kayaks, feminism and the “real tony”: mrs abbott
Maybe you haven’t been kept awake at night worried about Opposition Leader Abbott’s commercial TV preferences or indeed his policies? Even so, it might be worth catching up on the defences that Abbott’s wife, Margie, has put up on his behalf in the last 12 hours.
This morning, Australian papers in the News Limited family ran an emotional plea from the usually quiet Mrs. Abbott. She was rebutting critics who say her husband doesn’t understand women. Headlines promised that she’d reveal the ‘type of man he really is’.
According to Mrs. Abbott, the Opposition Leader is a supportive husband and father who ‘understands women’, is supportive of his wife and daughters achieving their dreams, and who even would prefer to watch the (presumably girly) period drama Downton over of the (tough and macho) football.
In a speech delivered this afternoon, she reportedly recounted buying one, rather than two kayaks as a family Christmas gift so that they could spend time paddling together without any competition between them.
This defence comes amid two key concerns for Abbott and his popularity. One is the persistent data from surveys like Newspoll that see female approval of his leadership at consistently low figures.
Then there is criticism that has been levied at him from other female politicians, like Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek. The assertion by Plibersek and others have made in past weeks that Abbott responds poorly to women in positions of power has continued to dominate newspaper headlines.
Enter Mrs. Abbott and her public plea. It’s an interesting one because it is so heavily focused on Tony Abbott’s love for his wife and children. This is despite few, if any voices ever suggesting anything else about Abbott’s relationship with his family. (Do you know of any commentary that suggests he doesn’t love and respect them? If so, let us know in the comments below.)
Much of Mrs. Abbott’s defence comes down to the Opposition Leader’s relationship with her and their daughters, and his willingness to take part in fundraisers for women-centric causes like fighting ovarian cancer. There’s a sense that her husband has been unfairly characterised, and that women who dislike him don’t know the ‘real, private Abbott’.
As bad as Newspoll stats are for him at present, these figures don’t actually go into why women might dislike the Opposition Leader. The assumption made by his wife is that the Australian public are missing out on his tender private persona. But who’s to say women voters aren’t judging him, at least a little, on policy?
It’s probably a stretch to say that Tony Abbott wakes every morning with an explicit mandate to wage war on women. It may simply be a matter of his wider political ideology, much of which he’s upfront to acknowledge is rooted, at least in part, in his religious views, being somewhat out of step with Australian women.
In 2010, Abbott’s comments about women’s virginity ‘being a gift’ caused widespread disagreement. He has long expressed his disapproval of choice to abortion, and cites both the church and traditional families as key influences in his thinking. Last month he voted down a same-sex marriage bill in the House of Representatives.
Not all women disagree with Abbott on these policy positions, obviously, but in some ways they form part of a broader world view that isn’t necessarily held by many modern women. It is therefore possible that the very women who disapprove of him in the polls aren’t claiming that Tony Abbott despises ALL women.
It could merely be that voters are saying his policy views don’t float their boats (pardon the pun). If this is the case, then it isn’t so much a matter of a crusade against the private Tony Abbott. It’s not necessary to go as far as claiming he doesn’t “get” the women he interacts with day to day.
But as an aspiring prime minister, both men and women have the right to critique him for his views and the way these inform his crafting of public policy. If women see his style as conservative or out of step when it comes to governing them and their bodies, then their disapproval is on policy grounds. His policy hasn’t actually been addressed in depth today.
Margie Abbott is a well spoken, calm and professional woman. No doubt she and her daughters are, as she claims, in many ways leading lives feminists would be impressed with. Just because she loves her husband, though, does this mean Australian voters have to?
What do you think of today’s speech and comments on Tony Abbott’s popularity? Leave your thoughts below.