Earlier this month, a male opposition MP reportedly called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a “stupid little girl”. The alleged comment comes one month before the 37-year-old national leader is due to give birth.
Speaker Trevor Mallard stopped proceedings in the House, calling for the person who made the “very sexist remark” to apologise. Mallard heard the comment and said it came from a man seated behind leader of the opposition Simon Bridges. No one has owned up yet, despite questions from journalists to every male MP seated in the area. Bridges said he’d have to review footage before deciding what would happen — though he said these sorts of remarks can happen in “the heat of the moment”.
“Parliament’s a place of cut and thrust,” Bridges said. “People say things in the heat of moment, on all sides of the House, including, let’s be honest, the Speaker.”
Now I could segue this into a sincere garment-rending piece examining how, in the democratic cradle of my homeland, even the most powerful, publicly elected woman is a victim of workplace bullying and sexism but, y’know… meh.
Or I could say “buckle up kids, shit’s about to get real”. A part of me — oh alright, ALL of me — cannot wait until the PM has had her baby in mid June and this kind of thing happens again.
Ardern has a steely diplomatic style that scans as warm and pleasant. She doesn’t hurl generic abuse in the House during debate time because she believes she has a responsibility not to lower the tone.
I am aching for her to lower the tone.
We’ve seen flashes of it when she is unguarded and unpleasantly surprised. A finger pointed in the face of a tiresome breakfast TV jock, a lifted eyebrow and a tangible quota of zero shits given to Julie Bishop before she was even elected PM.
After the “stupid little girl” incident, my fantasy of how that plays out post-baby is Ardern leaning into her microphone and eyeballing the general direction the comments emanate from and whispering “come here and say that” while the parliamentary cameras crash zoom in on the culprit. The distant sound of someone yelling “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT” and “$5 on the one wearing lipstick” is me.
Now my Dirty Harriet vengeance scenario may be a step further than PM Ardern feels the need to go, but I predict that a sleepless female PM with a teething baby might just give the Westminster system the kick up the arse it really needs. While she may not go the full Mother of Dragons on the very brave men who want to call her names anonymously in her place of work, I am pretty sure she will have less patience for time-wasting or verbal abuse during question time when she gets back.
What I desperately hope is that Ardern will start applying the basic questions of parenting towards problematic parliamentarians in the House. Acting out, mood swings, strange smells and sudden onset shrieking could be viewed through the new behaviour-analysis lens Ardern has available to her: parenting.
I am ready for a political environment in which Ardern can behold a squalling and nonsensical member of parliament and ask whether they need their pants changed. And because parliament is literally the last place on earth you should ask an adult if they need another bottle, I imagine an exhausted Ardern will survey the highly remunerated recalcitrance on display in the House and arrive at the last and most valuable question a grown up caregiver can ask of a small person who is obviously struggling: “Do you just want a cuddle?”