The sexist treatment of Kristina Keneally begins in Bennelong

The sexist treatment of Kristina Keneally begins.

A day after Labor sensationally announced that Kristina Keneally was going to run for the Sydney seat of Bennelong against the Liberal incumbent John Alexander, we are reminded that women seek power at their peril.

There is a particular form of sexism that comes to the fore when women dare to dream beyond the kitchen and eye off positions of power. Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton are two living examples of this, though their detractors would scream in opposition at that suggestion.

Gillard and Clinton aren’t disliked because they’re women, their opponents always argue, they’re dishonourable, corrupt and duplicitous. They’re not meritorious. (The fact Clinton was defeated by the least meritorious presidential candidate in history reveals how utterly fallacious the ‘merit’ argument is.)

The truth of it is women in power remain an unwelcome – and unfathomable – proposition for many. This will come as no surprise to Keneally who was NSW’s first female Premier between 2009 and 2011.

It seems little has changed since then.  The day after announcing her candidacy, Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph headline read “Now She’s Bill’s Girl”.

For starters,  referring to Kristina – who is 48 – as a ‘girl’ speaks volumes. Have you ever seen a middle-aged male politician described as a ‘boy’?

And then we get to the archaic inference that Keneally is the property of Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.

Did it not occur to the headline writers that maybe, Kristina Keneally, is making her own decisions? That she is her own person? Or is a ‘girl’ deemed unable to have that sort of agency?

The point is not that Kristina Keneally should not be scrutinised or criticised. Women in power and candidates for power, ought to be scrutinised or criticised in exactly the same way as men in those positions. But the point is women are entitled to the same starting position as their male peers.

Too often the legitimacy of women in power is undermined before they even begin and this is not a situation men face. Today’s headline is a case in point. It directly seeks to erode Keneally’s capacity to stand, as if she isn’t an experienced, familiar public figure or as if less experienced people have never run.

The fact Keneally’s Premiership coincided with a truly dismal time in NSW’s politics, when the corrupt powerbroker Eddie Obeid was calling the shots, is unavoidable. The same goes for the fact her own integrity was deemed intact by ICAC.

As ever it isn’t special treatment women need, it’s equal treatment.

If you were hoping that the treatment of women in politics had improved I suspect the way Keneally is treated might suggest otherwise. The early signs certainly point that way.

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