• Linda Kemp

Sexism & the "do you have kids" question


Over Christmas and January, I began watching Game of Thrones. Instantly, I was hooked, and understood what nearly everyone else in the world has been talking about. The writer in me was drawn to the different worlds, the languages, and of course, the fantastic characters. The writer in me is ashamed to admit I haven’t read the books by George RR Martin, but I’ll pop those on my to-read list.

Lady Brienne of Tarth is one of my favourite Game of Thrones characters. She’s no-nonsense; a fighter, proud, and she knows how to kill (if you’ve not seen any GoT episodes, this is a skill that is necessary). OK, so we’re not living in medieval Westoros, so we don’t need to know how to slice a Valyrian steel sword into an opponent’s chest, but she’s a powerful and strong woman.

She’s nothing like the other women who appear in the seven kingdoms: she doesn’t wear dresses or other feminine adornments; she defies the expectations of females in the confines of the patriarchal narratives within fictitious Westoros. Even though GoT is fiction, we are shown exactly what society does when someone is different, who’s strayed outside of the typical and normal: Brienne is mocked. By men and women alike. In short, she is treated in what we’d today call a sexist manner.

But here’s what I like. Brienne chooses to be stronger than those who mock her. She refuses to sink to their level. Sure, their sexist and scornful words may hurt her, but with immense pride she never lets anyone know how she feels about it.

Today, in our real world, women are arguably best-placed to rise, not only to the confines of the glass ceiling, but to smash right through it. Second-wave feminists fought for us to have what many now consider to be basic rights, and sadly, some younger women are near-ignorant of the path they forged for us. Still, even though we’re placed for success, much work is still to be done.

Evidence of how far society still needs to go was only very recently. In mid-January, New South Wales’ new Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was asked by a male journalist why she didn’t have children, and how her childlessness would affect her ability to govern the state. It should be noted that Ms Berejiklian was just one week into her tenure as leader of the party, and new premier; it was her very first press conference, and only twelve minutes into it.

Why was this question asked of her? I’m gobsmacked. I mean, is this not an example of a woman bucking the stereotypical female tropes, but men trying ever-so-hard to throw them back into the box? I’ll be willing to bet that no one ever asked Mike Baird (her predecessor) a question regarding his family life and whether or not he had children. Whenever a male minister—be he a leader of a state, territory, the opposition or prime—makes a decision regarding women’s affairs, no journalist would even consider asking if his gender can affect his ability to carry this out.

The question asked of Ms Berejiklian is sexist and, in the workplace, it is illegal (outside of the workplace, it’s just plain rude). If you’re unaware of this, I’m not sure where you’ve been living for the past forty-odd years. Back to our fabulous second-wave feminists, who in the 1970s fought, stood in picket lines, marched, and shouted for equal rights in the workplace. And they won this fight. Bills were written and ratified, laws were changed, and I personally am thankful. But clearly, there are some who still don’t get it. For clarity, here’s a list of some of the questions you’re not allowed to ask:

  • Are you pregnant?

  • Are you considering becoming pregnant?

  • Do you have children?

  • Are you married?

  • How old are you?

  • Are you gay?

In case you don’t understand, the fact that someone answers yes to these (excepting the age question which is clearly not seeking a ‘yes or no’ response) does not affect their ability to do their job. Sexism exists in the workplace in many subtle ways, such as our example of the question asked of the NSW premier. It also is apparent in other ways, such as asking a woman to take minutes in a meeting, or asking a female colleague to do a coffee or lunch run. Assuming that these jobs are ‘women’s roles’ and then following through on that assumption will only help to label a man as a sexist pig.

It makes me so damn mad, that although we’ve come so far, there are still people out there who think they have an open right to comment on any aspect of a female’s life. Men get it easy in the workplace: they are never asked about their personal lives, if they have children and how they manage to put a healthy, wholesome family dinner on the table each night, wash the clothes, grocery shop and clean the house, as well as come to work each day. Men are seldom asked how their children suffer from their absence while they’re at work. Rarely does a woman make a comment to a male colleague about his enormous belly that over-hangs his waistband, and then tell the same man to lighten up, it’s all just a joke. Men do their jobs, and that’s it.

Equally, women should be allowed to do their job. Ms Berejiklian has a huge workload ahead of her (personally, I don’t know why anyone would want to work this hard!) and her ability to do that job has nothing to do with her gender, or if her uterus has housed and grown a baby. The fact that she is childless does not impact on her capacity to govern over NSW. Ms Berejiklian took that jaw-dropping moment in January’s press conference in her stride; like Brienne in Game of Thrones, she was magnanimous, and if there were signs of Ms Berejiklian wanting to lop off the journalist’s head, she didn’t show them in public. She chose to be stronger, braver and smarter than the one who posed the question. Bravo, Ms Gladys Berejiklian.

Let’s all remember that work is work, and give each other the freedom to go about our tasks without mockery, illegal (and stupidly rude) questions, and hold our heads high. And as always, if your workplace needs a session to stamp out sexist behaviour, contact Nyree at The Fiddes Group.

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