Why are we still asking woman if they intend to have babies?

3 August 2017

It’s happened again. Another woman has taken on a senior role in politics and one of the first questions she has been asked is about her baby-making plans.

This time it is newly-elected New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern who, in the first two days in her new role, was asked by two male journalists about her plans for a family.

It started on the New Zealand version of The Project when she was questioned about whether she felt she had had to choose between having babies and a career. It then escalated the next day when The AM Show radio host Mark Richardson stated that it was an employer’s right to know if a woman was planning to have babies, therefore New Zealand voters had a right to know.

For the record, it is not an employer’s right to know if female employers want to have babies. In fact, it is illegal – both in Australia and New Zealand (and many other countries). Furthermore, in a follow-up interview with Australia’s The Project, Ms Ardern said she had never been asked by voters about her plans for a family – the questions were coming from journalists.

It’s similar to questions that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian faced when she first took the leadership role.

She was asked if, as an unmarried childless woman, she could truly identify with the people she would serve.

Why in 2017 are female leaders being asked these questions?

Mark Richardson, The AM Show radio presenter said asking Ms Ardern questions such as “Is it okay for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”, was legitimate.

No, Mark Richardson, that line of questioning is not legitimate. If it were, you and other journalists would be asking it of every male politician within the child-making years and, as men’s fertility age is much longer than women’s, that’s pretty much every politician.

But had Jacinda Ahern been John Ahern we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

No journalist would ask: “Listen mate, you’re 37, your wife/partner/girlfriend may become pregnant during your term in office. Therefore, the people of New Zealand need to know how you will manage having a family and leading the country. So, how will you manage?”

It would never be asked because it doesn’t need to be asked. We have never asked Bill Shorten how he manages being Australia’s Labor leader with the demands of a young family. Why? Because it’s assumed his wife (a highly-accomplished woman with her own career) will take care of the kids.

English feminist Caitlin Moran has a great way to pinpoint whether something is sexist – ‘are the men doing it?’. Her assertion is that men aren’t being told they have to be a certain way, they are just getting on with it.

Men aren’t being asked how they will juggle work and family life so why are their wives, partners, sisters and female friends being asked that question?

It’s 2017, yet I feel that The Handmaid’s Tale and women’s position as a womb on legs isn’t such a far-fetched concept.

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