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The ALP has a long way to go on gender equality

Jenna Price, The Canberra Times

Front-facing, all good. But when it comes to senior powerbrokers, it's blokes all the way. The women from Emily's List Australia have never before made public their submissions to the endless reviews of the ALP. That's changed with this latest review led by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson. These women are sick to death of being ignored.

Tanja Kovac is the national co-covenor of Emilys List Australia.

Tanja Kovac is the national co-covenor of EMILY's List Australia.

The recommendations are excoriating, in the politest possible way. The ALP stereotypes women as worker bees and not strategists, says the national co-convenor of Emily's List Australia, Tanja Kovac. She says it needs to change if the ALP wants to win government considering women make up over half the voteforce.

For God's sake, develop a strategic plan to win government. Increase the numbers of women in campaign decision-making and campaign staffing. Hire women who understand how to implement gender-based campaigns because that's the key to winning campaigns. And on it goes.

Kovac says the groupthink in the ALP must stop: "There is not a single woman on the review team. The six-person panel that forms the national executive - just two are women [apparently the mandatory quotas don't extend this far]. The ongoing idea that only white Anglo men can form the future is just ridiculous."

There remains, she says, a stranglehold by men on the organising arm of the party and that has excluded women.

"It's as if it's men's business. It's handed out along factional lines and not based on competency. Men have been the primary beneficiaries of that and the ALP must change," she says.

There is clearly a stereotype of what men can do and what women should do, in a party which has, at face value, destroyed some of the stereotypes around what it means to be a woman politician.

Surely the party which brought us the first gay Asian mother of two Leader of the Opposition in the Senate can do better than this. But let's not just point to the flaws in the Labor Party (and the other major political parties are worse - hello Scott Morrison's inquiry). Let's have a long hard look at the media. No wonder parties panic at the prospect of a chick in charge.

New research from Australia, Canada and New Zealand show just how deplorably women are treated by the media. And the woman treated most deplorably by both her own party and the Australian media had a word or two to say about that this week when ITV's Robert Peston interviewed Julia Gillard. When she told him that media coverage of women politicians was more sexist than it was 40 years ago, there was a faint tone of disbelief.

"So media coverage is more sexist today?" he asked, disbelieving.

Gillard pointed to new research by the Australian National University's Blair Williams, on the gendered nature of the coverage of women leaders.

What Williams discovered was truly depressing. The media coverage in the first three weeks after Theresa May was elected compared to the media coverage after Margaret Thatcher 1979 was elected was far more gendered: her appearance, her family structure.

Gillard reminded Peston of the front page comparison of the legs of Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May.

"That would not have happened [when Thatcher was elected] ... I do think it is about falling media standards," she said.

Williams's work looks at the way news publications concentrate more on how women leaders look, what their partners do, their children or lack thereof (remember how Gillard was portrayed as a barren careerist?). She compared Jenny Shipley with Helen Clark (I look forward to Jacinda Ardern being added to Williams's research).

Of course, media coverage has become far more personalised now than it was when Thatcher was elected - but even given that, women are treated far more harshly than men.

"That kind of coverage devalues the political work of these women," says Williams.

And the work of the Pathways to the Premiership research team, Linda Trimble at the University of Alberta and Jennifer Curtin as the University of Auckland, would put any woman off her political work.

Stories which mention the parental status of women appear four times as often compared to men, stories which mention their marital status appear twice as often.

And it is so intense, so explicit. In stories about women leaders, their parental status appears five times as often as it does in stories about male leaders. Of course, no one ever talks about the juggle for them. For journalists writing about women leaders, the juggle is apparently as important as fixing the economy.

Sex Discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins would very much like to change the story because she recognises the media is not the only place where women are trivialised.

"It exists in every part of our community and it has a big influence," she says.

Jenkins knows she has her work cut out for her (already huge and the report from the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has now been delayed until after Christmas).

Life, she says, is much more gendered nowadays. She recalls that when she was a kid, she and her brothers had identical Lego kits.

Now sex stereotyping has become a commercial enterprise. No wonder we find it hard to let go.


Jenna Price is a Canberra Times columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.

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