Over the New Year, Government Minister Jamie Briggs resigned over an “inappropriate” interaction with a public servant. A week later, a national newspaper shared a pixelated image of the public servant which had been taken on the Minister’s phone and shared with his colleagues.
A woman in her thirties made contact with Mamamia because the events of the last few weeks had “made her heart hurt”. She had a story to tell about a time when an interaction with another Australian politician left her in tears.
She had previously stayed silent to protect his career. But hearing about the events of the last few weeks changed her mind.
She tells her story here…
I was only 22.
As a university student, I probably should have been sleeping in. Writing assignments. Drinking and dancing on Monday nights. I probably was doing all of those things. But I was also running a multi-million dollar organisation, representing thousands of students as president of our student union.
That year federal legislation had been proposed which threatened to impact students across the country. Student leaders from every state identified politicians who needed a good talking to, and we got to work.
At our first meeting, on finding out my area of study, he quoted Shakespeare to me. We shared a robust discussion on a range of issues, and he agreed to meet again. We met a total of four times that year. Once each season. He was open to learning about perspectives of others, which incrementally led him to broaden his own.
Shortly before the government was due to vote on the issue, another student and I headed to Canberra, and met in his office in parliament house to discuss proposed amendments. We got cut short by a sitting, and my colleague had to go. I agreed to return later to finish the meeting.
After lunch, he ushered me into his office. His face was flushed. Talking slower than he had been before. He chose to share the couch next to me. I gulped down nerves and began to speak.
His arm stretched out across the back of the sofa. He pointed to my stockings. “What are they, passion killers?” An expression I hadn’t heard before. He picked up my left hand, and twiddled the silver ring permanently fixed on my thumb. Was my face flushed now, too? On his desk, a bible, and a framed picture of his children.
I mumbled an excuse and left the room. Through the cold, crowded corridors of Parliament House, I walked, alone. Striding fast, tears streaming down my cheeks.
I was only 22, but I’d negotiated with our university executive to commit funding in an uncertain future. I was only 22, but I’d had to make heart-breaking decisions to let staff go who’d worked for our organisation longer than I’d been alive. I was only 22, but I’d led rallies through city streets, thousands of people-strong.
I was only 22, although somehow I’d imagined that – even though I was only a young woman – I was being taken seriously. I was finally being heard.
After that year I ran away. On a university exchange to England. To study Shakespeare. I slept in. I wrote assignments. I drank and danced on Monday nights.
I didn’t say anything. Perhaps because I liked him. He seemed to be a smart, enthusiastic, genuine man. Perhaps because I felt sorry for him. Being in parliament is a big job. Must be stressful. I didn’t want to hurt his career. I didn’t want to hurt him. Perhaps because in some sense, he had listened to us – he’d listened to me – when others hadn’t.
I was only 22, yet I was protecting a grown Man in Power.
I am now in my thirties. So why speak now? It’s no big deal, right? Nothing to write home about. Just a moment in time. Then why has that moment stayed with me for all this time? Why do the stories of this week make my heart hurt? Why is my face still flushed?
Because women should not be harassed. Women should not be silenced. Women should not be shamed for speaking up, or for speaking at all. By Men in Power. By Men. By Anyone.
We must be heard and taken seriously. We must be respected. By men in power. By all men. By everyone, including ourselves.