Minutes. That’s all it took for NSW’s first female Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian to be subjected to sexism at its worst.
A so-called journalist had the temerity to warn her – in a passive aggressive way – that as an unmarried woman with no children, she could face some sexism in the role.
Yes, that as a woman who had not bred or doesn’t have a husband, she may not understand or empathise with those who do.
And to that I say: wake up. It’s 2017, not 1817. How dare you unleash your notions of what it constitutes to be a “real woman” on someone who frankly deserves better?
Now, the reporter may argue he was only reflecting society’s views as a whole. Yet this view is no longer the view of the majority of society as a whole - only an ignorant minority.
Former Prime Minster Tony Abbott was opposition leader when Julia Gillard became the PM, and he commented that under her leadership the Australian government was one that "lacks experience in raising children".
In 2007, former conservative senator Bill Heffernan unfairly surmised that Gillard was "deliberately barren", and as such unqualified for the job. He was rightfully condemned for his comments yet some ten years later, here we go again.
It appears there are some dinosaurs still roaming Jurassic Park, and their roar is a loud one. But here’s what I say – we need to roar louder.
Listen: Sallyanne Atkinson thinks a woman's place is in the boardroom. (Post continues after audio.)
After a weekend of marches all over the globe for female solidarity, it’s time we out the ignorant for what they are and remind such men that they are not somehow superior because their partners may have bore them children. They just didn’t use contraception; that doesn’t make them saints.
As a content, childfree and unmarried woman, I have copped patronising and pitying comments assertions and comments. These include, “You don’t know love until you have a child”, “It is the greatest thing a woman can do,” and “Who will look after you when you are old?”
I have endured every second report on TV or radio about a missing or murdered child starting with, “It’s every parent’s nightmare,” as if those of us who haven’t had kids somehow won't feel the tragedy as potently. And I have felt deeply insulted each and every time.
Because here’s the rub – having children doesn’t make you morally superior or more capable. It just makes you a parent. And it doesn’t guarantee you are a good one. Just as being able-bodied doesn’t mean you can’t empathise with the disabled, or being white doesn’t blinker us to the challenges and prejudices of those who aren’t.
Ms Berejiklian had more than a decade in public life and had six years as a ministerial experience. She has been responsible for taking Sydney’s archaic public transport system in to this century, initiating the light rail project currently underway and streamlining the ticketing process electronically.
Yet, regardless of these fine accomplishments, that rude reporter’s comment implies she has failed only real accomplishments a woman should aspire to – to produce children and attach herself legally to a man.
Well, tell that to Mother Theresa or Oprah Winfrey, two other woman who have “failed” to have children. Should their achievements be wiped out because they didn’t follow the narrow path that has been defined by convention and religion over the decades? I don’t think so.
What perhaps made me saddest at yesterday’s press conference was Gladys Berejiklian’s well mannered (I would have verbally ripped the reporter’s head off) response to his comment, “Do you think this is a disadvantage politically because people have kids and they have families and people identify with that.”
“Take me as you see me,” she replied. “I am someone who has always been myself. Not all of us can plan how our life turns out. I am a very happy person. If you asked me 20 years ago would my life look like this? It probably wouldn’t be how it looks like. But I am grateful for the opportunities I have had…. I am not going to judge anybody on his or her personal circumstances. I am here to govern for everybody and I hope that people judge me on my merits and what I can do.”
The fact Gladys Berejiklian felt it necessary to reveal her childless state might not have been voluntary shows women have a way to go to shed the “shame” associated with not having children. Because the simple fact is it is no one else's bloody business. A woman’s fertility is not the sum of who she is, so stop questioning it.
We have lot of work to do to lose the images of spinsters and crones that surround childlessness and tell others to take their pity and stick it. So, let’s start by losing the need to question a woman’s marital state or lack of children and focus on who they are as a person and a citizen.
Let’s stop seeing them as “selfish” – this one really sticks in my craw, as what is selfish about choosing not to bring a child in to the world you may not be able to financially or emotionally cope with? – and see them as people and not potential baby vessels.
Because the fact is that childfree is soon to be the new norm, with more women opting out of motherhood due to a wide variety of reasons (selfishness being the least). In fact, The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that by 2031 the proportion of families with children will be overtaken by couples without, by 38 to 43 per cent.
So, to future mothers who buck this trend, I ask: how would you feel being questioned as to why you want children? Would you like to be seen as “selfish” because you are bowing to your biological impulses and creating another environmental footprint on the planet? And how would you feel being scrutinised as to how you will relate to the majority of women who don’t have kids? Will you be seen as unable to do the job or preoccupied by family responsibility?
Of course you won’t like it. So, let’s lose this prejudice surrounding fertility and what being a “real woman” constitutes. This will entail both sexes coming together over our choices and circumstances and celebrating that we have them.
And it will entail men like Abbott, Heffernan and that shameful reporter pulling their heads in and understanding a woman’s fertility is her own business, and does not reflect what she brings to society as a whole. And that by speculating, it does makes you a sexist bigot.
As journalist Mike Carlton tweeted in response to yesterday’s press conference:
Would the stupid, insensitive hack that asked Gladys Berejiklian about her lack of kids have put the same question to [childless former NSW Premier] Bob Carr?
No Mike, he wouldn’t have. So let’s stop with the sexism and let this capable woman do her job without her uterus being a judging factor in its success.