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The Thing about Gladys


Yesterday the second female Premier of NSW was sworn in and apparently it took only about 15 minutes for the press to get to this;

Journalist: Julia Gillard was prime minister and she copped a lot of questions about her marriage status and her child status, many of them unfairly. How prepared are you for those sorts of questions?

Berejiklian: I have been in public life for a long time. I have been a senior minister for six years. I am ready for anything.

Journalist: So was Julia Gillard and she did get questions about it, and there will be questions about it. Are you prepared for those questions?

Berejiklian: Sure, ask me one.

Journalist: The obvious question is do you think this is a disadvantage politically, because people have kids and they have families and people identify with that like they did with Morris Iemma…

Many people responded in surprise that this is still an issue today. Why should it matter if a female is single and childless? Doesn’t it just depend on her competence?

But I wasn’t surprised at all.

Single childless women, in my opinion, is still a taboo topic even in a progressive society like Australia. There are many people in our society including the media who simply don’t know how to box women who don’t have children. Where do they fit exactly?

I’m still not sure what is going on here. Are we a threat to the status quo? Do we disturb the normal rhythms of our world? Perhaps we are victims to be pitied? Or there’s that classic line, maybe we are just not “maternal” enough. My personal favourite however, is the suggestion that we have put our careers before our ultimate calling- motherhood and are now suffering the consequences. So we are seen as selfish.

Even the word “childless” has its difficulties. It implies a negative. We are defined by what we do not have.  The more frequently used “childfree” has problems too because it conveys that children are a burden.

Of course our society sends out mixed messages on motherhood too. Mothers are made to feel guilty, they are dismissed and worshipped in our society all at the same time.

But single, childless women are just completely confusing according to many people.

What I am grateful for is that there has been a huge pushback in our community regarding this journalist’s boring and predictable question. I’m also glad that we have a premier who seems competent to handle the criticism that she will probably get around her status in the future.

This is criticism that Mike Baird never got even though the was announcing policies in NSW to mitigate violence against women. How does he know what it’s like to be a woman? Moreover, Bob Carr was not questioned about his childless status when he was elected Premier.

The newly appointed Premier’s response to the question put to her, centred around her love of family, a quick philosophical reflection on the way that life doesn’t always turn out the way we sometimes wish for, and a focus on her team who will complement her. That’s the way it should be. She’s smart.

When I saw her walk up parliament stairs with her father, mother and sisters, I enjoyed seeing an alternative to the usual nuclear family images that are constantly placed before our eyes. May we see more of people who have chosen or simply reflect different lifestyles on our public platforms because they have a lot to contribute. They can speak up for the segments of our society which are often marginalised.

I wish her all the best and hope she is judged and scrutinised for her ability to run our State with compassion, justice, wisdom and good leadership.

Because that’s what actually matters.