A Good Old Fashioned Chauvinist?

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The way he likes it; Rudd photographed flanked by female colleagues Jenny Macklin and Tanya Plibersek.


The other day I mentioned Kevin Rudd’s fondness for being photographed with female colleagues. As leader of the Labor Party it was rare to see him if he wasn’t flanked by either Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon, Penny Wong, Kate Ellis, Maxine Mckew or Jenny Macklin. As Foreign Minister he couldn’t so easily call senior ministers to heel so instead he’s had to make do largely with his close supporters, namely the less high profile Janelle Saffin, Ursula Stephens and Maria Vamvakinou. He also seems strangely fond of appearing publicly with Julie Bishop. But not when talking economics I whimsically noted, joking that economics was strictly men’s business.

But as I looked as Rudd’s cabinet appointments, and his uniformly poor relationship with female ministers I found myself wondering if Rudd didn’t have some rather antiquated views on gender roles. Not only were Rudd’s Treasurer and Minister for Finance men, but so was his Assistant Treasurer, his Minister for Small Business, his Minister for Superannuation and his Minister for Trade. In fact the only woman who touched on an economic role was Julia Gillard as Minister for Workplace Relations, a role she was not assigned by Rudd but that she claimed using the prerogative of the Deputy Prime Minister to choose his or her portfolio.

It wasn’t just economics either, Rudd’s diplomatic team was pretty blokey too. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence(both of them) and the Minister for Defence Procurement were all men. Yet when Rudd announced his team in late 2007 it had more women in it than any Ministry in Australian history. So what roles did Rudd deem appropriate for women?

Health, Education, Families, Housing, Climate Change, all the warm and fuzzy stuff. It may be a coincidence, or it may be Rudd pandering to prejudices without holding them himself, or perhaps Rudd genuinely holds a view that women in politics are better suited to maternal, social policy portfolios than economics and diplomacy. In February I wondered why not a single Female Minister supported Rudd in his leadership tilt, I now have a theory.

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Rudd arrives with supporters for the February leadership ballot. Note the positioning of women in the fore, close to Rudd, his male (and higher profile) backers to the back. 

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And back in 2010, again women to the front, men to the rear. 

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2 thoughts on “A Good Old Fashioned Chauvinist?

  1. Is it possible that Rudd is sincere in his support for women in public life but had to bow to pressure from the party machine in relation to certain portfolios? I know as Prime Minister he was supposed to have control but that’s in theory and I think it’s naive to believed that he would not have had to pay some heed to the party in relation to the divvy up of senior positions. And while Labor has made some headway in gender equality I believe that the party machine is still somewhat male dominated.

    • Oh absolutely, there could be any number of explanations. My suspicion is that you’re right although I reckon it was more pandering to sexist voters than sexist colleagues. We’ll of course never know but my instinct is that he isn’t actually sexist himself.

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