The facts, on their own, look good: Australia was the first country in the world where women could both vote and stand for parliamentary elections; 44% of the leaders of Australian governments are women. Look a little deeper however, and the veneer of political equality starts to look a bit thin.
Women account for only about 30% of elected representatives in Australian parliaments – that’s federal, state and territory. Taken on a legislature basis, the ACT goes the furthest towards gender balance, with 41% female representation, followed by Queensland with 36%. Taken on a party basis the Greens have achieved gender balance with 7 of their 14 federal, state and territory representatives women. The ALP comes in second, with 37.5%, while the Coalition parties, including the Liberal National Party in Queensland and the Country Liberal Party in NT, manage only an average of less than 19%.
There is a wider aspect of these figures, though. Women had to fight for the vote. The suffrage movement in Britain divided households and communities and cast women as power-hungry shrews and child-neglecters. Men, meanwhile, assumed that power was theirs, that they were the locus of all authority and that their opinions alone were valid in the legislative process. While it is true that at times there have been constraints on which men should be able to vote or stand as political candidates, excluding, variously, those who did not own property, were enslaved, in servitude or imprisoned, the political class for many years all had one thing in common: a particular piece of anatomy.
Following on from my comment in the last post, where I quoted former Senator Amanda Vanstone’s comment about gender equality in parliaments being about more than mere numbers, I’m thinking that rather than lower the standard of women in parliaments to match that of the men, maybe it’s time to raise the general standard of the men we elect. Thus, I say, make ‘em fight for the right to be there in the first place.
In that light, I humbly present my reasons for disallowing male suffrage:
1. Men have told us for millennia that they are the technical gender: better at solving practical problems; they alone hold the secrets of technology. Yes, men invented everything from the first plough through to the internal combustion engine and the jumbo jet. Men, they tell us, need sheds. With tools. So, why are they bothering to sit around in parliaments pretending to enjoy deliberating on legislation? Give them sheds and let them tinker. Let them build and invent and get their hands dirty. Let women, whose natural place (we are told) is in the house, and whose natural state (we are told) is talking, do just that.
2. Everyone knows that the only truly masculine way to resolve a dispute is by fighting. Sometimes it is organised, like a football game. Sometimes it is chaotic … like a football game. Sometimes it involves inviting another man to step outside and remove his jacket and sometimes it involves driving past his house at 2.00am and firing shots through the window, but one way or another, this is how real men settle arguments. How inadequate they must feel being reduced to facing one another over the despatch box using the weapons of mere women – words – to make their points. Let women vote and legislate, let men fight.
3. Women take on causes and see them through. Yes, men take on causes too, but the causes that women champion are the unglamorous ones; the ones that involve lots of grinding behind-the-scenes work; the ones which, ultimately, will result in sustainable outcomes that matter. Look at the candidates who stand for minor parties: where there’s a cause to be fought, women will be there fighting it (and yes, the Greens’ 50% female representation illustrates this point). Once the cause becomes high-profile and the party has a whiff of success about it, the men come out of the woodwork.
4. Women are good at making decisions that affect day-to-day life. Many years ago I was at a family wedding when an elderly male relative, in proposing the toast to the bride and groom, offered the following advice to the groom: “Let your wife make all the small decisions,” he said, “like, when and where to buy a house, when to have children, what schools to send them to, when and how much to invest in shares and property, and so on. You, my boy, should make the big decisions, like when to bomb Moscow.” OK, so it was a long time ago and the Cold War was still distinctly chilly, but the point is that most political decisions are the sort that women take in their stride every day and very, very few are of the ‘bomb Moscow’ type.
5. Voting is not a manly activity. Marking numbers on a piece of paper in order to choose a representative is a distinctly feminine way to make a decision. The male way to make this decision is to put the candidates in an arena with swords and clubs and last man standing is the winner.
So, friends and neighbours, remove the quaint but unrealistic notion of universal suffrage. Let men be men and if they want to vote, they can take it up as a cause. If they can see it through, then maybe they will appreciate it as a privilege and not simply a right based on the ownership of certain anatomical features.