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Cognitive dissonance 18 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life, Philosophy, Politics.
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I am suffering, dear reader. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance.

I’m sure you have heard of that before: holding two or more beliefs at the same time, where those beliefs are incompatible in theory and practice.

I often suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is why I could never go into politics. The world is not sufficiently black or white for me to pick a side and not see the other’s merit. There are times I feel strongly one way or another, but often, I cannot reconcile conflicting beliefs to take a position on a matter. How easy it would be to be certain of yourself all the time.

This time around, it’s politics. Today, the Abbott government was sworn in. Out of 20 ministers, there is one female, and 19 male ministers. And I am struggling with this on two levels.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that there is only one woman in cabinet. I think there are plenty of capable, interesting, intelligent, measured, hard-working women in the Liberal Party. And I am sure there could have been more women on the front benches. I believe the government and the cabinet should represent the people that put them there, which may mean they should look like a cross-section of society.

On the other hand, I do not believe there should be a ‘quota’ of women that should be promoted (in any position), and merit should be the driver for appointments. I believe women are not ‘equal’ when they experience positive discrimination. I think they are equal when people no longer see their gender. As a woman, I would hate to think that I get to where I am in life because of (or despite of) my gender. I want to be respected, valued and appreciated for my brains, my abilities and my shutzpah.

I think selection bias, or the fact that one tends to select and promote people who look, feel, sound and behave like oneself, is a driver behind many appointments. And not just in government.

I don’t think it is necessarily done in a malicious way, but I think a leader who is unaware of his or her own bias might easily fall into the trap of promoting those like him- or herself. My selection bias might explain why I am disappointed there are no more women in cabinet. I want to see strong, capable women in places of power and decision making.

And as per my previous post, I think Abbott plays a dangerous game in terms of his outward views on women. Whether he actually holds a low opinion of women or whether the media is just portraying him as such, is not really the point. However, I do think it less than politically astute to give his opponents more fodder, which is what this cabinet has done. And to say he was ‘disappointed’ there were not more women on the front bench was outright silly – he chose the front bench.

There were countless Facebook posts in my feed over the past days reflecting a less-than-flattering view of “I cannot believe any woman would have voted for this government, and now you reap what you have sown” or worse still, “Abbott will take Australia 20 years back in time”. Simplistic gibes.

Because Abbott and his party did win. And it would have taken a significant number of female voters to get him there. It is, however, possible that women who voted for him are also suffering from cognitive dissonance.

The world is not black and white, and it is the varying levels of grey that makes it interesting. I will keep an open mind on this cabinet. May it do good for Australia.

Abbott talks about looks too much 5 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life.
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Clearly, Tony Abbott should steer clear from commenting on fellow candidates or his daughters looks. In case you missed it: not long ago, he noted that the Liberal candidate Fiona Scott had ‘a bit of sex appeal’. More recently, he said about his daughters (he has three) that they were ‘not bad looking’.

Not because the comments are actually that bad – if you watch the footage from either occassion, he is actually being a total dag. Lighthearted. And even friendly.

On both occassions, though, people cringe. And here is the rub: it gives further amonition to people who think Abbott is out of touch, old-fashioned and (god forbid anyone should have known this word prior to the infamous speech in parliament earlier this year) mysogenistic!

Set aside that he also praised Fiona Scott for multiple other qualities that she is supposed to bring to the table. Set aside that he is obviously a biased dad who seems to adore his girls. Set aside the fact that ‘not bad looking’ is the quintessential Australian understatement.

You, Mr. Abbott, are in the public eye. And soundbites are the way of the media. So steer clear of praising women for their looks. Completely. For some reason, it is no longer acceptable.

Like it or loathe it, stick to telling women (and men) that that you work with they are well-qualified. Smart. Intelligent. Astute. The best option for the future. Or whatever you choose to say. I must admit that I would not like to be introduced at a work function with any reference to my looks. I would like to think that I am where I am because of my ability and my skills. And it would be highly inappropriate for a supervisor to say that I have sex appeal.

At the same time, leave the man alone about his daughters. He clearly loves and adores them, and probably thinks they are the most gorgeous girls he knows, both inside and out. So what? That’s a dad’s perogative.