deputy opposition leader tanya plibersek profiled in condescending article
Featured on Daily Life this week was an in-depth profile of our new deputy Opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek. Focussing on Plibersek’s family, home, and love of cooking (with handy captions of where her clothes were from at the end), the piece read like something out of a feminist-nightmare – once again reinforcing the idea that Plibersek (like Gillard before her) is a woman first, and a politician second.
Opening with a description of Plibersek ‘whisking egg yolks, lemon juice and olive oil into a home-made mayonnaise’, the piece immediately dives into a rhetoric that we’re unfortunately very accustomed to hearing about female politicians, one that places gender and assumed female characteristics at the centre of Plibersek’s character, inseparable from her abilities as a politician.
‘Plibersek sets out a light lunch for our interview…On the bench is home-made banana bread next to a folder marked “school notes”. The fridge is plastered with wedding invites, photos and a timetable of before- and after-school activities. “I love cooking and I find it really relaxing,” Plibersek says. “It’s different from what I do the rest of the time”,’ the piece continues.
‘Plibersek is strikingly handsome, with angular features that reflect her Slovenian heritage.’
I mean, seriously? She’s one of the most powerful women in Australia, and we’re profiling her Slovenian good looks?
Here’s my issue with articles like this:
Of course Tanya Plibersek’s family is an important part of her life. And being a mother is a considerable skill in itself, and for many, a consuming full-time job. The fact that Plibersek can juggle both being a mother and her role as a high profile politician is definitely worth noting.
But that’s just it – it’s worth noting, acknowledging, and moving on. To profile Plibersek in a piece that focuses on her looks, cooking skills, and kitchen fridge while not even mentioning her education, and only barely touching on her political career implies a lot about how we, as a society, deal with female politicians.
It reminds me of the incident in 2005 when then deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was photographed next to an empty fruitbowl in her home, leading to countless analyses that claimed Gillard was barren (and also unfit to run the country). The empty fruitbowl, the lack of fridge calendars, the dearth of well-dressed children to pose next to, all indicated that Gillard lacked some necessary ‘femaleness’ that would have somehow made up for the otherwise unnatural qualities of ambition and confidence that made her a leader and politician.
This article almost reads as a long excusing of Plibersek’s career, by assuring the public that she still cooks for her family, still breastfed each of her children for a year, and that frankly we don’t need to be intimidated because she doesn’t want the top job – she’s committed to her family, as she should be.
And that’s the worst part – I absolutely think it’s great that Plibersek has such an evidently happy home life, that she has a good relationship with her family, and that she can accommodate all of the aspects of her life in a way that works for her.
But articles like this one seem to imply that this is out of the ordinary – that Plibersek is the exception to the rule (the rule being the frazzled, unhappy working mum, neglecting her children and unable to keep up in the workplace). Marvelling at Plibersek’s ability to run a happy home and work life does harm to the perception of female politicians, because it suggests that Plibersek is a novelty, that not many women could cope with the pressure. The same scrutiny is not applied to male politicians in equal or higher positions – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s children have barely made a talking point.
It is time for society to stop treating women as if their gender is integral to all that they do – just like Bill Shorten doesn’t represent his party in Parliament with his penis, nor does Plibersek’s vagina control her intellect or abilities.
And just as Bill Shorten’s ability to be both a father and a politician is assumed, so should Plibersek’s be. We should not need a condescending piece like the Daily Life article to spell it out for us.