How much do you know about the pioneering Australian women who dared to change our political system? Not much? Well, you’re not alone. After a year in production, Annabel Crabb’s new documentary series, Ms Represented, aims to change all that by charting the history of Australian women in parliament.
Now, full warning that the contents of this doco series is highly likely to fire you up because there is an awful lot of injustice laid bare. I was raging while watching it, I won’t lie.
There are still some pretty hilarious moments in Ms Represented, like how women got the right to vote and run for parliament in the first place.
A very funny story of men underestimating women
South Australian women were the first in the world to get the right to vote and run for parliament, all because the men already in parliament thought they were too clever for the lady protestors. The dudes lost.
There was a cruel twist in the Suffragettes’ win
When the federal bill to allow women across Australia the right to vote, The Franchise Act of 1902, was debated in Parliament, the male politicians deliberately excluded Indigenous Australians, and the language used — on the record, no less — was nothing short of revolting.
When presented with the Hansard records on Ms Represented, current Labor MP Linda Burney is left “speechless”.
“The language used then in the Parliament of Australia about my people, perhaps even relatives, is something that makes me feel quite sick actually, and it’s very upsetting.”
‘But she’s ambitious!’
Watching Ms Represented, I honestly lost count of the number of female politicians that were told “but she’s ambitions” as the reason why men stood in the way of their career progress. Guys, of course she’s ambitions, she ran for bloody parliament — just like you!
And then comes the scenario that every woman can painfully relate to: not being heard in meetings, only for male colleagues to take your ideas after dismissing them and claiming them as their own. The absolute rage! Every single female politician on Ms Represented tells the same story — because we’ve all been there, sadly.
A dog is better than a husband
The old mantra of image is everything goes into overdrive on Ms Represented. Over the years, female politicians have be told to change their looks, even their names, to seemingly make them more attractive to voters. Labor’s Ros Kelly even created a cookbook and took her dog on the campaign trail — which she assures us is much more helpful than a husband.
Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and sadly only female Prime Minister so far, was absolutely lampooned after being photographed sitting at her dining table with a fruit bowl that was — shock horror! — empty. The gall of it! Ever thought she was too busy working to be sitting at home eating fruit?
And Penny Wong — who has the quickest wit in Parliament, if you ask me — regularly receives fashion tips from blokes along the lines of “wear a expletive dress!” “I wonder what he’s wearing while he’s typing that,” she ponders.
Parliament House is literally built for men
From the shape of the benches to the temperature of the chambers in Parliament House, it’s all designed for men in suits. There weren’t even women’s toilets until 1974 when the female politicians were so generously given a converted disused men’s bathroom, complete with a boarded up urinal.
Spare a thought for Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female parliamentarian, who was elected to WA Parliament in 1921, where of course there were no ladies’ toilets in the entire building. For three years she had to duck home every time she needed to use the loo.