My Deliberately Barren Self Is Having Issues

An Australian senator has caused a storm of protest for describing a female politician as “deliberately barren” and therefore unfit to govern.

Bill Heffernan said Labor Party deputy leader Julia Gillard did not understand the public because she had no children.

He has since apologised for the “inappropriate” comments, first made last year but repeated again this week.

Analysts say the incident will be an embarrassment for his close friend, Prime Minister John Howard.

Mr Howard has made it clear he does not support Mr Heffernan’s comments.

“The question of whether people have children, whether they marry and have children, is entirely a matter for them and I do not think it should be a matter of public comment,” Mr Howard told reporters.

Nappy knowledge

Mr Heffernan first questioned Ms Gillard’s childlessness last year, when he queried whether the deputy Labor leader could fully understand her voters because she did not have her own family.

In Wednesday’s edition of The Bulletin magazine, he voiced similar remarks.

“If you’re a leader, you’ve got to understand your community,” the 64-year-old senator said.

“One of the great understandings in a community is family and the relationship between mum, dad and a bucket of nappies,”he added.

Ms Gillard, 45, dismissed Mr Heffernan’s views as old-fashioned.

“The reality is that modern women know all about modern women’s choices. Mr Heffernan is a man stuck in the past,” she told reporters.

What do you think about the senator’s comments that a childless female politician is unfit to govern? Can a woman understand people better if she has children? Are children a help or a hindrance to success in a woman’s life? Send us your comments.

Via: BBC

I’m so conflicted on this report.

First - yay, the whole thing is being condemned rather strongly from various places. Woo hoo! Women politicians should be judged on their merits and not on their relationships or the number of children they don’t have (or do have).

On the other hand…

It’s 2007, and once again - I don’t want my damned flying cars, I want my female politicians to be taken seriously. That Heffernan felt that it was okay to say this in the first place says something in itself.

That the BBC thinks that the question should be “Can a woman understand people better if she has children?” say something in itself.


- Should discussions about the family status of politicians be part of political rhetoric? Do politicians have a right to a private life?
- Can any politician understand people better if he or she has children?
- Does having children make anyone understand people better?
- Should Heffernan’s remarks be enough to call into question his understanding of his own constituents?

There are probably a lot of other questions that I’m not thinking of that should be asked in response to this.

Why the heck are they asking if children are a help or hindrance to success in a woman’s life? What, men’s lives are not affected by children? What, women’s success is only measured without considering if raising children *is* the success? It’s not like it’s an easy job, for crying out loud.

Deliberately barren? Would she somehow be okay as a politician if she’d found out she was unable to have children because of some medical reason?

[Oh, man, and this doesn’t even get into stuff about lesbian and gay couples who don’t have children…. I have no idea if they can adopt in Aus.]

Yay, the politicians are condemning the remark. Think of the positive. Think of the positive. Think of the positive….

5 Responses to “My Deliberately Barren Self Is Having Issues”

  1. Thomas Says:

    As well, what about couples that decide not to have children? Does that make them poor leaders or somehow diminish their empathy for those that chose another way?

  2. Jo Says:

    This was a gem that just jumped out at me, from the first section:

    “The question of whether people have children, whether they marry and have children, is entirely a matter for them and I do not think it should be a matter of public comment,” Mr Howard told reporters. [emphasis mine]

    Notice what he didn’t say, that the question of whether women marry and have children is entirely a matter for them and is nota matter of public comment.

    This tells me:

    1) He uses ‘people’ to generalize the matter (as though men are ever subject to this particular brand of scrutiny) and make it sound like there’s no sexism here.

    2) He does not deny, as the BBC’s line of questioning that follows indicates, that it in fact is a matter for public comment.

    3) He is not willing to stand up to the patriarchy, in that he uses multiple qualifiers to weaken his stance: He doesn’t “think” that it “should be” a matter for public comment.

    4) His use of “marry and have children” is typically hetero-normative, and shows the patriarchy’s agenda that the two always go together.

    So, Anna, I wouldn’t even say that this has been “condemned” — there has been some minor wrist-slappage, but nothing further, as far as I’ve heard.

    Two little pissy addenda:

    – He apologized last year, then did it again. He’s not sorry.

    – They put her statement about the whole thing last. It’s about her and she’s billed last. Oh, no, my mistake, it’s actually all about the menz.

    *grrrrrrrrr* IBTP.

  3. Wanda the woops!ter Says:

    Just wanted to drop you a friendly (optimistic)note to share a bit of Creative Activism.

    The woops! team is a new group of artists who gather verbal gaffs made by public figures and plaster them on t-shirts, in songs, in photos.

    Our very first move is Deliberately Barren.

    Need we say more?

    Here’s the site:

  4. Seth Says:

    What I find more insulting is the assumption that ALL of her constituents had families and children. What, am I an unperson because I don’t want to have any offspring? Do I not get a voice in governance?

  5. Rho_iota Says:

    Australia does allow some adoption by Gay and Lesbians but it’s appallingly limited, and only exists to some degree in some states - Western Australia and Canberra.

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