Two Thursday’s ago, I sat on a bus after a long day at work and I openly cried. I didn’t give one single f*ck who saw me.
It would be a safe bet to think my marshmallow eyes were in some way the result of my outrage at the floodgates recently opened by mainstream media reporting on the abuse of women by men in power.
In October 2017, the news of Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour broke and there was a proliferation of the #metoo hashtags popping up in status updates and newsfeeds across all social media platforms. Men did some fantastic white-knighting, coming to the defence of women through the lens of their fatherhood, as if our humanity is predicated on our position as someone’s daughter. If I read another man say he, qua Dad, feels for all these poor, abused women because he has daughters, I might pop each eyeball out, slowly, and consume them, with a nice chianti.
But this is not why I was crying.
Despite the rock that still remains in the deepest recess of my stomach, the near constant ache in my bones and the weariness I feel for all women who society tells must assume the responsibility for their own abuse – my tears, at that particular moment, were born of joy and of hope.
On Thursday 19 October 2017, I learned that Jacinda Ardern was to become the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. After a tortuous month of backroom discussions, wheelings and dealings – the news broke via a press conference.
I was at my office in Melbourne, had my headphones in and was pacing around muttering things to myself about politics as I waited for the announcement. I had drawn the attention of my work colleagues, who admitted to not knowing much about the current political landscape in New Zealand, but shared my hope in a Jacinda victory (I work with a good bunch).
During the press conference, when Winston – the Queen-maker – finally gave media the information they had come for, I heard him say that he had chosen to form a government with the National Party. Devastation levels were at red. I stopped listening and began to spiel to anyone within earshot about the ‘inevitability’ of this decision.
How wrong I was.
Within five minutes of the announcement a friend from New Zealand gave me call, congratulating me on picking the golden ticket despite the fact I voted for the Greens.
“But Winnie (my pet-name for Winston) went with National!” I proclaimed. “We lost.”
My dear friend said I should get my hearing checked as I had completely misheard the announcement. It was not until I was on a bus, maybe an hour later, that I re-watched the press conference. And subsequently bawled.
Now, here is a disclaimer. I understand the irony that the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister was effectively elected by the will (or whim) of a male politician (Winston Peters). However, the New Zealand public did, as a majority, vote for the changing of the guard, which meant Jacinda was the only viable alternative to the status quo. I am not interested in attending to policies or platforms or promises or, even politics, per se. These are all matters for another day. Right now, I want to bask in the glow of a woman’s success at attaining the highest political office in New Zealand. It feels damn good to be here.
So who is Jacinda Ardern?
She is a 37-year-old, unmarried, childless woman but these are peripheral facts. She is also a self-proclaimed feminist who left the Mormon church due her belief that LGBTI people should have the right to marry whoever they damn well choose to. She wants to bring kindness back to government, challenging the widely held belief this is equivalent to weakness. Lastly, she is a no-holds-barred, bad-ass champion for all women. If you have yet to watch her call out a reporter’s BS when asked whether women have a duty to inform employers of their baby-making intentions, then it is definitely worth checking out.
The facts of Jacinda will make her a target for trolls and she will be scrutinised for every perceived misstep, more-so than any male leader to have preceded her. But I look forward to watching Jacinda rise to meet these challenges and give as good as she gets. It takes a hard-as-nails, politically savvy operator to become Prime Minister at 37 years old, regardless of their gender, marital or baby-status.
While there is so much work to be done in terms of true equality for all women -black women, trans-women, lesbians, fat women, childless women, unmarried women, poor women - I believe we can be hopeful. Let us reframe the events of October 2017 in hopeful terms for these two reasons:
(1) Positive change is possible. It might be glacial, and regression might mean re-covering steps we have already taken thousands of times before. But change will happen, you have my word on that.
(2) Collective silence is our enemy, which is clearly illustrated through Weinstein-gate. Problematic discussion - from men - has already begun, relating to Jacinda’s appearance and so I have begun to steel my resolve for the inevitable downward spiral to full blown violent commentary. So to you ladies, sharpen those pitchforks we are going-a-troll-hunting, en masse.
And to any male allies reading this, I hope you are disgusted by the way your peers speak about women and I implore you to call it out. This is the least you can do.
Let us treat, and hold, Jacinda to the same standard as those who have preceded her – no-more, no-less. When we disagree with her viewpoints let’s keep ‘F*ck you Slut’ (actual quotation from a male Student at Lincoln University) out of our discussion. She deserves better. We deserve better.
When one woman succeeds, others gain hope; when women progress, we all do.
By: Rachael Thurston