20 Sep 2018

Political dads are optional extras?

Political dads are optional extras, like heated seats

When we conduct — as we have in the past few weeks — a national bout of hand-wringing about why there are not more women in federal politics, the talk is always of how women are treated. Bullying, preselection processes, the questions they're asked and so on.

But what about the things we don't ask men?

For an average Dad in politics, mentions of his children usually are oblique affairs in campaign literature where they appear as silent, smiling guarantors of his reliability. Every now and again they might bob up as detail in an excessive travel entitlement claim, or in the papers if they've done something unfortunate, like get kicked out of school or busted for smoking weed.

For the most part, we assume that a male politician's kids are being raised quietly, competently, and not by him, in a place beyond our field of vision.

In a political family, a father is effectively a kind of optional extra, like metallic duco or heated seats. Nice if you have them; survivable if you don't.

It's so different for women.

Here's an example: When Karen Andrews — now a Cabinet minister in charge of industry, science and technology — was preselected to contest the Queensland seat of McPherson in 2010, she received a letter from a preselector who informed her that he would never permit his own wife to leave their children to go into politics.

It's one of a thousand little stories that parliamentary mothers swap among themselves.
Whose job it is to look after kids is deeply, deeply held.

Among all the other things that MPs have to deal with — constant media attention, the unpredictability of the work environment, separation from family — mothers in Parliament also need to know that they will regularly receive awful letters from constituents or distant cranks accusing them of being terrible mothers and abandoning their children.

Of all the disincentives that militate against women taking that step into public life, this is a pretty serious one, and yet it probably gets the least attention.

Why? Because our attitudes about mothers and fathers and whose job it really is to look after children are deeply, deeply held. We assume that most parliamentary fathers have "the wife who will be raising the kids most of the time that's true.

The fathers are never asked.  Do your children suffer because of your job?

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