The Politics    Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Alpha-beta soup

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Palmerston, near Darwin, today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Palmerston, near Darwin, today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

A toxic op-ed about Morrison being an “alpha male” fails to grasp why women are abandoning the Coalition

Thank God someone has finally identified Scott Morrison’s real problem with women! It’s not that his government has consistently legislated in a way that undermines women’s safety and equality (only one Coalition candidate has committed to taking action for women’s safety if elected, despite more than 400 other candidates undertaking to do so). It’s not that we can’t seem to go a week without learning that one of Morrison’s ministers is a bully or a “rape scepticist”. It’s not even that the PM has repeatedly sided with alleged abusers, or made comments that reveal his revoltingly patriarchal world views. No, according to an AFR op-ed published overnight it is that the traditional strongman that Morrison represents has “fallen out of fashion”, while victimhood is on the rise. Right-wing think-tank director Graham Young writes that Morrison is a “patriarchal alpha male”, while Anthony Albanese is “a loyal feminist beta male”, in a theory that wouldn’t feel out of place on Reddit.

The “alpha male” op-ed has been met with derision on social media, with some noting that it feels more like “reading an incel subreddit” than a major national newspaper. Putting aside for one second the notion that the man who ran off to Hawaii during the bushfires and later claimed he didn’t “hold a hose” is in fact a strong leader, the idea that Morrison is an “alpha” and Albanese is a “beta” is steeped in toxic masculinity. The column implies that the Opposition leader is a man who women feel sorry for (yes, Albanese’s beloved mum gets a mention, in a point that feels very reminiscent of 2019), while Scott “high-vis” Morrison is a Real Man. (Exactly where women’s leadership fits into Young’s theory is unclear.)

Much like Liberal Party member Roshena Campbell’s perplexing op-ed in The Age yesterday, Young’s AFR piece makes no reference whatsoever to the allegations of rampant sexism and vile abuse that shook parliament last year. Reading Young’s piece, it’s as if 2021 never happened, and women are simply turning on the PM because fashion now tells them that “beta males” are in. With days to go before the election, Morrison and the right-wing commentariat finally seem to be grappling with his deep unpopularity with women, but their conclusion seems to be that “women don’t like shouting” (see also Morrison’s “I can be a bit of a bulldozer but I can change”). Regular readers of this column will know that I have spent a great deal of time writing about Morrison’s reputation for being a bully (because women keep accusing him of bullying). But do the authors of these op-eds really not grasp that there might be more to women’s disgust here than the tone of Morrison’s voice?

Amid his sneering at Albanese’s “vulnerability”, Young notes that “women feel safer with, and more nurturing of, Albanese than Morrison”. There is good reason many women might feel safer with the Labor leader, and it has less to do with Morrison’s leadership style than his refusal to fully implement all the “Respect @ Work” report recommendations (something Albanese has committed to doing). It might also have something to do with the Coalition’s failure to take domestic violence services seriously, rushing in with grants programs for the optics but then leaving the sector in disarray because the government has no idea what it is doing, as journalist Kristine Ziwica tweeted today. It’s about the fact that, as Jess Hill adds, close to $14 billion in JobKeeper went to businesses that didn’t need it, while the government chooses not to deliver the $1 billion per year the domestic violence sector needs to meet demand. And it’s got plenty to do with Morrison’s refusal to take shocking allegations against his ministers seriously. The latter issue has been key for many female voters, including my mother, one of the many traditional Liberal voters who are turning against the PM in seats such as Higgins.

There are so many reasons for women to have turned against Scott Morrison over the past 12 months. As Crikey has noted, this trend began in February 2021, not when the pandemic kicked off, despite the PM’s bizarre decision to blame his unpopularity on the pandemic. But the trend has not abated. The West Australian today revealed that among the 50 young women it polled, they had barely one good thing to say about Morrison between them. In convincing themselves it’s because “beta males” are in fashion, Morrison and co are failing to grasp (or perhaps choosing to miss) the point. As Young concludes, “the Liberals are going to need to plot their way around this, or they will be in the wilderness for quite some time”. Indeed, unless the Coalition can truly face the reason women may feel safer with Albanese as the country’s leader, it might be in the wilderness for some time to come.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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