Vol 12, Issue 10
“She should be careful about being too successful. Young women burn out in politics.”
I’m not sure anyone told Paul Keating to settle down when he came into parliament aged twenty-five.
I’m not the first woman to complain about double standards in politics and I hope to god I’m not the last.
Pioneers, political giants like Joan Kirner and Julia Gillard warned us that politics is a different game for women, you have to be submissive, smarter and above all, tougher.
I must admit, I didn’t expect to experience it so discernibly myself, as someone content with occupying the lower rungs of the political ladder, so to speak.
Politics is a rough, calculated, divisive game. It’s not for everyone, but for me it’s never been optional (I’m not one to stick my head in the sand).
Recently Melbourne University launched a program titled “Pathways to Politics” encouraging women to participate in politics. But is politics really an institution that wants women? Welcomes them?
Full disclosure, I haven’t attended this particular set, but in my experience, these workshops teach politics as though it occurs in an unbiased, neutral environment.
Because that’s what women in politics are meant to be, neutral.
Joan Kirner, the first female Premier of Victoria once said “It’s okay, when we as women are in a serving role. But it’s not okay, it appears, still, when we have full access to power.” Kirner was Premier in 1990, almost thirty years ago. Thirty years and nothing’s changed.
Let’s take a look at Julie Bishop. She enjoys an unusual degree of confidence from the Australian people, she is well liked, endlessly competent and her longevity as deputy leader outlasts that of our last 5 Prime Ministers.
She also knows her place.
Predictable. Steady. Unambitious.
I would, to a certain extent, dispute the unambitious part. I think she’s very ambitious, but rather, knows moving above your station as a woman in politics means you’ll be turned on quickly. If you want to be around for a long time, not a good time, you’ stay the loyal subservient deputy.
Bishop is almost the perfect antithesis of Gillard.
I don’t think feminism means being dogmatically supportive of women, there are a great number of things Gillard did that I disagree with, but it’s hard to deny the level of abuse she received was unwarranted.
I don’t know how many of you read murder judgements for fun, but if you do you’ll notice that men who murder are often described as emotional, good men who lost control. Overwhelmingly women are described as unfeeling, calculating and “witches”.
Sound familiar? Gillard was crucified for stepping above her station. She dared challenge the authority of a man. I’ll admit there were other factors at play here but in essence; the character of a man who plays the political game is forgivable. Whereas when a woman plays the dirty game it apparently reveals something deeply sinister about her character.
Because, as the fairer sex, we’re not meant to get dirty.
Admittedly, I’m being dramatic here. No one chants “lock her up” at me and I’m fairly sure De Minimis isn’t too interested in my wardrobe choices. Nonetheless I’ve witnessed the confusion, indignation and vitriol a competent woman in politics stirs up.
I asked a friend, the subject of the opening quote and a more senior woman in politics for her thoughts. She bluntly summarised: “No one takes you seriously, or else they think you’re a bitch”.
I’ve been told I should have a male Vice President, to “balance my leadership out”. I’ve been asked if I was sexually assaulted whilst working on the Respect. Now. Always campaign, because apparently, women can only engage with issues to which they have an emotional attachment.
I’ve been called emotional and a “reductive simpleton” when I’ve spoken passionately about an issue.
Men have spat the words “bitch”, “manipulative” and “soulless” at me when I’ve outplayed them.
Apparently, I’m Schrodinger’s woman; ruled by the emotions I’m devoid of.
I’m not factional, I’m not devious and I’m not emotional.
I’m confident, I’m smart and I’m competent.
Perhaps, instead of teaching women politics is neutral, we should teach them how to endure the onslaught that comes with it.
After all, no one calls Bill or Malcolm treacherous.
Georgia Daly is a second-year JD student and the President of the Graduate Student's Association
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