Culture

This Is What It’s Like Being A Woman In Parliament In 2018

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young writes for Junkee about the day-to-day realities of being a woman in Parliament.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Sarah Hanson-Young is an Australian Greens Senator for South Australia and author of ‘En Garde’. Here, she writes for Junkee about the day-to-day realities of being a woman in politics in 2018.


Some days I just don’t want to go to work. I’ve got the best job in the world. As a politician I work in one of the most privileged workplaces in the country, and I get paid well for it.

But some days I just want to hide.

On these days, the idea of having to be in the same room as some of my male colleagues makes my stomach turn. The sexist put downs, innuendo and bullying while I’m trying to do my job means some days I just don’t feel up to it. Often it is easier to ignore the slurs and stay silent, let the bullies have their fun, shut up and not make a fuss.

I know I’m not the only woman who feels like this. Women everywhere know this feeling all too well. And I think men, decent men (and there’s plenty of them out there) also know how uncomfortable it is to see a female colleague ridiculed with sexist put downs and rumours in the office, at meetings or after work drinks.

The difference is, I work in the nation’s parliament, and here, as leaders of the country we should set the standard for what is acceptable behaviour.

All women deserve to feel safe from intimidation and bullying in their workplace, whether it is on the shop floor, at the office, the board room or in our schools and universities. And if we believe this is right for the rest of the community it must be enforced here in the halls of power.

“Some days I just want to hide.On these days, the idea of having to be in the same room as some of my male colleagues makes my stomach turn.”

On Tuesday, I had enough. I was angry. I was angry because I am sick of being targeted by some men in my workplace who, rather than debating ideas with polices, reason and fact, resort to personal insults and sexualised taunts.

For years I have sat silent and tried not to wince while taunts of men’s names, who I supposably have had sex with, are whispered or shouted across the room at me, designed to shake me, hit me like bullets and throw me off my game.

I was angry because I’ve had enough of this bullying and disrespect, and I know women and girls across the country deserve better. Women, no matter their profession or experience, must feel safe to speak up and call out intimidation and sexist put downs. We deserve to have our voices heard and we’re not going to be silenced by slut-shaming and sexist bullying.

The bullies will argue that politics is rough and tumble and this is all just part of robust debate. Bullies are always cowards, looking for excuses, for ways to blame everyone else when they get caught. Robust debate is fine. Strong and passionate debate over policy is healthy and needed in a democracy – but there is a line. And when personal, grubby put downs and gendered attacks are used, it’s clear the line has been crossed. Sexual innuendo and sexist taunts based on how a woman dresses, how big (or small) her boobs are or whether she has had sex and with someone is not fair game or ok.

“When personal, grubby put downs and gendered attacks are used, it’s clear the line has been crossed.”

If you need to resort to these types of tactics to win your argument, I respectfully suggest you’re not up to the job of debate, not up to representing your constituents and should be made to leave, not the person who is subject to the degrading attacks.

Yesterday I called out the men who have done this to me in my workplace. I stood up for myself. And, as I did, I knew I was standing up on behalf of women, girls and decent men in our community who want their mothers, daughters, sisters and female friends treated equally and with respect.

Its 2018, not the 1950s. I love my job and I refuse to be silenced for even one more day in the face of sexist bullying and harassment. We need more women in politics, and less men who resort to sexist put downs to win their arguments.