Kelly O’Dwyer a feminist? Pull the other one

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Kelly O'Dwyer on ABC Insiders, 22 April 2018 (Image via @StuartEdser)

As Minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer might be superior to Michaelia Cash and Tony Abbott — but that's no great achievement, writes Jacinta Coelho.

KELLY O'DWYER was appointed the Minister for Women in December 2017. One could say that this was a positive move for the Turnbull Government and a refreshing change from Michaela Cash or Tony Abbott, whose "qualifications" for the role included, uh, "having daughters" and having archaic views on Australian Women

O'Dwyer declared herself a feminist in her first address in the role. She was careful to differentiate herself from Michaela Cash by openly declaring herself a feminist. She drew on her experiences of cute conversations with her daughter who referred to the pilot as a "she". She highlighted her role in founding the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering.

Last year, the Turnbull Government introduced the Towards 2025: An Australian Government strategy to boost women’s workforce participation, in which Michaela Cash claimed that they are reducing the gender pay gap by increasing the participation of women in the workforce.... because that is the reason why there is pay gap — women are just not participating in the workforce. Michaela Cash seemed to be confusing women's participation in work with the gender pay inequity. It's a red herring.

At least Cash was honest about not being a feminist.

O'Dwyer has sought to reduce pay inequity by calling on businesses nicely (which we know always works) to check once a male has a pay rise whether or not any females are left behind. Not by imposing any actual penalties on businesses who knowingly have pay gaps for men and women in the same roles (with presumably everything else on par).

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. 

I'm not convinced.

Don't get me wrong, O'Dwyer is a feminist, but only a half-assed neoliberal Sheryl Sandberg version 2 way (that is: the free market and the individual's right to economic participation will solve everything including well entrenched sexism).

She's a feminist... but only when it comes to certain groups of women who are looking for economic advancement (poor women need not apply) or when it suits her political purpose (to fill the role of the Minister for Women). In her speech, she referred to a female scientist who she assisted gaining part time employment for an NHMRC research grant. Kudos to her. That was a positive move, but there is something about her feminist claim I'm still not buying. 

For instance, if she really cared about advancing women, she wouldn't have joined the boys club Liberal Party, which severely underrepresents women in parliament. The same political party that nominated Tony Abbott as their leader, implemented a GST on tampons and sanitary items, and still refused to remove the much contested tampon tax (mind you Labor didn't cut it either, but at least Tanya Pilbersek is talking about it — talk still being cheap).

She defended Tony Abbott, who has made it clear on several occasions he has archaic views on Australian women.

For example, as a university student in the 1970s, Abbott wrote:

'I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.'

If he had made that quote alone, I would give Abbott the benefit of the doubt as attitudes towards women in the 1970s were different to 2018 and people do change. But his archaic views on women persist to this day.

As self-appointed Minister for Women, Abbott chose to cut funding to community legal centres, who predominately dealt with domestic violence, which we know is killing around one Australian women per week. He has made it clear that he believes a woman's right to withhold sexual intercourse entirely needs to be "moderated". O'Dwyer defended him and hence you'd be forgiven for being a little bit skeptic of her "feminist identity" today.

She accused Julia Gillard of playing the "gender card" in her misogyny speech:

It arguably suited O'Dwyer to do so for political gain — just like it suits her to declare herself a feminist now.

She downplayed the #metoo movement by highlighting the "dangers" of speaking out about sexual harassment on social media, which deflected from the very movement itself.

The trouble with asserting that she is a feminist is that the principles underlying the Liberal Party are not compatible with feminism. In other words, economic freedom and participation are not going to solve feminist issues.

Don't get me wrong, it is possible to be a conservative feminist — it's just unlikely when your political party is anything but and doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. 

Given her track record of refusing to admit the Government took too long to commence the Banking Royal Commission, O'Dwyer can assert she's a feminist as long as she likes — but I'd advise her to pull the other one.

You can follow Jacinta Coelho on Twitter @jacintacoelho8.

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