MP says women in politics want 'bad behaviour to stop'

Source

In four years of federal politics, Nicolle Flint has had a fast lesson in just how entitled some Australians feel when it comes to using sexist language about women in public life. She has experienced the worst of it – such as highly sexualised slurs daubed on her electoral office window – and the everyday, which includes the relentless focus on women's appearance.

This week, in a move rarely seen among members of the Liberal Party's conservative faction, she spectacularly called out the latter after having her "tight, black, ankle-freezing trousers and stiletto heels", her earrings and even her smile critiqued in a column by veteran broadcaster Peter Goers, who dubbed her a "fashion plate".

Nicolle Flint was amazed at the bi-partisan support she received from female politicians around Australia this week after calling out sexism.

Nicolle Flint was amazed at the bi-partisan support she received from female politicians around Australia this week after calling out sexism.Credit:Ben Searcy

Furious, she donned a bin bag for a Twitter video in which she asked "so Mr Goers, what should a woman in politics wear? How about a garbage bag to match your rubbish views".

She was delighted to see that her tweet attracted loud support from women across the political spectrum, including many with wildly opposing political views.

"It's been just amazing," says the government whip and MP for Boothby in South Australia. "My experience this week has been beyond anything that I imagined; the incredible bipartisan support I've received has been so encouraging."

Labor women including Kate Ellis, Senator Nita Green, Anika Wells, Kate Thwaites, Peta Murphy, Madeleine King and Senator Marielle Smith all applauded the move, as did the Greens' Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Liberal women including Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and senators Sarah Henderson and Jane Hume.

Victorian MP Roma Britnell tweeted a picture of a newspaper clipping she had been sent featuring a picture of her with the words "same yellow, ill-fitting top, same hairstyle?? Not a good look" written across it.

Ms Flint believes women have kept quiet in the past about the extent of gender-based criticism and abuse out of a concern that they might be seen as "victims", something she rejects.

"In the history of Federal Parliament there have only been 132 women to make it to the lower house, compared with 1070 men," she said

"We are not victims in any way; we are strong, intelligent, hard working women and because we have to be tough enough to get this far, we're certainly not victims.

"We don't want to be accused of that and we absolutely don't want to to be accused of chasing sympathy, which is why you're hesitant to speak up."

She noted recent comments by former prime minister, Julia Gillard, that she wishes she had taken a stand on commentary about her appearance earlier in her historic time in office before it "got as mad as it did around gender".

"It's critical to get her views on why she didn't speak up at the time and why she wishes that she had, because I wonder if the reason is you don't want to be accused of trying to get sympathy or playing the woman card," Ms Flint said.

It's not 'playing the woman card', it's actually calling out disgusting and sometimes dangerous behaviour.

MP Nicolle Flint

"And it's not 'playing the woman card' – it's actually calling out disgusting and sometimes dangerous behaviour."

Nastier episodes for Flint have included a man in his 60s stalking her during her 2019 campaign (he was charged by police) and the words "skank", "prostitute $60 and hour" and "blow & go" being written on her office exterior.

One positive for Ms Flint has been learning there is more support among women across the political divide than she or observers may have realised.

Tanja Kovac, a former Victorian Labor MP and chief executive of Victoria's gender equality agency, Gen Vic, agrees, saying it is "not uncommon" for women in opposing parties to rally, albeit informally, when others experience sexism.

"There's a fair bit of that going on cross-party, its not an uncommon thing for there to be notes and exchanges, Joan Kirner taught [us] the benefit of that ... it's not supposed to be in the media, but a bit more of that happens than you think."

"There are some people who are really stuck and rigid in their views and think everybody on the other side is demonic but I think there are a number of spaces where women do have some informal networks that are supportive – they're very informal."

Ms Flint hopes the latest group effort to reject gender-based criticism will help others feel comfortable with drawing attention to it.

"I'm hopeful this might help people who suffer this sort of behaviour in the future to know if you do speak out, there is support," she said. "We want bad behaviour to stop."

Get our Morning & Evening Edition newsletters

The most important news, analysis and insights delivered to your inbox at the start and end of each day. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here, to The Age’s newsletter here and Brisbane Times' here.