Why Tony Abbott doesn’t need women to represent women

COMMENT

Tony Abbott’s recently announced Australian Cabinet is conspicuous for its lack of women, and apparently this is a big deal.

With only one woman out of a cabinet of 19, even Afghanistan boasts more females in its cabinet.

Clearly, this does not represent the gender make-up of Australian society at large.

What is less clear in the commentary of ‘Tony Abbott’s Misogynistic Cabinet’ is why exactly women need other women to represent them in parliament in the first place.

While critics of the Australian Cabinet structure are willing to parade the fact that women can do anything men can do, they are not willing to concede that a 21st century Australian male is capable of doing anything a woman can do.

Is it so inconceivable that men can be capable of representing women’s interests?

Men do not exist in their own patriarchal bubble where they are completely oblivious to the issues that affect their female counterparts. These men are brothers, husbands and fathers.

If these men can be responsive to the needs of women in the private sphere, then is it too far a leap to expect them to respond to women in the public sphere also?

The argument that men are incapable of sympathising with women’s needs ignores the network of relationships that will influence their decision making and approach to policy.

Furthermore, what are these quintessential ‘women’s interests’ anyway?

What are the issues that all women can agree on? Women vote across the political spectrum.

They are influenced by a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints that are not necessarily related to gender, such as political ideology, location, ethnicity, professional background, religion and family status.

Even if all women were to agree on an issue, there is unlikely to be a consensus on the same policy response. This diversity in party preference reflects the difficulty in electing a true straw-woman representative.

Those elected to parliament are there primarily to represent their voting constituencies, not their gender.

Even if there were more women in cabinet, their loyalties would be to their constituencies who they represent first and foremost.

And if their views are consistent with wider party policies, then does it really matter whether the party representative has an x or y chromosome?

Jenesa Jeram is a Research Assistant at the New Zealand Initiative. 

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