Despite the Coalition’s best efforts to try and deflect attention from the conservative viewpoints of its leader, many women (and quite a few men) remain unconvinced that the Australia of Tony Abbott’s vision isn’t one where they’re chained to the sink and growing children up to be warriors for Jesus.
So boisterous have the accusations of misogyny become against Abbott (particularly in the wake of his Old Mate Alan Jones’ comments regarding the Prime Minister’s father, and Abbott’s subsequent reluctance to quickly and decidedly condemn them) that the Liberal Party saw fit to bring out some major artillery last week in the form of Abbott’s wife, Margie.
Delivering a speech to a lunch for Liberal women in Penrith, the thus far reluctant political spouse spoke boldly of her husband’s sensitivity and his admiration for women. She could no longer stand by while his reputation was besmirched - these scurrilous claims of woman-hatred were lies being propagated by a desperate Labor Party! This wasn't the Tony she knew, loved and enjoyed Downton Abbey with, nor the Tony who had helped raise three strong daughters!
The thing is, I'm sure it isn't. It's perfectly admirable that Margie, married to her husband for 24 years, would consider him a worthy companion and an all round Decent Aussie Bloke. I've no doubt that, at home, Tony Abbott is a loving and attentive husband.
And aside from the awkward episode in early 2010 when he discussed the 'precious gift' of his daughters' virginity with the Australian Women's Weekly, there's little evidence to suggest he's anything but a proud and encouraging father (although it remains to be seen if, should any of his daughters find themselves pregnant and wanting an abortion, he'll demonise them for prioritising 'convenience' over the independence to decide their own lives).
But aside from that, he grew up the only boy in a houseful of women, his three sisters and mother outnumbering him and his father. How, his wife asks, could Tony Abbott possibly hate women?
It's a question often asked by people caught out in gross and extended acts of subtle prejudice against others. It's the old 'some of my best friends' line, and it's designed to paint the spouter of such nonsense in a favourable light - 'I couldn't possibly be a misogynist, officer.
Some of my best virgins are daughters.' Meanwhile, those already inclined to agree with conservative values nod along, echoing the argument back along the world's most ironic human microphone. How could Tony Abbott hate women? He's bloody surrounded by them!
And herein lies the problem. The complexities of gender relations have shifted and moved so much since the second wave of feminism began to thunder down the straight, and misogyny has shifted with it.
The gender inequalities that women experience these days are no longer as cut and dry as they were 40 years ago - back then, it was easy to point to the allowance of, say, conjugal rape or sexual harassment in the workplace and declare a need for these things to be outlawed.
But legislating against the rights of husbands to rape their wives or bosses to grope their secretaries doesn't mean that attitudes haven't remained firmly rooted in a world where women perform the role of unthreatening femininity for the benefit of others to enjoy.
The definitions of words change with the tides of cultural understanding. Misogyny in the 21st century is much less about the overt and clear hatred of women - as is so often bleated by those defending anyone against its charge - than it is about the hatred of a particular kind of womanhood: i.e. one that defies the narrow and rigid ideals of 'ladylike' behaviour or values, a 'deliberately barren' version of womanhood.
It's a stance seemingly familiar to the Coalition, certainly to the newspaper columnists (particularly the female ones) who champion them and best exemplified by Max Tomlinson, a former media adviser in the Campbell Newman government.
When Queensland academic Dr Carole Ford (no relation, I'm afraid) penned an article criticising the lack of female representation in the Queensland Parliament, Tomlinson became incensed enough to send her an email reminding her of her place. In it, he asserted the idea that women weren't suited to leadership roles, that nature had equipped men with the necessary drive to be 'stronger and more fearless', called her a sourpuss and made vague mention of the world in which 'positive women thrive'.
This world that celebrates so-called 'positive women' is generally favoured by the kind of people who believe the only legitimate options for respectable women are to be homemakers, mothers, wives and maids - essentially, the kind of all-encompassing support system that allows men like Tomlinson (and Abbott) to go off and be 'great explorers, mountaineers, warriors, inventors and chefs'. And what defines a positive woman? According to Tomlinson, it's someone like his wife. A woman who devoted her life to being a homemaker, and is one of the women who exemplifies 'the life-givers, the embodiment of sacrificial love (the purest form of love), the primary keepers of the flame of civilisation that separates us from the animal world, and yet the Sisterhood frowns on them for not joining the anti-male club that [they] so typify.'
Perhaps this is the modern definition of misogyny - an agitation against women assuming they can be the leaders and the warriors, rather than merely the sacrificial wings on which their menfolk may soar. It might go some way to explaining why Abbott once wrote, "I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons".
Abbott wrote that when he was a student, and I'll be the first to put my hand up and say that people shouldn't be judged by the shared arrogance of youth. However, his perpetual habit of turning his back on female members of the Labor party in Parliament (coupled with an argument in more recent years against the carbon tax in which he invoked the poor, ironing housewives of Australia and their rising energy bills and his paternalistic approach to governing the reproductive choices of Australian women) all give me reason to believe that the views of men like Tomlinson are not so unfamiliar or unwelcome to Abbott.
His wife may make much of him growing up in a houseful of sisters, yes - but she fails to mention that one of those sisters recalls a childhood in which 'Tony was always the star', with proud parents who spoke of a son who'd grow up to be either the Pope or the Prime Minister.
Later, he and Margie would correlate the financial benefit of her work, deciding that, after childcare, taxes and petrol, the paltry $20 she pocketed per day in order to work wasn't worth it - as if the burden of childcare costs must automatically come out of the mother's pockets, and the household benefits that come from a woman working are purely monetary.
The indulgence and reassurance he experienced as a male child and then as a working father and husband might also explain why, long before his Opposition Government saw fit to develop a policy of paid parental leave, Abbott remarked to a Liberal Club function in 2002 that paid maternity leave would only exist, 'over this Government's dead body'.
Is Tony Abbott a misogynist? Perhaps not in the traditional understanding of the word. But is he a misogynist of the 21st century? Does his worldview maintain clear delineations between the abilities of men and women, denying the flexibility of identity to the latter that is naturally afforded the former? I believe so. But regardless of what I or any number of his opponents or defenders believe, one thing remains certain: the idea that Tony Abbott inherently poses a problem for female voters is one that, as he so famously said of Prime Minister Gillard, ‘won’t lie down and die’.