Is any male criticism of a female Prime Minister sexist?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had some very challenging weeks since returning from maternity leave. Problems with ministers (Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri) and power struggles with Winston Peters, plus a number of changes of policy position by Labour, have justified a lot of criticism.

Questions have inevitably been asked about how well Ardern is juggling her responsibilities as Prime Minister and as a new mother.

How much are criticims sexist?

Andrea Vance (Stuff): The PM’s made mistakes, but they’ve got nothing to do with gender

Online that is headlined: Sexist business as usual at Parliament

While female MPs were sipping orange juice at a celebratory Parliament breakfast, and their male colleagues were pinning white camellia to their suit lapels, it was sexist business as usual in the corridors of power.

Jacinda Ardern was distracted. She had too many papers crossing her desk. She was weak for not firing Clare Curran.

Don’t think this is sexist?

When Simon Bridges accuses Ardern of being distracted dealing with Winston Peters, his underlying message is: baby brain. It carries the scent of paternalistic condescension.

Bridges might not even be conscious of it. But the words we choose infer things beyond what we intend.

Do they infer “things beyond what we intend” or do others perceive things that were not intended?

No commentator ever suggested John Key had too much paperwork to deal with, even when he was struck down with one of his “brain fades”.

He was not described as weak for letting foreign minister Murray McCully get away with using a private email account – and he got hacked.

Key was described as weak. For example:

  • The Standard (2009): A weak leader
    John Key is a weak leader. Currently popular (he’s such a “nice guy” you know) – but weak. Like a school teacher who has lost the respect of their pupils, Key has lost control over his MPs. And like naughty kids, Key’s MPs are starting to run wild.
    …So the rot is well and truly set in. At no level is Key holding his Ministers and MPs to account. They are now openly defying his will. John Key is a weak leader.
  • New Zealand Labour Party (2015): John Key finally admits there’s a housing crisis
    John Key’s weak measures to rein in the astronomical profits property speculators are making are an admission – finally – that there is a housing crisis, Labour Leader Andrew Little says.

Vance:

Bridges has a baby daughter. Has anyone ever questioned if it affects his ability to lead his party? So, don’t suggest it about Ardern.

As far as I’m aware Bridges doesn’t take his baby (nor his son and other daughter or partner) to Parliament, into caucus meetings, on trips to the United Nations.

Having babies and having children affects most people, including how they do their jobs. These days All Blacks take time out from their jobs when they have babies. This impacts on their work.

No-one is “playing the woman card” here. And no-one is suggesting criticising Ardern is off-limits. She’s made plenty of mistakes – but they are nothing to do with her gender.

It is Vance who is bringing gender into it.

By all means, critique all politicians’ competencies. Tone, mannerisms or bad behaviour are all worth noting, regardless of gender. But do it without mentioning their clothing, hair, or reproductive status.

Politicians must stop referring to loaded and emotional characteristics: moody, weak, whiny, hysterical, bitchy, bossy, control freak. No more prima donna, drama queen, mean girl.

Even communal language that appears positive: “being supportive”, and “showing warmth” puts women in a box, even if they don’t fit the stereotype.

This isn’t PC gone mad.

So every politician, party and journalist should examine their words before going public to make sure there is no possibility that someone else could perceive some sort of gender connotation?

That sounds PC gone mad to me.

Yes, male politicians are also insulted and ridiculed. People are horribly cruel about Simon Bridges’ diction.

But the key difference is male MPs’ masculinity is rarely correlated with incompetence.

No matter how subtle and nuanced the discrimination is, it all combines to de-legitimise a woman’s authority, and to depersonalise them.

Is calling Winston Peters paternalistic de-legitimising him?

So, to make Suffrage 125 really count for something, its time to play the ball, not the woman.

That would be radical – politics 101 is playing the man or the woman.

Meanwhile, a female journalist plays the baby. Heather du Plessis-Allan – Jacinda Ardern outshines Helen Clark and John Key

The Prime Minister jetted off to New York last night. US TV interviews, meeting world leaders, a speech at the UN General Assembly. It’s a packed schedule ahead of her. But, busy as it will be, baby and all, it’s probably a welcome relief to get out of New Zealand.

Ardern has captured the zeitgeist of our time. A young, progressive leader. With a baby. Down-to-earth enough to buy her maternity wear from Kmart. Cool enough to DJ in her free time.

 

Leave a comment

50 Comments

  1. robertguyton

     /  September 23, 2018

    There are All Blacks who have had babies!!!?

    Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  September 23, 2018

    I watched the interview by Andrea Vance with Simon Bridges. It covers territory beyond just whether it’s sexist and implying “baby brain” to describe Ardern as “distracted”.

    He gives a good account of himself, I think. Is given plenty of time to answer and thus doesn’t suffer from the problem 1ewes gives all leaders of the Opposition, where they seem to pick a second or two (of what are obviously longer interviews) that eother make them look dense or portray them as just perennial whiners and moaners.

    It’s also interesting that Stuff might be trying out doing political interviews in competition with TV. Being able to post them inside articles gives them this option. Will be interesting to see if they do more of this. It’s good to see an interview where the interviewer is not leaping in all the time and talking over their guest.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      eother = either

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 23, 2018

        If people are determined to see sexism (and racism), they will find it.

        JA does seem distracted, even for her. What is wrong with saying this ?

        Equality means being equal in all things, not just the nice ones, I am afraid,

        Reply
  3. robertguyton

     /  September 23, 2018

    Language is important. New situations mean adjustments are needed to how things are expressed. A Prime Minister in close contact with her newborn baby is a new situation. Those who can’t take that and the need to modify their language accordingly, into account will be criticised. Bridges especially, needs to think a bit more about this. Men are less aware of sexist language, at least words that affect women negatively, than are women, Imo.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      He might be cynically exploiting a popular perception of her critics – that she will have baby brain – but it’s equally possible he simply means distracted by all the disasters to be dealt with in horror month for a PM. The comment was made in response to the kerfuffle over what she said about the GDP figures.

      Nevertheless I think you might be right. I dunno whether there’ll be another month like it for her.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 23, 2018

        She and the others in Parliament are elected and paid to be running the country as a fulltime job. If anyone can’t, because of family commitments, they are shortchanging the people of NZ.

        If someone’s distracted, why shouldn’t people say so ?

        Reply
        • robertguyton

           /  September 23, 2018

          They don’t deserve holidays either – should be working 24/7, 12 months of the year. Full-time job that! No time off for stomach-stapling and other such trifles.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 23, 2018

            Don’t be ridiculous. You must know that full-time work doesn’t mean that.

            This is a feeble attempt at undermining me by setting up the flimsiest of straw men.

            Reply
    • Missy

       /  September 24, 2018

      Language is important which is why Andrea Vance was wrong to label criticism of the PM as being sexist. She has now created more problems for the PM – and herself imo.

      1. She looks like she is trying to contain criticism of the PM and maybe reign it – even if for a short period. This article will have members of the opposition reconsidering any criticism for fear of being seen as sexist – maybe journalists as well.

      2. She has made the PM look even weaker by implying that the PM cannot handle criticism and therefore the criticism must be sexist. If the PM thinks it is sexist then the PM should call it out – I call out anything I think is sexist against me, a grown up usually does. By rushing to jump in like this Vance, (as well as the Speaker and Deputy PM through some of the ways they have rushed in to defend her in the House), have infantilised the PM and turned her into a perceived victim of sexism. Not a good look at all.

      3. What Vance has done here is send the message that minor criticisms of women is sexist, that saying a women is distracted or overwhelmed by work is sexist, this does women no good at all. It can now be used as showing how frivolous claims of sexism can be, thus meaning that when real sexism issues arise they risk not being taken seriously.

      4. Vance could also be seen as distracting people’s attention from something else – how poorly the PM has been performing maybe? Is Vance working for the PM’s office and I missed it somewhere?

      For Andrea Vance to state in her piece she isn’t playing the woman card means she is. If she wasn’t playing that card it would be obvious. Calling the criticism of the PM by Bridges sexist is so tenuous that it looks like she is playing the woman card, as such it appears that in order to avoid criticism of doing that Andrea Vance has to tell everyone she isn’t doing that – so the reality is she knows that is exactly what she is doing and it is deliberate.

      I said to my friends that I thought Bridges was the wrong choice as leader, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because that once the PM had the baby the media and opposition were likely to call any criticism by him of her sexist, Andrea Vance has just proved me right.

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  September 24, 2018

        as a person who never lets the chance to label men who criticise a womans view as a misogynist ,it is an interesting view ,you present today.

        Reply
        • Missy

           /  September 25, 2018

          “as a person who never lets the chance to label men who criticise a womans view as a misogynist…”

          This is inaccurate as you well know. I do not label men who criticise a womans view as a misogynist, but I do call out misogynistic language and attitudes where I see it, coincidentally on this blog it has mainly been you I have called out for using misogynistic language towards female commenters on this blog.

          Oh, and it is woman’s not womans since the view belongs to the woman.

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  September 25, 2018

            the last line says it all.Would tyou have even mentioned that if it were a female poster?
            Shades of a misandry complex.

            Reply
  4. robertguyton

     /  September 23, 2018

    “Ardern has captured the zeitgeist of our time. A young, progressive leader. With a baby. Down-to-earth enough to buy her maternity wear from Kmart. Cool enough to DJ in her free time.”
    Should HDA not have mentioned the baby?
    “”Ardern has captured the zeitgeist of our time. A young, progressive leader.”

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      Progressive
      2. (of a person or idea) favouring social reform.
      “a relatively progressive Minister of Education”

      Probably right. Mind you so were Pol Pot and Mao Zedong.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 23, 2018

        And Lenin and Hitler.

        Not all the maternity gear was bought from KMart; that puce satin pyjama horror wasn’t. It was by some designer who should have known better, and has to be the most unflattering garment ever made.

        I find it very irritating when any criticism of women is called sexism, as if we should be above criticism. Women are often far more sexist about men than men are about women.

        Reply
  5. David

     /  September 23, 2018

    I was a bit annoyed at Vance,s going down that track, the media has an obsession with gender and I guess because its easy to manufacture outrage but its just lazy. Most of NZ just want someone competent running the place and if she was a bloke who,s girlfriend had just had a baby he would be slaughtered.
    Pleasingly Ardern in many of these circumstances knows the correct PR approach and rises above any outrage people take on her behalf.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      I have to say I haven’t seen any evidence her baby wall rolled out to take the heat off, nor has Neve been shoved in front of the cameras beyond her initial introduction to the public and a little bit when Jacinda was on leave.

      The predictions Neve would be rolled out from time to distract the sharks and win public favour hasn’t so far been true – so full marks to Jancinda for fronting to do the job, even if it means copping the heat.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  September 23, 2018

        wall = was. I might go feed an eel and see if that helps.

        Reply
        • David

           /  September 23, 2018

          I think she has been very good and has a good track record of not playing the victim and been very sparing with baby exposure. I think she just leaves it to Gayford to charm the female reporters.

          Reply
        • Gezza

           /  September 23, 2018

          I fed Eli. I think it helped. I feel a bit more grounded now. We’ll see.

          Reply
  6. PDB

     /  September 23, 2018

    Vance: “By all means, critique all politicians’ competencies. Tone, mannerisms or bad behaviour are all worth noting, regardless of gender. But do it without mentioning their clothing, hair, or reproductive status.”

    All good if a positive spin is put on such topics however…

    Newshub: “In the latest podcast from the 11:11 series, Ms (Rachel) Hunter and Ms (Emma)Mildon praise the Prime Minister’s “divine feminine grace” and “beautiful energy and power”, calling her the “mother of a nation” and a “goddess”.”

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      I know Rachel Hunter and the less said the better. Who’s Emma Mildon and has she married and divorced anybody famous to?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  September 23, 2018

        *o
        (Damn – I might need to feed a pook)

        Reply
      • Pink David

         /  September 23, 2018

        “I know Rachel Hunter and the less said the better.”

        I was looking forward to more of her insightful political and social commentary.

        Reply
        • david in aus

           /  September 23, 2018

          Rachel Hunter said, “You can take the girl out of Glenfield, but you cannot take Glenfield out the girl”.
          This is priceless social commentary and is only eclipsed by David Tua’s “Give me an O for Awesome”.

          Criticise the girl from Glenfield at your peril.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 23, 2018

            David Tua actually said ‘O for Olsen’. If you listen to the tape, he does say this. But it has passed into received wisdom that he said the other…and he’s been a good sport about it.

            Someone analysed the tape, and it was proved that he did not say awesome.

            Reply
            • david in aus

               /  September 23, 2018

              I definitely hear O for Awesome. I was watching when he said it.
              Who would say O for Olsen?

              He owns and is a part of NZ popular culture, why fudge it. Embrace the OOOOwesomeness.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              He was a good sport about it.

              But if you hear ‘awesome’, your ear is at fault,

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              Olsen begins with an O, which could be why someone would say it.

            • david in aus

               /  September 23, 2018

              Like Loch Ness, you see want you to see. You could also make the case he said, O for Ocean.

              But later in the show, he wanted the vowel ‘P’.

              That moment was better than all the 80’s telethons put together.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              It did sound as if it could be ocean, but when one listens to it, it isn’t awesome, it begins with an O.

              Olsen (someone) was a rugby player at the time and his long time friend.

            • robertguyton

               /  September 23, 2018

              I’m convinced by Kitty’s argument. It doesn’t sound like “awesome” to me, after all.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              Because I don’t watch game shows, I didn’t see that one. It always seemed a bit odd, but we all make an occasional lapsus linguae…but most of us don’t do it on nationwide television.

              The classic lapsus linguae was (Ric Salizzo?) and the spoonerism about the crowd giving three queers for the cheen at the Commonwealth Games.

            • robertguyton

               /  September 23, 2018

              Nor do I and nor had I seen the footage of David Tua. I just assumed that it was true. But now I have new information and a chance to listen for myself.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              Some people have a very poor ear for sounds and can’t differentiate between them well; DiA seems to one of these unfortunate beings.

            • david in aus

               /  September 23, 2018

              I think David Tua admitted to saying to ‘awesome’ in the days after the game show. But years later, by his wife, denied saying it.

              David Tua is talking in an NZ Samoan accent. The first syllable could be consistent with ‘Olsen’ as often the vowels are swallowed and truncated. But the second syllable is ‘some/sum’ consistent with awesome and not the ‘sin’ you would hear with Olsen. You could make a case for either just by hearing it. But in context, who says proper nouns on Wheel of Fortune?
              If that the same person thinks ‘P’ is a vowel, I guess, anything is possible.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              Olsen is a name, not a noun, it’s not pronounced ‘Olsin” .

              Have it your own way, though, if that’s how you hear sounds, that’s your lookout,

  7. Pink David

     /  September 23, 2018

    Wasn’t the principle purpose of her having a baby to provide her with a shield from criticism?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      No.

      Reply
      • Pink David

         /  September 23, 2018

        I am surprised to hear that. The impression I gained was her baby was there for political reasons, her desire to be the first PM to have a baby in office being a major thing for her.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  September 23, 2018

          She had been having trouble conceiving. They got fertility treatment assistance. I think she’d been wanting a baby for some time – for the same reason most women want babies. I think she simply decided at her age the longer she waited the harder it would be and didn’t see why being in politics should stop that. I really think it was that simple. It was the media that got gushy.

          Reply
        • Blazer

           /  September 23, 2018

          I am surprised you didn’t say that she had a baby so she could go on the…benefit..later.

          Reply
  8. Trevors_Elbow

     /  September 23, 2018

    Hmmm… Leftists trying to control and/or change the meaning of language. Now there is a surprise….

    Ms Ardern is the PM of NZ – and with that comes every type of attack vector imaginable. She wanted the job, she has the job and the territory it comes with is populated by vicious and nasty people.

    Ms Vance should know that, as she is known for her acid pen when it suits when commentating on politics and political actors….

    to the left, to the left…… concrete pills in your box to the left..

    I suggest two concrete pills, harden up and ignore and snipes Ms Ardern….

    Reply
  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  September 24, 2018

    Vance playing the sex card. How unsurprising. First refuge of the incompetent.

    Reply
  1. Is any male criticism of a female Prime Minister sexist? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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