age: Bible bashing the homeless, Abbott style
    Edit: he called homelessness “a choice”, FFS.

  20. Can’t help but think he’s missed the point of that bible passage.

  21. Right, so Tony Abbott wants to campaign on the issue that lost the Howard government the last election. Is he TRYING to lose?

  22. She said new conditions about minimum hours worked were forcing school students out of jobs because employers could not afford to pay the hours.

    (Julie Bishop in the linked article in TT’s comment.)
    If they can’t afford to pay school student rates then I think they have more problems than minimum hours.
    A quick google gives the following comparison:
    http://www.safework.sa.gov.au/uploaded_files/clerks_retail_15_01_10.pdf
    Adult casual retail worker hourly rates (in SA) class 1:
    Hourly: $19.56
    Late night shopping: $24.46
    Saturday: $29.34
    16 years and under, casual:
    hourly: $9.78
    Late night: $12.22
    Saturday: $14.67
    17 years, casual
    hourly: $11.74
    Late night: $14.67
    Saturday: $ 17.61
    18 years, casual
    hourly: $13.69
    Late night: $17.11
    SaturdayL $20.54
    Student casuals are a lot cheaper to employ than adults, even with a minimum 4 hour rule. For some school students the cost of getting to work, especially if they have only been called in for an hour or two is going to outweigh the money earned working. Then no doubt some employers would start whinging that the youth of today don’t want jobs.

  23. The more this man opens his mouth, the more I wish he would shut it.

  24. @Beppie, I have this theory that the coalition, really deep down in the bottom of their livers (couldn’t really say heart of hearts there could I?) don’t want to win the next election. I mean, (the sinophobic) Barnaby Joyce as Finance Minister?!

  25. Rayedish, I kind of suspect that they knew there wasn’t a huge chance of them winning the next election anyway, so they’re making sure that Abbott will have to fall on his sword instead, when they lose. I rather suspect that Joe Hockey’s stab at the leadership a few months back wasn’t actually a serious attempt to win, but an attempt to let the party know that he’s serious about taking the job after the next election.

  26. Beppie, I think that you are right. Hockey knows that the party has no hope of winning the next election and so he sure as hell didn’t want to be the one leading the party to defeat.

  27. Now Abbott is eyeing off pensions.
    http://www.smh.com.au/national/abbott-targets-welfare-payments-20100223-p0p5.html
    The pension age would go up, after three months there would be a compulsory “work for the dole” scheme, and disability pensioners with “less serious medical conditions” – about one-third of the 700,000 receiving the benefit would be “encouraged” back into the workforce by having yearly assessments and sit two interviews a year. I’m not a disability pensioner, but I’m guessing that it’s not that easy to get a disability pension, yet the assumption is that 1/3 of them could really hold down a job if they wanted to. I think that they probably would be holding down a job if they could, because then they would probably be better off. This could also hit people with invisible disabilities hard. Where is the incentive for employers to employ people with disabilities in Tone’s policy? Sorry, but I don’t think there will be any. The Market will take care of that don’t you know.
    He also wants families on welfare to have half their income quarantined for food and essentials. Please define essentials? Does this include utilities? School stuff? I note there is no talk of increasing public housing which would mean that families on welfare wouldn’t pay half their payments in rent. If you are quarantining the rest for food and essentials what’s left?

  28. “I note there is no talk of increasing public housing which would mean that families on welfare wouldn’t pay half their payments in rent. If you are quarantining the rest for food and essentials what’s left?”
    I disagree with Abbott, of course, but I would suggest he would think this situation – i.e. nothing left – is just fine. After all, in his view, why *should* families on welfare have anything that (in his august opinion) isn’t “necessary”? Don’t you know they all spend it on booze/cigarettes/drugs/plasma televisions/gambling??

  29. pretty sure I commented here and teh de-spaminator ate it.

  30. @ Bek – yup eaten by the spaminator. Rebekka’s comment pasted below:
    “I note there is no talk of increasing public housing which would mean that families on welfare wouldn’t pay half their payments in rent. If you are quarantining the rest for food and essentials what’s left?”
    I disagree with Abbott, of course, but I would suggest he would think this situation – i.e. nothing left – is just fine. After all, in his view, why *should* families on welfare have anything that (in his august opinion) isn’t “necessary”? Don’t you know they all spend it on booze/cigarettes/drugs/plasma televisions/gambling??

  31. I think Tigtog released the original comment.
    I think Tones would think having nothing left was just fine. I get the impression that he wouldn’t much care.

  32. Is this a general “Liberals say the darnedest things” thread? I mean,”too much emphasis on indigenous and Asian perspectives at the expense of the nation’s British and European heritage”? They’re not even trying to be subtle, are they?

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