Where is Australia's Jacinda Ardern?

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While speaking to a Republican fundraising dinner in Washington last week, US President Donald Trump referred to Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) — the NYC Congresswoman touted to be Trump's biggest 'star power' rival — as 'a young bartender'.

Jacinda Ardern and AOC stride ahead, even as they are weighed down by white male 'balls and chains', including one shaped like Donald Trump. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonTrump's words, many of which failed to actually form a complete sentence as per his favoured 'stream of consciousness' style, included: 'The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old,' followed by, 'You have senators that are professionals, that you guys know, that have been there for a long time ... and they're standing behind her shaking. They're petrified of her.'

In attempting to belittle AOC's intellect, age and class, Trump was juxtaposing her with 'senators that are professionals' who have 'been there for a long time'. The obvious assertion being that AOC is not a 'professional', and is apparently too young to be one anyway.

AOC, a second generation Puerto Rican American, supported herself through tertiary study, and graduated cum laude with a degree in economics and international relations from Boston University. Last year she became the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress — perhaps largely due to the fact that she is a Democrat who truly 'stands for something', and that makes her stand out.

In a short amount of time, she has convinced 2020 presidential candidates to support her radical Green New Deal. She has used social media to get political campaign finance reform on the national agenda, with her Twitter bio proudly reading '100 per cent People-Funded, no corporate PAC $' (PAC stands for political action committee).

Essentially, AOC is running on a platform of independence, and the conviction that her role as a lawmaker is to represent and serve the people. Perhaps not surprisingly given her stance on a number of issues, she identifies as Catholic, and has written on the impact of her faith on her campaign for criminal justice reform in America magazine.

No wonder Trump wants to reduce the evidently brilliant AOC to 'a young bartender'. AOC did bartend as a side gig while also working for an educational non-profit, because unlike so many in her own party, she did not come from wealth — a fact many Trump supporters would consider a badge of honour.

 

"There's almost always a very generous nod to 'grey area', 'complexity' or 'context' when a man behaves poorly in a work environment."

 

Yet many things about AOC will be used against her on both sides of politics. Depressingly, the fact she is a woman is a near guarantee that Trump will enter the fight 'gloves off', willing to stoop as low as his imagination can take him.

Trump has a well-publicised history of sexist speech and behaviour, both within the Oval Office and without. He once stated that no one would vote for his former rival Carly Fiorina because of her face. Beyond his inflammatory rhetoric are also sexual assault and rape allegations, with some 19 women having made claims against him since the 1980s. Add in the vulgar and grossly misogynistic recorded tape of a conversation between Trump and Billy Bush which surfaced in 2016, and it's clear that respect for women is not a value Trump cares to even feign.

Of course, gender discrimination and sexist attitudes are not restricted to the political arena. While in a previous professional role, I was publicly labelled a 'feminazi' by a man whose work I dared to correct — a task which was part of my designated role at the company. Not content to leave it at name-calling, he also secretly changed back my corrections to his work not once, but several times, including after the actions were called out as entirely inappropriate. For this contemptuous behaviour, he suffered no consequences whatsoever.

You could respond that this is an exception, and a failing of upper management, but experience has shown me that there's almost always a very generous nod to 'grey area', 'complexity' or 'context' when a man behaves poorly in a work environment. On the flipside, I've seen high performance from women routinely discounted, or even met with derision; while any mistakes a woman makes are far more likely to 'prove' a pre-ordained notion that she was never really fit to be there.

With these societal messages always incoming, I find myself in awe when I see a woman maintain her position in the public eye without becoming a target; who is able to put up a resistance to those who would try to detract from her worth because of her gender.

It's not just AOC who has me star-struck, but also New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who seems to set the bar higher every time she speaks — and the new Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is also posing a refreshing alternative to right-wing populism. Any woman who makes it as far as these women have must be an incredibly resilient human being.

I know because I can imagine what they have been up against: the unspoken sexist assumptions, the little comments which cast doubt, the implied pressure to flirt with the sleazy colleague who has far more power than his talents merit, the focus on one's appearance as opposed to one's ideas, the need to achieve so much more to receive less credit. To preserve one's humanity and 'keep on' in the face of these obstacles is perhaps the best evidence of leadership potential I can imagine. Above all else, it shows backbone — an attribute sorely lacking in the political leaders vying for top dog in Australia.

Oh, what I would give to be able to vote for an Australian Ardern in May, or to see either of the major parties boldly back a woman leader with the grit and humanity exhibited by AOC. Because the 'same-old' bungling status quo of Australian politics is failing us. The lack of support for women looking to become tomorrow's political leaders is failing us.

Limiting beliefs around gender, which succeed only in holding Australia back, have never been so deeply interrogated. The question Australians face — a question which has always been central to any political discussion — is whether we want to proactively embrace the changing tide of gender equality, or be dragged by it kicking and screaming.

 

 

Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Jacinda Ardern, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump, Election 2019

 

 

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Existing comments

Well said, Megan ! Power to misuse a position and influence is still too often a gendered reality in many areas of life. It would be (and will be) great to participate in a merit-based future where people are assessed and rewarded on the basis of their skills, abilities, quality of work and diligence. That vision of a meritocracy seems further away each day, but I don't think it is unachievable. But it is too early to hope or call for post-gender engagement, when power still resides structurally with networked blokes. When the Donald Trumps die out, are incarcerated or lurk in disgraced retirement, we'll see the AOCs and Jacindas represented equitably alongside people of all genders and orientations, colours and creeds; rightly recognised and awarded for the content of their character and the quality of their policies.
Barry Gittins | 11 April 2019


Ardern's grit and humanity have nothing to do with gender- ALL the female and male politicians in Labour and the LNP stand by the racist and cruel policy of holding innocent main only Muslims hostage on Nauru and Manus for election ambition as well as the racist NT Intervention.
Vacy Vlazna | 13 April 2019


I'm a little reluctant to canonise Jacinda Ahern yet, but I too lament the lack of string women leaders on the left. The two most impressive women of the left Tania Plibersek and Penny Wong have been seriously compromised by their willingness to support the party line on asylum seekers and gay marriage respectively. Let's hope someone else emerges with a combination of leadership ability and courageous compassion Sarah Hansen Young is a good prospect over time .
Michael O'Hanlon | 13 April 2019


Could be we have such a woman in Zali Steggall, the independent candidate running against Tony Abbott in the seat of Warringah. The dirty stuff is coming fast and furious already, because she has a real chance and Abbott is terrified.
Sara Dowse | 14 April 2019


Spot on. But we had an Ardern and her own crowd kicked her out. Julia Gillard had to put up with all the things you speak of here and she was a wonderful PM, someone you would be proud of when overseas. And her own crowd got rid of her. But the people have not forgotten the part played in that by Bill Shorten and that is his main weakness as he tries to get rid of the current incumbent, someone from Grade 2F.
Frank | 16 April 2019


I'm with you Megan! Thank you. Every time l see Jacinda speaking, l am so envious!!
Julie Shannon | 16 April 2019


I think putting a halo on her head is premature. Don't forget she is all for euthanasia, which very soon becomes forced killing of the elderly as experience in Holland shows. We have many brave souls here in Oz, but it depends what your values are. I think Jacinta Price and Noel Pearson have done more for the Koori community than most others. They don't just talk, put on hijabs - they act, and make a difference. Jacinda showed herself compassionate and able to hold the emotion of the country. I think in time Jacinta and Noel will be seen as extraordinary helpers and agents of change.
Alice Larkin | 16 April 2019


Blessed and great article, many thanks. I for one, in spite of all the awful things Americans have done over the years, would love to see America rise, again (much chastened & reformed, using the initiative that they carry in their gene pool) particularly with the likes of this young woman as one of their hopes..In part because of the disaffected and marginalized who need some hope in their dismal situations, ie no work, poor health etc. Their Rust Bucket states were once so powerful and life giving.
helen m donnellan | 17 April 2019


Where is all the anger coming from?. I suggest reading C.J. Dennis's, Murray’s Ride ‘I seldom get to hatin’ men, nor had much cause to hate; To me, it’s just a foolish game to play, at any rate.’ Political leaders commonly get to shine in a crisis. Why should Ms Adern's be any different. Every political leader’s wardrobe contains the mandatory crisis-ready paraphernalia of various sorts. Ms Adern's leadership in this tragic situation seems to have been accorded an uptick because she was seen throughout in a hijab. The over-the-top idolising of Jacinta Adern can be a bit nauseating. Ms Adren rules through her coalition with New Zealand First, the kiwi equivalent of One Nation, and Winston Peters (NZ First leader) is her Deputy P.M. There is nothing wrong with that. Presumably Michael Hanlon is also comfortable with Ms Tania Plibersek’s intention to force every hospital in Australia to conduct abortions if they expect funding. I see numerous admirable women leaders in the world (not necessarily political). Ms Adern was at odds to extol NZ’s peaceful community demeanour. This doesn't sit comfortably with NZ reportedly having the highest rate of serious domestic violence in the world.
bb | 19 April 2019


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