Do Bill and Greg have kids?

vintage political poster: Women's job is the home! Give her power over her job! Give her the vote!
[Image source: Sociological Images.]

Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald featured a story about the Federal cabinet reshuffle. While I certainly applaud the promotion of these talented female politicians, it is disappointing to see the newspapers focus on their roles as mothers.

The article in question is headlined, Gillard: ‘Nicola, Tanya and Julie understand the challenges Australian women face as they seek to build a career’

I quote:

Nicola Roxon, a mother of one, has become the nation’s first female Attorney-General. She has been replaced as Health Minster by Tanya Plibersek, a mother of three. The newest minister, Julie Collins, has three children. All the women are in their 40s.

It is only later in the article that the women’s achievements in previous portfolios are mentioned.

I like these letters from today’s paper in response to the article above.

Mira Crouch of Glebe writes:

It may be pleasing that our Labor Prime Minister will be so well advised on the bourgeois point of view of the woman building a career while having a family (“Gillard: Nicola, Tanya and Julie understand the challenges Australian woman face as they seek to build a career”, December 13).

However, Julia Gillard also needs to understand, and consider, that most Australian women (and men) work in jobs which do not provide opportunities for upward career paths. Nonetheless they, too, seek to build something – a decent life for themselves and their families (if any) in a community which respects and supports the run-of-the-mill person as much as an aspirational one. Lead the way, Prime Minister!

Another letter points out that these women can only manage to juggle the career-climb and motherhood because they earn a salary big enough to pay for childcare.

But my favourite letter is the following one, because it points out the double standards involved when we talk about female and male politicians…

Suzanne Marks of Dulwich Hill writes:

Thank you to the Herald for highlighting that the three women appointed to the cabinet are all mums and how many children they have. I’d also love to know if Bill Shorten and Greg Combet are dads and how many children they have. (I’m not interested in Mark Arbib). Or do we only learn this about men when they muck up their portfolios and leave politics to spend more time with their families?

Can you imagine a headline that read “Bill and Greg understand the challenges men face when building a career”? Firstly, if it was in the Australian press, they’d be referred to by their surnames Shorten and Combet, because they’re blokes. Secondly, no, we can’t imagine such a headline, because the struggle to combine paid work with being a parent is still thought of as something that only women face.

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5 Responses to “Do Bill and Greg have kids?”

  1. Alice Says:

    “Firstly, if it was in the Australian press, they’d be referred to by their surnames Shorten and Combet, because they’re blokes.”

    I generally agree, and wince every time I see the tabloid press refer to _The Prime Minister_ as “Julia” (seriously??), but I think it’s important to note that that was a direct quote from Gillard, rather than a headline writer. I would be very shocked to see the SMH start to refer to female public figures in that way, as tabloidy as it occasionally is.

    • doctorpen Says:

      Yep, sure, it’s definitely a Gillard quote. That’s fine. But it does seem a funny choice of headline for a story that doesn’t really delve into the ‘challenges Australian women face’. My main gripe is that it’s actually a story that talks about “more women in cabinet”, and yet it still begins with detailing how many children the women have.

      And yes, I cringe too when Gillard is referred to as Julia by the media.

  2. kim Says:

    It is disappointing, but the headlines merely reflect what readers presumably want. Similarly, if Julia Gillard calls her female ministers by their given names in media interviews, it is to do with creating/maintaining an image and relationship with the public. It occurred to me, perhaps this sort of coverage coincides with the rise of television, the cult of ‘celebrity’, media ‘personalities’ – that sort of thing. I wonder, was there a time when politicians were respected solely for the work they did? These days, it seems more important to (a) be someone the average (or perhaps lowest common denominator) person can relate to; and (b) someone the average (or LCD) person finds likeable. Tall poppy syndrome: anyone that smacks of elite, being too educated, ambitious, rich or successful – esp. if they come from a minority group of some sort – is not likeable. For female politicians, perhaps being identified as mothers ‘struggling to find work-life balance’ helps them remain relate-able and likeable?

    • pen Says:

      I think there is definitely a bit of the cult of celebrity thing going on with our politicians. They always need to be popular and likeable. I’d like to think that they are also judged on their policies and performance, but not sure. Sometimes it seems to be more about who can get the best soundbite for the day.

      I think you’re onto something regarding the politicians who are mothers. There’s certainly a large demographic that that would appeal to. I wonder if the “working fathers” rhetoric would work in a similar way for male pollies…

  3. Jo Says:

    Great piece – this sort of thing is constantly pissing me off! The way that the lives of female politicians are a kind of public sphere, the way that we make sitcoms about them that aren’t even funny, the way that we obsess about the PM losing a shoe and especially the way that some people (*cough*Abbott*cough) always refer to the PM as Julia instead of Prime Minister or Ms Gillard. Give female politicians the same respect as male politicians, won’t you?

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