PM-designate Jacinda Ardern before the Swearing-in / Wikimedia Commons
First published on Saturday the 5th of October, 2019, this piece comes in at number 13 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2019.
I sometimes think it's tempting to think of Donald Trump as an idiot. A little too tempting. Tempting, but perhaps foolish. One of the more dangerous aspects of the real estate mogul’s presidency – if it’s at all possible to rank such things – is the fact he speaks in catchphrases. It’s easy to imagine that nicknames like Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, or even ‘Washed Up Psycho’ Bette Midler, fall out of the president’s head without a thought – but I imagine it’s a lot more calculated than that. What makes these nicknames stick is the fact they carry a grain of (keyword) perceived truth. Trump knows how to feel out his opponents for weak spots – and when he finds them, he drills down hard.
There are definitely more substantive aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency to worry about, but the way he emboldens his base with these incendiary nicknames causes a palpable effect on the discourse. It’s like a rotten lolly scramble, where the lollies are crude bullying tactics, and the people picking them up are ‘deplorables’. It only serves to make things uglier. And the president knows that. So, with all that in mind, I shuddered when Simon Bridges called Jacinda Ardern a ‘Part-Time Prime Minister’.
I mean, let’s not pretend New Zealand politics involves holding hands and singing kumbaya; our parliamentarians have always jabbed at each other. But something felt different, in my mind, when Bridges debuted the moniker. Something felt Trumpian.
Of course, this all happened way back in July, and Grant Robertson was quick to point out that the comment had sexist overtones. But no one’s satisfactorily articulated what’s so sexist about the dig. And since then, in a way that horrifyingly echoes the United States, the term has been picked up by a sycophantic group of Jacinda-haters, regularly making #parttimePM top the local Twitter trends.
Mike Hosking pled confusion, saying there was nothing sexist about it, and Kate Hawkesby pointed out that Bridges is “surrounded by strong women and married to one.” As if that means anything.
The point, though, is not whether Simon Bridges is a misogynist, but whether the term ‘part-time Prime Minister’ – being lobbed at a PM not long back from taking six weeks maternity leave – carries sexist overtones.
I think it does.
I think it idealises a hyper-masculine, capitalist, work-yourself-to-death mentality that needs to be abolished. A Prime Minister’s day job is varied, collaborative, improvised and ever-changing. No two people will ever perform it the same way. In many ways, I imagine it’s like being a parent.
A country doesn’t automatically benefit from its leader clocking in 100 hours a week – it benefits when their leader works smart, implements constructive policy, and guides her country through tragedy. On those fronts, Ardern has had her losses and she’s had her wins. The details of those are beside the point.
Let’s not forget that part-time work has long been the domain of women – particularly women with children. I think what’s most sexist about this dig is the way it invokes these New Zealanders – our mothers, sisters, and daughters. The way it drags them to the front of public consciousness and scolds them for not working hard enough.
To my mind, this is classic dog-whistle politics. Dog-whistle politics is described as ‘coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different, or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.’ So, of course, Hosking and co. can plead ignorance – there’s nothing OVERTLY sexist about the term ‘part-time’. But dig a little deeper and you’ll wonder if Bridges is speaking to those ‘everyday New Zealanders’ who get nervous about women drivers. Who joke that women should stay in the kitchen. Who wouldn’t want a woman boss. Whether he’s conscious of it or not, when the leader of the opposition uses terms like ‘part-time PM’, he reminds a certain sector of the country that Ardern is a popular young woman who recently had a baby.
And if that’s not enough, one can always ponder that most damning question: has any of this ever been lobbed at a man?Support Villainesse