What influenced the women's vote on the republic

Susan Mitchell writes in The Australian of 15 November

Silly old buggers’ secret men’s business

It is important that the men who ran the Australian Republican Movement campaign take responsibility for stuffing up its chance of success. I’m noting talking about scapegoating individuals. I’m talking about the male culture that permeated very aspect of the organisation. The ARM smelled like an old jockstrap. Women know that smell, and apart from being the ones who ultimately wash them, they know that the jockstrap is a symbol of all things male, a symbol of secret men’s business.

Men, particularly those who are powerful, forget that women in Australia represent at least 50 percent of the voting population. They forget that they can no longer just take their votes for granted. The days when women voted the same way as their husbands are long gone.

After very election, there is always a detailed analysis of the "women’s vote". Sometimes, politicians even thank the women of Australia for making the difference between their winning or losing. But usually, like most powerful men, like the men who ran the ARM, they take their support for granted. The results of the republic referendum show that the ARM not merely ignored the women of Australia, they repulsed them. How else to explain the fact that nearly 20 percent less women than men voted for the republican model on offer? (This figure is believed to come from the YES campaign’s own polling figures - ed)

It is no longer good enough for men to simply dismiss this significant difference by saying that women voters are always more conservative than male voters. Tell that to Jeff Kennett. If that was true and women always voted for the status quo, then he would still be Premier of Victoria.

The truth is that women will not be bullied into voting the way that men tell them anymore. Nor will they be taken for granted. They have had years of being ignored and feeling alienated from the political process and they need to feel that those who want their support understand this.

The ARM was a classic example of old-style, old-boys’ politics. They got together, worked out what they thought was the best model for the republic, rammed it through the Constitutional Convention and said if you don’t like it, tough. Then they produced a series of commercials featuring other powerful men, either politicians or former politicians, who told us that they knew what was best for us and that anyone who disagreed with them was either wrong or stupid, probably both.

Sprinkled among these wealthy or powerful men were some women. Either the wives of wealthy, powerful men or the inheritors of their wealth or power. Perfectly nice women, but hardly women who have much in common with the lives of ordinary Australian women.

It was all presented like male team sport. We are the captains, we know what’s best, so get in line behind us. While that may work for some men who are imbued with this particular form of blokedom, it leaves most women cold. Rebellious even.

And then there were those endlessly boring willy-waving debates between men like Bill Hayden and Bob Hawke. Hayden, having already cast aspersions on Hawke’s willy, sneered at his arguments while any woman who was still watching called out to her telly, "Who cares, you silly old buggers!"

How easy was it then for the monarchists to depict the whole push for a republic as a push by a wealthy, powerful elite to determine who our future head of state will be. When male politicians, either current or former are on the nose, when the other spokespersons are arrogant, powerful men, why should the ARM expect the women of Australia to get behind them?

At least the monarchists had the good sense to choose several women to lead them.

Women who voted to retain the status quo are not necessarily against Australian becoming a republic but they would not be bullied into voting for a model in which they have had no input, nor involvement, nor if it were passed, ever will have.

Women are the backbone of our communities, city and regional, or what’s left of them, and they will no longer be ignored. Any group or movement or political party who seeks their support should first of all listen to what they are saying or, like the ARM, they will be consigned the locker room of history with all the other old jocks.

Quick Info

For a brief but useful guide to republicanism in Australia, see the entry in Wikipedia

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Woman for an Australian Republic, Adelaide Ironside, republican poet and artist, 1831-1867

Self portrait 1855, Newcastle Region Art Gallery NSW

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Senate Inquiry

Report of Senate Inquiry into the Republic Plebiscite Bill released 15 June 2009

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