It is extremely difficult for me to think of Peta Credlin, the former Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, as being a victim of anything at all.
She hasn’t lost her job as CoS because of sexism. She’s lost it because Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister.
She copped a lot of criticism from some journalists and MPs for her management style. There’s no doubt some of that criticism has been sexist, however, none of that sexist criticism caused her to lose her job.
This is not to excuse sexist criticism because it is not excusable. That others resorted to sexist attacks is a reflection on them, not Credlin. Yet it is entirely possible that her manner of conducting herself was offensive, not because she’s a woman, but because her manner was an offensive way for one human being to behave towards others.
Credlin is neither a feminist icon nor a feminist martyr. If, as she claims, she is responsible for the LNP’s transition from opposition to government it was nothing to do with her gender, feminism, or women in any capacity at all, as was evidenced by the lack of female representation in Abbott’s cabinet.
Credlin worked closely with a man whose opinions on women are well-documented and they aren’t inspiring, with the exception of very few females of “calibre,” and his relatives.
I am unable to see how Credlin’s alleged feminism informed her boss’s policies in any way at all. Feminism by stealth entirely failed as a project in the Abbott government.
If we are going to judge Credlin, and we will for some time to come I think, we need to focus on her behaviour and not her gender. It has to be possible to criticise women in powerful positions without having those criticisms dismissed as sexist. Kevin Rudd was accused of similar failings: micro management and excessive control, for example, without reference to his gender.
Credlin wielded immense power in a centre of hyper-masculinity. In spite of that power, she was apparently entirely unable to influence Abbott’s attitude to women. Whether she tried or not we have yet to discover. This doesn’t mean she deserves sexist barbs. She doesn’t. It does mean she isn’t a feminist icon, and she isn’t a feminist martyr.
Credlin used the master’s tools. Not one brick of the master’s house fell to feminist ideals. Yet feminist women will protest sexist attacks on Credlin, as we should, and we will also retain the right to critique Credlin’s behaviours as we do the behaviours of all powerful figures, even as we protest the gender-based insults.