Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Sexism in politics


Having grown up in a family with very liberal ideas on gender roles, I sometimes forget that not everyone holds similar values.

This week a TV interviewer put his foot into it by asking a question he really should have known not to ask.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand and the twenty first century. If he has been an employer, he would have been in deep doo doo for asking the question to an employee or prospective employee.

Thankfully his question raised the ire of the interviewee and a significant proportion of the community.

The question was to the new leader of the Labour party, who has a remote chance of becoming the PM (Prime Minister) after the general elections in September.

So what was the question?

“Is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”

The question and the anger it has raised seems to have been reported around the globe. See CNN and The Guardian as examples.

I’m disappointed that there are still men around who hold nineteenth century views of gender roles, but I am pleased that most Kiwi males have moved on.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

16 thoughts on “Sexism in politics

  1. don’t understand this post. Who even gets baby leave nowadays? Would a female PM in NZ have an option to take a maternity leave? Also of interest to me: would a male PM have an option to take a paternity leave? Here in the US you get neither, so I guess no one would bother to ask the question. I’m fascinated how other countries actually have conversations about this kind of thing.

    • Hi violet, some form of parental leave is available in all countries except Papua New Guinea, and some form of paid leave is available in all but a handful of countries including the USA. So the US is out of step with the rest of the world on this one.

      Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Parental leave can start up to six weeks before the birth of a child or from when a child is adopted. The law allows up to a year of parental leave, which can be shared by both parents. Parents can claim up to 18 weeks paid leave, distributed between parents as they see fit.

      Maternity or paternity leave doesn’t exist here, as the gender or marital status of the parents is immaterial. For example a gay couple living together but who had made the decision not to marry, would be eligible to the full parental leave entitlement if they adopted a child, just a would a married heterosexual couple giving birth to their own child.

      The law makes no distinction between a PM and a labourer when it comes to parental leave, so yes, a PM, whether male or female would be eligible for parental leave. How much a PM might take is a moot point, but I immagine that it’s likely that the partner (if there is one) would take the bulk of it.

      And this comes to the point of the post. How often are male public figures asked about how potential parenthood and how it might affect their work? I would wager none. In this country at least, it would be inappropriate. So why shouldn’t it also be inappropriate to ask females these types of questions?

      And of course, the political structure in NZ is very different to that of the US. It’s only by convention that the leader of the largest party forming the government becomes PM. Any other person that has the support of the Parliament can be PM. And if a party leader failed to get elected into the Parliament, then the role of PM would not be available to them.

      • NZ’s parental leave sounds wonderful!

        I understand the delicacy of asking only women about taking a leave, but if a man can ALSO be granted leave (which is profoundly progressive in my mind), I don’t see anything wrong with asking him either. I suppose it’d be best not to ask either gender, but there are certain jobs where it would matter a lot (especially for professions who cover a 24-hour schedule, like nurses, cops, military, etc).

        I personally don’t know anyone who’s ever taken baby leave here in the US. Technically you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave but I’ve never known anyone who could afford to do that. Also it would be so frowned upon professionally even the rich wouldn’t dare take leave because it would harm your career prospects. I was a nurse though with a 24 hours schedule…maybe other professions are better at allowing it.

        • Our parental leave is nowhere as generous as many European nations.

          Question: in the US, would a male prospective nurse, policeman, soldier etc be questioned about his plans for parenthood and would his response have an effect on career prospects? I’m guessing such questions are not asked very often.

          Here, employers are not allowed to ask about parenthood plans. One reason is to ensure that women are not at a disadvantage when seeking employment.

          • It is illegal to ask women about their pregnancy plans the US….but it’s a moot point anyway since no one is allowed leave. However, both my husband and I were asked at almost every interview if we had children…they’re not supposed to ask that question but they always do. This is because they don’t want you taking time off for sick kids. It’s best not to answer that question at an interview…but that also means you might not get the job. Children are seen as nothing but a detriment in the workforce for both sexes.

            An interesting side note: here health insurance is tied to your job (though most jobs don’t even offer health insurance anymore). After obtaining a job, your health insurance can refuse to cover your pregnancy unless you’ve worked for the company for 3-5 years (policies vary). So really, does it even matter if women are discriminated against at job interviews? It’s not like the insurance companies don’t discriminate, and they are by far the more dangerous entity. My birth by c-section (I had complications and spent 4 days in the hospital) cost $240,000…insurance covered 80% and I had to pay 20%. It was lucky I was able to obtain insurance through my husband, as at my job as a nurse I was offered no health insurance at all. Thankfully I was between jobs at the time of the birth or I would have been fired for missing four days of work in a row. This is life in america.

            • That discrimination you are referring to is why I believe our universal tax funded health care system is a better (and cheaper) than one provided by private insurers. The only way to make private insurance equitable would be to regulate the hell out out of them, which means that they would no longer be truly free to operate in an open competitive market. And isn’t it the belief in the US that private enterprise can always do better and cheaper than government and why America has clung almost religiously to privately funded health care? I think health care is one area where this is a fallacy.

            • Yes, in the US people don’t trust the government to use money wisely. They think giving the government money will only lead to corruption and misuse of funds. So everything is privatized…and our money goes straight to corrupt corporations instead. Healthcare and education are two places the government NEEDS to step in for the betterment of us all, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. It all makes me very, very sad, not just for the citizens of today, but for our children who will inherit a bleak future.

            • Yet when you think about it, government departments, and government owned organisations are subject to far greater scrutiny than is the private sector. For example our Official Information Act means that that very little can be hidden. On the other hand the private sector is only answerable to stakeholders.

          • I forgot to say, even if you are a male worker, insurance companies can refuse to cover your wife’s birth until they’ve worked for 3-5 years too…so I guess it’s equal opportunity discrimination.

            • What about in the case of same sex couples? Are they eligible for paid or unpaid parental leave? And what about couples that are in a de facto relationship (common law marriage) – are they likely to be able to get coverage? They are all covered here.

              I think that part of the problem in the US is a lack of life/work balance – something that we in NZ have always taken for granted.

            • Same sex marriage has only been legal since 2015. Same sex couples would be allowed the same unpaid leave as the rest of us…which basically means they have no access to it if they can’t afford unpaid time off or if they value their careers.

              Only 8 states recognize common law marriage (my state doesn’t). For those that do, they’d have the same access to unpaid leave as the rest of us.

              The idea in the US is that the government shouldn’t meddle with family policies…they should leave it to the companies to set their own policies and give benefits to workers as they see fit. The problem: no companies see fit to give any benefits.

              The work-life balance here is ridiculous and nonexistent. When I wanted to get married, there was only one week in February (the middle of the frigid winter here) where they would give me four full days off work. Technically I was supposed to get 10 personal days a year which were to be used for sick time as well as vacation. But they’d never approve our requested days off, so we’d never actually get to take a vacation. Being a RN where you have to cover evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays is just brutal for getting any time off at all.

            • I must remind myself never to seek a job in the US ☺

              All employees here are eligible to a minimum of four weeks annual leave plus all 11 public holidays. They are also entitled to ten days paid sick leave. Unlike in the US, employers can not fire employees on a whim. There are disciplinary procedures that must be gone through if the employer doesn’t want to end up facing prosecution in the Employment Court.

            • The US also has some laws which mandates that companies follow certain procedures before outright firing people. Companies found a way around it: they fired all the benefit-receiving employees (ones with medical insurance and pensions), especially focusing on those who were unionized. Then they hire the desperate employees back as “independant contractors” who receive no benefits, have no unions, can get fired without reason, and have no protections under the law. This is how things are done now, especially in the medical field with RNS, and also in my husband’s career, which is in the tech industry.

              Our government has tried to help and intervene in some cases, but the greed of the corporations and their ever-expanding scope of power reigns supreme. Capitalism at it’s best.

            • You certainly portray employment in the US in a gloomy light.

              I worked in a non-unionised industry for 35 years and my employer provided holidays and sick leave well above that requires by law. At one stage I was off work for a little over three months due to ill health, and they paid my full salary for the entire period.

              They also provided health insurance to cover those things not fully funded by the public health system. They also provided up to five days bereavement leave per year and additional days off for urgent family business. I don’t think the company was any different from most other businesses of a similar size. They all realise that employees are more productive if they are happy in their job.

            • I remember when my dad worked for IBM in the 70’s and 80’s (it was a non-union job)…he had full medical insurance at an extremely reasonable price, 3 weeks of vacation a year, a generous number of fully paid sick days, and an extremely generous pension. It was a thing of pride for companies to offer “cradle to grave” benefits.

              All those benefits went the way of the dinosaur in the late 1990’s. It’s a completely different scenario now for younger people who will never have a taste of reasonably priced medical insurance…and no one under age 50 has a pension. Times have changed, that’s for damn sure.

              One reason the US has not been able to keep up with the change is because our oldest generations, who are the biggest section of our population AND the wealthiest, don’t understand the drastic change in working conditions for the younger generations. The refuse to acknowledge the disappearance of the middle and working classes and refuse to open their eyes to the poverty of the younger generations…we’re simply classified as “lazy and entitled.” The older people have the power of numbers, and vote to help the corporations who made them rich in back in the day.

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