It is fair to say that I have been rather unsettled by recent political events in Australia.  For those of you who don’t know, there was a leadership challenge and as a result we got a new prime minister.  There is a national election due next year, and some (mostly on the more conservative side) in the governing coalition party were concerned that the (deposed) PM was an electoral liability, i.e. not conservative enough.  To cut a long story short, the challenge kind of backfired.  While the PM was deposed, he was replaced not by the conservative-endorsed challenger but by the (deposed) PM’s own preferred candidate.  The new PM, a bit of a strong man and quite conservative in his own right, was elected because apparently he could best unite the party.*  But, you may ask, why did the conservatives’ own man not get up?  Well, a majority of the party thought that he was too conservative for the Australian electorate, i.e. that they would lose the next election.

What gets me is that the third leadership contender was a “moderate” woman widely touted as the one most likely among the three contenders come election time, to be able to get her team into a winnable position.  However, she got knocked out of the leadership ballot in the first round.  Does anyone else see the irony here?  A party already in government would rather jeopardise their chances in the next election for the sake of a man, rather than put their best woman and policies forward?  Or maybe they got it right?  Maybe the marginal electorates upon which the result of the next election hinges, won’t accept a moderate woman leader and/or a more inclusive value set?  Time will tell.

As an Australian woman, and voter, this outcome smacks of sexism and this discrimination really offends me, particularly as it comes from a party that has always prided itself on its position that a woman will be elected if she is good enough (on merit).  What also troubles me is that as part of this leadership challenge, some women (and possibly some men) were apparently bullied in an attempt to get them to vote for the conservative challenger.  This begs the question whether there is a culture of bullying as well as sexism in the parliament?  Lately a number of female politicians (of various persuasions) have come forward claiming they are regularly subjected to sexist comments and innuendo in and outside of the parliament, and that the situation is getting worse.  Ladies and gentlemen, is this acceptable?

Earlier this year, my blogger friend, Martha Kennedy from I’m a Writer, Yes, I am!, challenged me to provide three quotes from 19th Century literature.  The first novel I have chosen for the challenge is My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901).  It seems particularly apt given my angst and disappointment.  It is about a young woman, Sybylla Melvin, who wanted what most men (at least those with means) take for granted – a career, and a brilliant career at that.  In essence, she wanted to be allowed to be the very best she could be in her chosen career irrespective of class, religion and sex.  Here is how Sybylla saw her challenges:

“As a tiny child I was filled with dreams of the great things I was to do when grown up.  My ambition was as boundless as the mighty bush in which I have always lived.  As I grew it dawned upon me that I was a girl—the makings of a woman!  Only a girl!—merely this and nothing more.  It came home to me as a great blow that it was only men who could take the world by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking, were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of fate tossed them hither and thither, battering and bruising without mercy …
It was daily dinned into my ears that the little things of life were the noblest … It was all very well for great people to point out the greatness of the little, empty, humdrum life.  Why didn’t they adopt it themselves? …
By the unknown way that the atmosphere of the higher life penetrated to me, so came a knowledge of the sin and sorrow abroad in the world—the cry of the millions oppressed, down-trodden, God-forsaken!  The wheels of social mechanism needed readjusting—things were awry.  Oh, that I might find a cure and give it to my fellows!  I dizzied my brain with the problem; I was too much for myself.  A man with these notions is a curse to himself, but a woman—pity help a woman of that description! …
Recognizing this, I turned and cursed God for casting upon me a burden greater than I could bear—cursed him bitterly, and from within came a whisper that there was nothing there to curse … I asked the Christians around me for help.  Unsophisticated fool!  I might as well have announced that I was a harlot …
Had my father occupied one of the fat positions of the land, no doubt as his daughter my life would have been so full of pleasant occupation and pleasure that I would not have developed the spirit which torments me now … But in all the wide world there was not a soul to hold out a hand to me, and I said bitterly, “There is no good in the world.”  In softer moods I said, “Ah, the tangle of it!  Those who have the heart to help have not the power, and those who have the power have not the heart.”
Bad, like a too-strong opponent in a game of chess, is ever at the elbow of good to checkmate it like a weakly managed king.“ (pp 61-67).

At 17, I naïvely thought that women could have it all; could change the world.  At 50, I feel ripped off.  Worse still, it feels like I’ve been teleported to another time.  No-one can have it all with no cost, but I don’t expect this lack of regard (and recognition) for our women politicians in the 21st Century.

We did have a lady PM at one point.  She defeated a man in a leadership challenge and was subsequently defeated herself.  She gave the famous ‘misogyny’ speech.  At the same time, a man’s man’s star was rising.  Known for his negative politics and conservative views, Australian politics and the Australian polity hasn’t been the same since.  Politics, as they say, is a nasty business.

Still, I wonder if not choosing a woman leader this time will cost the government the election?  Because you know what?  We women are not nothing.  We matter.

*The prime minister is elected not by the people or the parliament, but by members of the governing party (or governing party to be).  Government is formed by the party that wins a majority of the seats in the lower house (this may or may not represent a majority of votes).


39 thoughts on “My Brilliant Career

    1. We don’t hear enough of what goes on in Canada here. Recently, these conversations are becoming more difficult to have and maybe that is the same for Canada?

      Equality is such a feel good principle. Some are happy to be able to convince themselves that so long as people have a fair go (by some standard they determine), then their work is done…


  1. A good assessment of what happened last week. It does seem as if there is a bullying culture in our parliament and also that in the Liberal party a moderate is considered too left wing to lead especially a female moderate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Taswegian. Ideologues always know they’re right. Most people aren’t ideologues but it is helpful for those that are to label people who don’t have the same world view as such. It sets the parameters for righteous battle. Sorry, don’t know where that came from. I had better go and pat a dog.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this novel, as you know. I love the character, Sybila Melvyn. I think Mile Franklin was heroic.

    The kid who mows my lawn called to tell me he’ll be late tomorrow because he has Cross Country practice. I told him being on the Cross Country team was awesome. He’s very shy so he kind of “ran away” in telephone language. Then I thought. When I was his age (15) there were no sports in high school for girls. Since 1972, there have been because of Title 9 which says, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

    That boils down to schools have to spend as much for women’s sports as mens. The result? “One study, completed in 2006, pointed to a large increase in the number of women participating in athletics at both the high school and college level. The number of women in high school sports had increased by a factor of nine, while the number of women in college sports had increased by more than 450%”

    When I think of that I think of the incredible number of things from which women have been excluded. It’s incredibly complex and intricate where women have NOT been allowed to go (and where women would not go by their own choice?).

    I keep my distance from a man (men in general) until I find out what a man is made of. I’ve been bullied and beaten and shoved to the side, glossed over, dumped, cheated on, the list is long and part of the reason for this I believe is that I am an autonomous human being, very independent, self-motivated and athletic — so-called “male” characteristics. Strength in a woman is still viewed suspiciously. I just hope that future generations and younger generations are less occluded than mine.

    When I was dating (after 40 — I was married pretty much up till then), I seldom dated a man who wasn’t at least 10 years younger than I. That usually worked out great; they were able to be friends and lovers, and that gives me hope that younger generations do not harbor the suspicion and antipathy toward women I’ve met from men in my generation and older.

    But this country is still stuck with old people running the gubmint and my generation is large and long-lived. The last woman to run for president was not appealing to many people (I hated her, though I voted for her). My generation will not elect a woman. It’s amazing they elected a black guy and I doubt he would have won had not a woman been up for Vice President on the opposing party.

    Sorry for going on an on… 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s quite okay, Martha. There is a lot to go on about.

      Of course, some women are afflicted with some of the flaws that I find equally distasteful in some men. And of course, there is no homogeneous male culture either.

      Our life experience is such an important filter in how we perceive these issues, and tension and independent thinking really go together. Just ask Sybila and Miles. I looked at some of the reviews on GoodReads and was surprised by how divided people (ie. women) were about the character. Some thought she whinged a lot and they found her incredibly ungrateful. I was startled by this reaction, perhaps because it differs so greatly from my view of her and from my view of myself.

      I might be completely out of step with the rest of the Australian populace but I think people would vote for a competent women. They have. But boy, women are set up to fail because they are held to much higher performance and behavioural standards. Our recently deposed male PM has been spoken of in more glowing terms upon his departure than our deposed female PM ever was. I thinks that says something.

      My true love is younger than I am. My brother has taken up with a slightly older woman. There was a lot of social change in the era they were born, so perhaps that makes a difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PS. Your spelling of Sybila Melvyn looks correct to me. I used the spelling in the book I’m reading. It gives me the heebeegeebees, but I thought who I am to criticise. I wonder if it has been changed in updated editions?


  3. We had a competent woman leading the country, and look what happened to her. The spite, vitriol, and misogyny were unbearable to witness.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We all seem to be going through such troubling, disaffected times in our national politics. I’m definitely not going to suggest a move to the UK if you don’t like what you see in Australia!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So much upheaval and so much back stabbing going on. It is a wonder the country keeps on keeping on. I rather think Ms Bishop has deliberately stepped back to let the dust settle before making her tilt at the top job. Watch this space….

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great quote from My Brilliant Career. As for the week that was… The flat-earth party is self-destructing, and not even the might of the Murdoch press can save them. Public despair will really set in, however, if they are re-elected, but that seems unlikely at the moment.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We live in interesting times. You write so well.

    My Brilliant Career was the first novel I had to read at university. My personal library of 3000 books is slowly getting smaller but I’ve never been able to part with this book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, dawn bird. I write for my children (my boys) and my mum too. There is a difference between having the ability to speak up and being empowered to do so. I hope they understand that women’s issues are everybody’s issues. I am not sure I can convince them to read the book though. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve only just found your blog but just wanted to say I’m proud that when Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour Party here in NZ at very short notice before our last election, it seemed a hopeless case. But with her brilliant positive campaign with the “Let’s Do This!” slogan she turned things around dramatically and is now our PM. And Helen Clark our Labour PM from a decade back who went on to work in a top UN position, has publicly acknowledged the fine support that she received from then National PM John Key when she made her bid for UN Secretary-General. Good positive things! I enjoyed reading your blog article thanks but politics over there seems a nightmare!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for visiting. Jacinda Adern is a breath of fresh air, and I’ve always admired how Helen Clarke conducted herself both in your parliament and on the international stage. Just goes to show that a respectful airing of differences, as well as respect for the tremendous role that women can play in governing is entirely possible. We would never have seen anything like this in our parliament. It certainly made me want to emigrate. 🙂

      Regards. Tracy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Enjoyed this post, for the round-up of the week that was, and for the Sybylla quote. I just saw the movie in a special screening (at Parliament House here in Canberra would you believe the night Fraser Anning made his speech.).

    However, I wanted to comment on your comment about feeling (naively) at 17 that you thought you could have it all, and at 50 feeling ripped off. I do think it’s naive, as you realised, to have it all. No-one can have it all, not men, not women, and I have always been frustrated by that view being pushed/encouraged. It just sets us up for a fall. But, what we all SHOULD have is equal respect, equal opportunities and equal rights. I really thought when I was reading Germaine Greer in the 1970s, that progress was being made. I wouldn’t have believe, if asked then, where we are at now. We have made progress, legally, but my oh my, how far we still have to go. Still so much resentment and discounting of women and our skills and abilities. Unbelievable, eh?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sue. Yep, it is unbelievable. I learnt the hard way that it is a myth. So too I expect for many women in our Parliament. How ironic, or maybe timely, that the re-screening was done in Old Parliament House. I do feel the gains have been rather tenuous, and even those are under threat. I saw an interview with the new deputy PM last night. He had been speaking to Julia Banks., and he was quick to reassure that Julia Banks’ first loyalty was to the new leadership team and the Party. I really do think those blokes need a bit of a shake up and hope that the ladies speak up because change is not going to happen until they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I can feel your pain and anger reading this post, Tracy. Politics is indeed a nasty business and that we women still have fight for equality over a hundred years after the first suffragette movement is a shame. We have a woman leader in Germany which first came as a surprise and then was taken for granted. But looking how many countries still struggle with the concept of a woman taking the helm, I realize more and more how special it still is.

    Liked by 2 people

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