It is said there’s a special place in hell reserved for those who stand by while others commit bad deeds.
Less recognised is the hellish place, in the here-and-now, set aside for women who play the political game as robustly as men. These may be our new secular witches.
To the case of Julia Gillard can be now added Sophie Mirabella. It is immaterial that they come from opposite ends of the field and that neither would be happy in the other’s company. They’re certainly not directly comparable, the latter communing with right-wing fringe-dwellers brandishing abusive ”ditch the witch” signs regarding the former.
Nonetheless, the virulence of the reaction to Mirabella’s electoral denouement is surprising.
News that she has lost her seat to a fellow conservative, Cathy McGowan, has disproportionately delighted people across the political spectrum. The left is understandably cock-a-hoop that a smug warrior of the right, and one of Tony Abbott’s senior frontbenchers, has been taken out. But in the Liberal and Nationals parties, few tears are being shed for the pocket dynamo whose adversarial style invited uncharitable comparisons with pit-bulls, crazed wolverines, etc. Mirabella’s characterisation as ”political terrorists” her Liberal colleagues who opposed the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, was hardly subtle.
But there have been plenty of others over the years who’ve made gooses of themselves with hateful comments such as referring to a childless PM being ”deliberately barren”, for instance. What is notable about the outpouring of glee, however, is its universality and intensity.
People in the beltway, including aides, politicians, and even many journalists, seem inordinately pleased. Some have forgotten what good copy Mirabella provided from time-to-time. In the halls of Parliament it was hard to find anybody who wasn’t privately glad that the Victorian hardliner was toast.
Much of it is pure schadenfreude, of course. But it still feels unnecessarily pointed.
The gold standard of our double standard in politics is the Keating-Gillard comparison. Both became prime minister by knocking off sitting Labor prime ministers but only one was lauded for courage and determination. The other was an ambitious backstabber, a cunning shrew with betrayal coursing through her veins.
The qualities seen as admirable in a man seem to sit less comfortably in our view of women. Many will not even concede that gender was an issue in the interpretation of Gillard, so will regard as nonsense the idea that Mirabella is being treated with extra venom, due to an underlying patriarchy.
But with relatively few cases of female political leaders, the question remains to be legitimately debated. Is it possible that women are subconsciously judged more harshly when they seek to exercise power?