I like to think that on the whole, New Zealand does reasonably well when it comes to gender equality. We’ve had two female prime ministers, two female Governors-General, a female Chief Justice, numerous female Cabinet Ministers and MPs, and although it could be much better, at about 33%, the proportion of women in our Parliament is not too shabby at all.
But it turns out that all this representation at high levels is all very well. Undercutting it all is a deep-seated belief that women can’t be leaders, can’t have opinions in their own right, and are really just a subset of their husbands. A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister of Australia was told to get on the wives bus, and on top of that, the MC at the opening ceremony for the Pacific Islands Forum, told the spouses of the national leaders there that “they could come up and join their husbands now.” Clearly it was simply inconceivable that a woman could be a leader. Mere slips of the tongues, perhaps, but nevertheless gaffes that reveal an underlying attitude of disbelief that a woman can be a leader.
On top of that, the New Zealand Herald, in its Herald on Sunday incarnation, decided to take a leftwing politician and activist to task for not having the same political views as her husband, who is standing for the Labour party. The horror, the horror! The HoS headline was revealing: “Labour wife predicts losses”. Julie Fairey, long-time left wing politician, former candidate for the Alliance, member of the Puketapapa Local Board of Auckland Council, to which she was elected in her own right, not a member of the Labour party, was reduced to being a “Labour wife”. It seems that if your husband is a member of the Labour party, or standing for the Labour party, you too must be Labour, just because he is.
In a society which regarded women as equals, which truly believed that women had minds and talents and abilities of their own, it simply would not be possible to assume that a woman should be on the wives bus. There would be no such thing as a “wives bus”. A woman could not be a “Labour wife”, because everyone would know that women in fact have opinions and political commitments of their own. There would be no such concept as a “Labour wife”. It simply would not make sense.
Check out what Julie had to say about the whole affair herself, at The Hand Mirror. And ponder the irony of right wing blogger David Farrar supporting her, while left wing blogger Bomber Bradbury at Tumeke attacked her. (Don’t read the comments at DPF’s place.) While you’re at it, you might like to read Anthony Hubbard’s article at the Sunday Star Times, trying to work out why there aren’t many women in politics. He speculates that part of the reason may be that:
women candidates still get a lot of flak that men candidates don’t. People want to know how women MPs will care for their children, but not male MPs. Women MPs have their looks, dress sense and sexuality discussed more commonly than men. It’s possible that women are less likely to want to be MPs, and not just because of the sexism they face. Perhaps the whole lunatic life of the politician is less likely to appeal to them. Perhaps fewer women have that particular kind of ambition. If this is true, why?
Perhaps part of the reason is simply that women know that no matter what they do, they will forever be relegated to the wives table.
As for me, I’m off to check which way my husband wants me to vote. After all, I’m a wife, and I couldn’t possibly think for myself.