The new uni course just for women who want to get into politics
HATS off to the brave and persistent women who put their hand up for politics in Australia.
From hairstyle criticism to outfit rebukes, to questions about their parenting abilities, most female politicians can reel off a dismal list of insults that would make most of us want to curl up in bed and say, “I quit”.
But with a push to attract more fresh female faces to the frontbench, the folks at the University of Melbourne are doing their bit with the launch of a new course for aspiring female politicians called Pathways To Politics.
Students will learn about running campaigns, how parties and polling work, plus look at the challenges of being a female candidate and the demands of balancing family and public life.
“You have to be prepared to fight against what some would say are old-fashioned views about the women in society,” Professor Janine O’Flynn, acting director of Melbourne School of Government, told news.com.au.
The female members of Malcolm Turnbull’s ministry, including Kelly O’Dwyer holding her baby. Picture: AP Photo/Rob GriffithSource:AAP
Here’s her advice for aspiring women:
CREATE A GIRLS’ CLUB
Politics is a tough world, so create a nurturing network to support you.
“Part of how you develop resilience is building relationship capital with other people,” O’Flynn says. “Build a cohort of successful women — and men — who handle pressure in different ways and who can provide advice.”
COSY UP TO POWER PLAYERS
You’re not going to get to the top by yourself, so O’Flynn says you need to befriend the movers and shakers.
“Know who’s pulling the levers and making the decisions in the preselection processes,” she says. Targeting powerful women will also pave the way for a promotion. As deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek says, “[there is a] tendency of people in powerful positions to mentor and promote people who remind them of a younger version of themselves”.
OWN YOUR STYLE
Whether you’re a colourful or conservative dresser, your outfit will often get more discussion than your politics. “Whether it’s Bronwyn Bishop’s hair or Hillary Clinton’s pant-suit, fashion is a fixation that happens for women in politics,” O’Flynn says. “Our advice is to be authentic.”
FILL YOUR FREEZER WITH EXPRESSED BREAST MILK
Breastfeeding mothers are allowed a proxy vote if they need to feed their infant, but as frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer recently found — it’s not always looked upon kindly. She was asked whether she had considered expressing more milk to avoid missing her parliamentary duties, causing feminists around the country to gasp a collective, “Oh, no you didn’t!”
A parliamentary inquiry is now considering whether to allow women to breastfeed in the chamber but until then, best get pumping.
BITE YOUR LIP IF YOUR BABY CRIES
You might have to ignore your maternal instincts to soothe your upset child if the bell rings for your vote. Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young learnt this the hard way in 2009 when her two-year-old Kora was evicted from the chambers.
Hanson-Young brought her in, apparently wanting to spend five minutes with her before they would be separated the next day but was made to hand her to a staffer at the chamber door. “[I have] never been so humiliated,” she said at the time.
BIN YOUR LUCKY CHARMS
Peta Credlin, chief of staff to former prime minister Tony Abbott, says luck has little to do with getting to the top. “I worked my guts out for six years to go from opposition to government’,” she told the Women of the Future Awards “(Five) in the morning, really late nights, huge pressure, and it’s relentless.”
CAPTIVATE AN AUDIENCE
You’ll need to master public speaking if you want to climb the political ranks and Geraldine Cook, senior lecturer in Theatre (Voice) at the Victorian College of the Arts, suggests faking it until you make it. “If you feel nervous, try and imagine a confident speaker and pretend you are them. Actors do this all the time and it really works,” she says. “If you have a dry mouth, pretend to chew sticky toffee, which will moisten your mouth.”
OUTSOURCE TIME DRAINERS
It’s going to be a busy job so whether you get family, friends or professionals to help, you need to get good at delegating. “This may mean paying for someone to clean the house, book travel, or other tasks,” says Dr Peggy Kern, University of Melbourne lecturer in positive psychology. “Get a personal assistant to manage email for you, as this becomes a major drain on our time and energy.”
IGNORE THE HATERS
Don’t ruminate on negative comments about you or towards you. “Learn to not take things personally,” Dr Kern says. “Find ways to release those attacks because such negative emotions can drag you into feeling helpless, worthless, and disgraced. If you find yourself ruminating, use a positive distracter, like exercising, mediation, reading, or talking to a friend.”