Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

First Lady vs First Lady

Yesterday, Margaret Whitlam, wife of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, said what I've been wanting to say for about ten years now.

What's up with Janette Howard ???

Now, we don't have a formalised role for the wives of leaders, as they do in America (a tradition I've always found pretty strange). However, comparing Janette to the previous holder of the `office', Annita Keating, leaves her coming up very short. Mrs Keating visibly used her public profile to advance causes. Controversially, I think everyone in the spotlight has an obligation to use it for the good of everyone, not just themselves. Yes, news stories rattled off half a dozen charities for which the PM's wife is a patron (not to push the point, but there are some organisations for whom the current Prime Minister's wife becomes the patron as a matter of default. Thus, we have the interesting situation in NSW where the husband of NSW Governor Marie Bashir is the patron of the Country Womens' Association). But has Mrs Howard used her time in `power' to advance causes which - potentially - the most visible and respected woman in Australia could truly make a difference in? Personally, I think not.

In the early 90s I was actually misled enough to think the lessons of feminism had finally been learned. In 2006, there seems more pressure on young women to act and look a certain way - and certainly not speak their minds - than there has been in forty years - in fact, Gough Whitlam's victory was crucial in breaking this miasma, and I was very pleased when he named increasing the number of women who could attend university as the achievement in office of which he was most proud. We don't need high profile women suggesting that the right thing is to walk five steps behind the man. If only there were more feisty ladies like Margaret Whitlam - especially ones who refuse to back down for saying something they firmly believed. I think Margaret herself puts it best in a 1972 diary entry, quoted in yesterday's media: “What am I to do? Stay in a cage — wide open to view, of course — and say nothing? That’s not on, but if I can do some good I’ll certainly try.”

(Of course, if you believe the rumours, Janette's too busy to go outside because she's too busy pulling the strings of the puppet ... but that's just a rumour, of course. However, upon entering Parliament House in Canberra, the only official portrait of the Prime Minister in which the wife not only features, but plays a featured (even dominant) role, is - you guessed it ... )

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