New NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has faced a lot of tough questions in his first week in office. One has been conspicuously absent.
In 1990, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, made history when she became the world’s first practicing female leader to give birth while in office.
It was a watershed moment, but it would be almost disappointing 30 years later before there was even a second woman on that list, namely Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand.
Even now, go #MeToo and post the gender and power convulsions of the past few years, nothing has changed when it comes to the tense intersection of politics and motherhood.
It is a problem that, strangely enough, Dominic Perrottet’s elevation this week as NSW Premier after the dismissal of Gladys Berejeklian he has once again stood out.
Almost every story about him over the past seven days has included, with some wide-eyed amazement, the fact that the 39-year-old also turns out to be the father of six young children.
And what has been fascinating are the questions you have and, more importantly, you have not faced this curious tidbit.
Overall, the growing interest in your family’s situation has been largely focused on what it means: that is, your religiosity and the rarity value of any couple having so many children at a time when the average Australian household can’t even hit. two. (According to the 2016 census, equals 1.8 children per household).
But let’s play a game and imagine for a moment what things would be like right now if Perrotet were a woman, and the new chief of New South Wales had half a dozen children at home.
If this female leader had just taken over the reins of the state, we would now be in the grip of a furiously exciting national conversation about this most unusual turn of events. There would be opinion pieces, radio response calls, and a flood of social media posts ranging from red-faced right-wingers lamenting society’s impending decline to a flurry of girl empowerment on Instagram.
There would be an outburst of “How He Does It All” reports and a flood of thoughts as to whether this was some kind of watershed feminist moment.
As a nation, we would distract ourselves, at least momentarily, from talking about Tik Tok, Squidand Adele’s new album.
This would be a very important thing.
And instead, so far, the topic has only come up once for Perrottet, when during a press conference this week, a reporter asked her: “If you were a female leader, they would ask you how you can handle being Premier and also being the father of six children, I think it’s fair to ask you that today. What do you think?”
Perrotet’s response was an example of sublime forgetfulness of any kind of understanding about the double standards of which he is the beneficiary.
“I think that what I could lose over time, I gain in perspective. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and I am no different than that, but one thing I do know is that I have a very strong team around me, ”said Mr. Perrottet.
“I have a strong family and a strong ministry team that will make sure our focus is on the people of New South Wales.
“Yes, I have family commitments, but that shouldn’t disqualify one from the job.”
(Of course you shouldn’t be disqualified, but tell the legion of women who can’t rise through the ranks because they also happen to be mothers every day. Damn.)
But to date, not a single voice has questioned his suitability to do his job based on his apparent procreative enthusiasm, nor has anyone asked him how he plans to balance the demands of his office and home.
No one has questioned whether Perrottet’s status as the father of nearly half of a starting lineup of boys in the rugby league will affect his ability to carry out his duties or whether it makes him more or less fit for the post of prime minister.
Men are still given the benefit of the doubt and can move forward with the collective assumption that fatherhood does not somehow negate their ability to take on high-level political roles.
In the case of boys, it is assumed that their family circumstances will not affect or influence their professional abilities in any way. Mr. Perrottet also won’t face any finger movement over choosing to have a group of kids and then quickly leave them home to go out and take on a demanding and time-consuming job.
Our newly installed Premier has not, and probably will not, stand up to a single voice that labels him irresponsible for having had so many children and then deciding that he wants to cover himself in the glory of Macquarie Street.
Would the same be true if it were his wife Helen, a successful attorney, currently moving a treasure trove of signed John Howard posters to a new office on Martin Place?
Not very likely.
Beyond that, if it were Helen and not Dominic with the political momentum in that house, then the chances that she, in the most realistic sense, could have climbed the greasy pole of state politics by having six children are nonexistent.
It breaks every feminist bone in my body, but there is no way this is a theoretical possibility.
The structural and practical realities of a half-dozen pregnancies and an ever-growing brood would mean that no woman, unless she had a housebound partner and a committed entourage of full-time paid staff, could practically achieve this.
Just six batches of maternity leave would automatically rule out any woman with leadership aspirations approaching the top, with the odds so spectacularly against her that this scenario would be totally implausible.
While Jacinda Ardern may have made the prime minister and the pregnancy work, there is no chance she would have ended up in charge of a country if she had already had six children.
Political women remain trapped in no-man’s-land with no way out when it comes to parenthood.
If you don’t, or heaven forbid, you choose not to get pregnant and women in politics are often viewed with a kind of suspicious suspicion, as if they have been tainted by an enormous overabundance of ambition.
Instead, leave a gang of young children at home to take over the corridors of power and the female pollies have to defend their decision ad nauseam.
Women who aspire to rule a state (or country) and who also happen to be mothers still have their motives, competence, and moral compass repeatedly questioned.
And the men? If our new prime minister has taught us one thing, clearly not.