Glad bad? Consider her ‘sins’ by their outcome not gender

21 October 2020

How much of a part has Gladys Berejiklian’s gender played in how the media has condemned her?

Gladys Berejiklian Daryl Maguire

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

The “scandal” of New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s relationship with disgraced MP Daryl Maguire has raised some serious questions for feminist and other commentators — we are not used to women in positions of leadership so questions of character, relationships and suitability are problematic.

It is interesting that around the time the scandal was raging, another female leader, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, was reelected prime minister with an increased majority.

Both Berejiklian and Ardern were involved in leading their constituencies through COVID-19 outbreaks, employing measures that were difficult to sell to voters, so trust was a core requirement. Both seem to have retained their voters’ trust in these areas.

The question is whether Berejiklian’s romantic adventures will destroy her political career.

Many male political leaders have had non-marital relationships and not been seen as odd — but there is a serious difference. Men’s partners — official and informal — are rarely likely to be involved in significant positions that raise questions of privacy and probity.

Berejiklian is different.

Unmarried, with no known intimate relationships, this very private woman’s life was suddenly in the spotlight. She appeared in phone calls recorded by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in its investigation of Maguire. This created a question: as well as being in a long-term relationship with a shady dropkick, was Berejiklian bent?

Having more women in power is one of conventional feminists’ core demands under the assumption that both political content and process will improve. The headline on an article by Jacqueline Maley in The Sun-Herald on October 19 declares “Gladys in Blunderland: bad choices and suffered fools.

Not a respectful description. Berejiklian had excused her secrecy as personal privacy and claimed to have done nothing wrong. In a later article in the same edition, Maley was even more critical.

The story was also covered by the ALP’s Kristina Keneally, whose ALP loyalties are evident but whose words revealed another concern: accusing Berejiklian’s actions as being an “affront” to feminism.

Keneally wrote that occupying the same job previously gave her insight into the pressure women face in these roles. However, she criticised her successor’s bad judgements. She ended with the accusation that “the NSW premier should not have the luxury of unpicking decades of feminist progress”.

She said such a sexist argument of women not being able to exercise scrutiny in their emotions has long been used by men to exclude women from politics and the corporate world.

Keneally finished by stating: “Berejiklian shouldn’t have the luxury of getting away with it.”

Oops. Men get away with this crap all the time. Equality isn’t just replacing men with virtuous women.

The moral argument is used too often by some feminists who want to claim that we are naturally nicer than men. This view is not proven, and denies one of the basic claims of Simone de Beauvoir — that women are not born but made and can therefore change.

In an era where gender is increasingly shown to be a spectrum, the inherent characteristics of this moral feminism are hard to support. Ergo, Berejiklian’s sins need to be assessed on their outcomes, not her biological sex.

Should she resign? That depends on what further evidence of malfeasance exists and emerges. Bad judgement is not enough in itself. The decisions made need to take into account whether there is evidence she has caused serious harm. So far this is not the case.

So far her political popularity hasn’t been seriously affected — a Guardian Essential Poll shows she still retains majority support, as does besieged Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews:    

In results suggestive that incumbency is powerful during a global and national crisis, 68% of the sample of 1082 voters approve of Berejiklian’s performance despite rolling controversy last week about the New South Wales premier’s undisclosed relationship with disgraced MP Daryl Maguire.

Surely she deserves another chance?

Eva Cox is a commentator and seeker of social change. She is an adjunct professor at UTS’ Jumbunna Indigenous Institute of Education and Research and was a founding member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

Peter Fray

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