There were what seemed like dozens of articles yesterday full of outrage that Jesse Mulligan and Mark Richardson had asked Jacinda Ardern about balancing family plans with the new job.
As I understand it, Jesse Mulligan is very good friends with Jacinda and her partner. So this was not a hostile question. In fact I suspect it was asked deliberately so that it would generate the coverage which it did. It successfully got 36 hours of non stop publicity for Jacinda.
You’d think there would be someone in the media who would point out that this outrageous question was asked by a close friend, not by some hostile journalist. But alas no. It was a rush to join in the virtue signalling.
On the wider issue, first let me say that women in politics do have to put up a lot of sexist questions that men do not. I am still outraged over how a friend of mine who sought a candidacy was told by a party official she should wait until her children were older. So there is a double standard often, and whether or not you have children, do not have children and/or plan to have children should not be a litmus test for politics.
But as Jacinda had done interviews in the past where she explicitly mentioned she would not become Labour Party Leader as she wanted to start a family, I don’t think it was out of bounds to follow up on that previous statement as Mulligan did.
I do think however Richardson was boorish and offensive in demanding to know her plans. No politician should be pressured that way.
A number of people have said that Bill English never gets questioned on how he copes with being a parent and politician. This is incorrect. Just a week ago the media reported how he is skipping question time to watch his son play rugby, and this got plenty of criticism on social media.
When Bill was opposition leader he was asked about how he can do the job and be a father to six kids. In fact there was criticism of him by some former colleagues that he would go home at 6 pm every evening to have dinner with his family (something he has continued to do) rather than be in Parliament all the time.
We also have double standards from Labour MPs. Yesterday Trevor Mallard said:
“I wouldn’t ask that question of anyone I was going to employ in any job… it’s an indication of deep-rooted sexism. I don’t do that sort of stuff… it’s the stuff of 1950s and prior. You have to be pretty stupid these days to do it.”
This is the same Trevor Mallard who has repeatedly attacked Chris Bishop for not having kids having said:
- “my successor knows what it is like to have a young family. Grounded not privileged” (14 Jan)
- “Keeps keep my successor grounded. Ginny knows how the world works like most families do. No privilege there.” (21 Jan)
- “kids help keep my successor grounded. Contrast that with the privileged opponent.” (15 March)
So Trevor Mallard thinks not having kids means you are not grounded and privileged. No uproar on media about this.
Now again certainly female politicians get it much harder than male politicians in terms of people questioning their ability to be MPs in terms of their family status. But it is not all one way traffic. All those who condemned two broadcasters for asking Jacinda about her family plans, have been silent on an actual MP attacking his opponent over not having kids.