I'm not his wife, I'm an MP

I’m not his wife, I’m an MP

Paula Luethen MP
Earlier this week, we published a piece from founder Kathryn Van Kuyk, who shared her experience of being overlooked as her male co-founder’s ‘plus one’ at a tech conference. It struck a nerve. Below South Australian MP Paula Luethen writes about similar experiences she’s had in politics.

As a new MP in South Australia, I have been disheartened that I have been mistaken, a number of times now and by men and women, as a parliamentary colleague’s wife at official events. People have assumed I am the Minister’s wife, my fellow MP’s wife, and even recently the Pastor’s wife. Each time I politely correct the assumption and let people know that I am an MP too.

I have mentioned this ‘mistake’ to female friends who have said they could see how people could easily make this mistake. I have not heard of such a mistake happening to male parliamentarians. I am pretty certain that no one is automatically assuming that my male MP colleagues are married to the male Ministers.

Why do people look at me and assume I am a wife and not an MP? I am not holding my colleagues’ hand, I am certainly not cuddling up to them. I am usually busy asking people questions to get to know them.

Is it because there is less than 30% female State politicians in South Australia? 125 years after South Australian women gained the right to vote and stand for SA Parliament we are absurdly underrepresented. Is this “mistaking a women to be the wife”, a symptom of “you can’t be what we can’t see?”

I am really curious to know, do we all really want to see more women representing the community and becoming law makers?

During my door-knocking of over 23,000 homes, I asked people what is most important to them and too many times for my liking, women said to me “I will get my husband” or “I will tell my husband you called”.

I reply, “but I really want to hear what matters most to you.. I take my job representing you very seriously.”

And, I certainly want to see more women participating in the discussions in Parliament which shape our laws, our policies or budgets.

So, do we need to work together to shift our community attitudes and assumptions?

Should I start wearing a badge that says “I am an MP too”?

Or, can we all take responsibility and stop ourselves before we make quick judgements about people or situations? This question applies to both women and men.

A female leader suggested to me at a Women in Innovation event that women married to politicians get to tell their husbands their thoughts, so women really are represented in Parliament. Not surprisingly, I disagreed. I can tell you in 19 months as an MP I have never heard a male colleague say, “My wife thinks we should do this …” as we deliberate over a new piece of legislation.

Get involved, I want to hear your lived experience and your ambitions and I think there are so many women ready to lead change in our community.

And as a side point, I often wonder whether politics would be as brutal if there were more women politicians.

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