Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Calls for the resignation of Premier Gladys Berejiklian should end now, and not be revisited unless ICAC makes findings of her direct personal involvement in corrupt conduct.

First, the premier is doing an excellent job of an exceptionally difficult task: keeping us safe from COVID-19, while also keeping schools and the economy functioning. And lest you think that is some trivial achievement, consider that Victoria remains under lockdown, while we continue to enjoy semi-normal life.

Getting rid of a pragmatic and effective leader in these circumstances is a huge and unnecessary gamble. And if you think these sorts of transitions always end well, just consider what countries like Brazil have witnessed since deciding to take an expansive approach to ousting leaders associated with, but not directly involved in, corruption.

It’s pretty safe to suggest that many Brazilians would do a lot to rewind the clock on presidential impeachment and have Dilma Rousseff instead of Jair Bolsonaro as their leader.

Second, we want the premier to be human, not robotic in her approach to life and politics.

US Vice-President Mike Pence recently demonstrated what it looks like when political leaders turn full robot: they no longer flinch when a fly decides to nest on their head for minutes at a time — or when they are witnessing the degradation of democratic norms by their own White House.

Leaders who are more human than robot, in contrast, have the capacity to empathise, and to understand the importance of family and loved ones to our happiness and resilience — and thus of public policies that put human wellbeing and safety first.

But there are pretty constant pressures on female leaders to be robots. For women to succeed in a man’s world, they often have to be extremely tough, downplaying their own emotional needs and reactions.

And female political leaders face even greater pressures than most women in leadership roles: to succeed they cannot be too feminine or masculine, too assertive or too passive, or too affected by sexist slander on social media.

Encouraging female leaders to develop rather than suppress their capacity for empathy, therefore, should be something we all support and encourage. And often, that requires the capacity to love, and be loved, even by someone who is distinctly flawed.

Third, there is something quite gendered — and unrealistic — about the idea that female leaders can have personal relationships only with model citizens.

Sure, it would be wonderful if all premiers could enjoy the good fortune of Jacinda Ardern and have good-looking domestic partners who are kind, loyal, hold the baby, fold the washing, do the shopping and cooking, never let them down or rely on their connections for any personal or political advantage.

But it would also be great if Cleaver, Richard Roxburgh’s character in Rake, was faithful and avoided alcohol and illegal drugs.

The problem is that partners both male and female, gay and straight, rarely come without flaws — and it is even rarer to find a flawless male-identifying, heterosexual political partner willing to endure the spotlight, pressure and endless hours alone involved in a relationship with a leading female politician.

So, Wendy (sort of) had Cleaver, and Gladys had Daryl.

We should not blame either of them for their partner’s flaws — unless they supplied the cocaine, or the political approvals or position that allowed illegal conduct to occur.

And so far, there is little suggestion that this is what occurred in the premier’s case.

So, we should just let her get on with the job — a job she does very well — and stop hoping for robots as leaders or blaming women for the failures of men.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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