Three girls in school tunics and battered hats are firing a machine gun in the quad. ‘Girls, girls, a little less noise, please,’ the teacher says. Inside, four prefects stretch a younger pupil on the rack. Before Mean Girls, there was St. Trinian’s, a mythical rat-hole of a school somewhere in England, created by cartoonist, Ronald Searle. The girls drink, smoke cigars, disable competitors by fair means or foul (mostly really foul), gamble on the horses, act as bookmakers, terrorise other schools with an assortment of weapons, including their hockey sticks, and take prisoner inspectors from the Ministry of Education. This is girl-power at its apogee.
Searle recognised that women can be downright aggressive and competitive, and perfectly capable of making grown men weep. Of course, a lot of female aggression is under cover and more of the passive-aggressive kind. Yet to hear the bleatings of the Liberal Lite women of the past few weeks, still smarting from the self-inflicted slaying of Malcolm, you would think them delicate damsels in distress. Who knew that there were robust discussions in politics or that there are deals and counter-deals and people, even prime ministers, get punished when they don’t perform?
You could be excused for thinking that Christmas had come early this year with a flurry of snowflakes enveloping these women, incidentally all from the vanquished side, now claiming to have been bullied in what they say is a toxic political culture. How they have been bullied they don’t say and no claim has been registered. Some have used it to rationalise making a swift exit at the next election. It is not so much a storm in a tea-cup as a tea-cup without a storm. As the late great Christopher Hitchens put it, ‘That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.’
Bullying is a serious workplace issue. It is a systematic and deliberate effort to humiliate, persecute and undermine another person. It involves a power imbalance which means that the person being bullied is not in a position to defend him or herself. According to the National Centre for Bullying, bullying is defined as ‘when an individual or group with more power repeatedly and intentionally causes hurt or harm to another person or group who feels helpless to respond.’
Bullying can result in a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sustained bullying has the effect of destroying a person’s confidence and affecting their ability to work. The offices of Members of Parliament are uniquely vulnerable to bullying, given they exist as small, contained worlds in which every MP is pitted against his or her colleagues for promotion. However, the victims are more likely to be staff. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indulged a habit of abusing people serving him, such as the unfortunate RAAF flight attendant against whom he railed for not providing a hot meal or the poor staffers who were rung at 3 am because he had had an idea.
Somehow the unsubstantiated complaints about bullying by the female Liberal Lites have metastasised into a demand for female quotas which is absurd, even by the usual standards of that Versailles on the Hill, our federal parliament. It implies there would be no bullying if women were in power. That is a pipedream because women can be bullies with the best or worst of them.
No less than 22 staff in two years resigned from the office of the Labor Member for Lindsay, Emma Husar, who had her electorate staff doing all manner of menial support duties including picking up dog poop. Member for Chisholm Julia Banks was called out for her treatment of campaign volunteers by an internal Liberal party report, a claim she denies.
There is the phenomenon of the Queen Bee. Women who have made it in a man’s world who see themselves as exceptional and therefore superior to all other women who have not made the grade. They are special people, inclined to see themselves as victims and to feel entitled. Lucy Gichuhi told Kenyan TV her salary of $200,000 was ‘not much’, hardly an opinion that most Australians would identify with.
It is understandable too that people like Julia Banks who have been corporate high-flyers feel discombobulated by finding themselves at the bottom of the ladder as low-status back-benchers. Others who, by common agreement, have not exactly excelled in their portfolios have also trotted out the bullying mantra. Whatever it is they are objecting to it is unlikely to be bullying by any accepted definition.
All of these protesters against some elusive ‘bullying’ have done untold damage to their own party by continuing to keep this distraction going. Might it not be that they are Queen Bees taking revenge against those whom they see as causing their upset, the removal of Malcolm? Serious politicians of all sexes focus on the issues that exercise the people they represent like whether electricity and gas are affordable and whether there are jobs for all those who want to work.
Just like men, women do not represent one undifferentiated group. Having a female representative in the parliament in no way guarantees that other women’s interests are promoted. When the suffragettes were fighting for women’s suffrage, it was stated in a romantic novel of the time that ‘the little woman became even more of a little woman than usual’.
Novels of the period exploded with bile from traditional women arguing they didn’t need the vote because they already had real power for ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’ It took many good men such as Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill who supported the cause of votes for women both morally and financially to win the day.
Isn’t it enough that we have to put up with the tantrums of a black millionaire tennis superstar, Serena Williams, and the protestations of Hillary Clinton and her supporters claiming to have been victimised by the Russians, the deplorables, people who don’t drink cafe lattes, white men, umpires, etc.?
Let us reserve our focus for real victims who need our help not the pretend ones.
In the meantime ladies, put down the looking-glass and get back to work.
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