As a young woman going into politics, I often get asked if there are different expectations for women. Or, more bluntly, is it harder for women. And the answer to that is, honestly, yes.
All the logistics aside (for example: how you manage to balance having kids with a career – something I haven’t even tried yet), the thing that frustrates me the most is how I’m taken less seriously by people because I’m a young woman, even though I’m a practicing lawyer.
At a local health cuts rally last year, a former senior politician was talking to me and the other local candidates (who were all blokes) and while he asked the blokes what they thought about various different policy positions, he then turned to me, told me I looked great, and asked me whether I had changed my hair?
I also happen to have a fairly high-pitched voice. Many people I trust in politics have advised me to work on lowering my voice. This means that when I’m addressing a crowd at a community meeting, introducing myself at a school P&C or doing a radio interview, not only am I trying to remember policy detail and key messages – I’m also trying to remember to breathe correctly and lower the tone of my voice.
Because god forbid I sound like a woman who is passionate about my community.
Unsurprisingly, the questions about whether or not I am planning to have children come up often, and I’m absolutely sure none of the male candidates get asked the same.
The other issue that differentiates female and male politicians is personal grooming. Women are judged far more on how they look than blokes are. They shouldn’t be, but they are. So the reality is, you have to spend time making sure you look okay. My campaign team of mostly men giggle about me having to book out time in my campaign diary to get my hair done.
The Courier Mail recently stated Annastasia Palaszczuk, our leader, needs to be “well-grommed” – I don’t remember reading the same advice for Campbell Newman. Trying to meet this beauty standard requires a considerable amount of time away from talking to voters and persuading them to vote for me. But if you don’t do it, it becomes a story. It is absolutely easier for blokes – blue suit or blue suit, or blue suit?!
And that’s just the stuff on the surface. As any woman knows, sexism in the workplace is often far subtler. But I’m lucky in QLD to have had strong woman as mentors within my party. It helped that we had a female leader in Anna Bligh, and now we have Annastacia Palaszczuk. And of the nine current MPs, five are women. While I have been long aware of the pressures women face in politics, it was never enough to put me off. So when I had the chance to stand for preselection for Waterford I didn’t hesitate.
And here we are, days from the election, and I think I have shaken so many hands and talked to so many people that often my voice isn’t so much high pitched, as generally hoarse.