Women behaving badly? It seems gender imbalance is alive and well in Queensland

In 2021 we are still seeing a glaring disparity in the way in which males and females are perceived by society and reported upon by the media, writes Madonna King

Feb 04, 2021, updated Feb 04, 2021
Mundingburra MP Les Walker has been charged with common assault. (Supplied)

Mundingburra MP Les Walker has been charged with common assault. (Supplied)

A woman walks into a bar. It’s late at night, just after 1:00am, and it’s her 56th birthday.

The place is called the Mad Cow Tavern, or something like that, and it doesn’t take too long before she gets into a brawl. Later, she claims she doesn’t remember too much – but there was a hospital trip after the punch-up.

She’s slapped with a public nuisance fine and banned from the nightclub area.

Would she keep her job if she was a company chief? What about if she was an MP?

Not a chance in hell. But Townsville MP Les Walker –  despite being unable to answer questions about his night out – is still representing the good folk of north Queensland, and picking-up up a healthy taxpayer-funded salary.

One rule for men and another for women?

What about Wally Lewis, who has split from his wife of 36 years Jacqui and “moved on” to a new relationship?

He’s being described as a rugby league icon, a Queensland Origin legend, an author and commentator. King Wally isn’t ready for us to meet his new Queen, and wants us to leave him alone because he’s not ready to discuss it publicly.

“But I want to acknowledge the pain and upset my family has gone through since Jacqui and I separated last year. I hope over time we can rebuild our ties and move on with life,” he said.

Noble words. And he deserves his privacy, as does his beautiful and equally talented former wife, who has given up many, many things, over decades, to allow her husband to shine.

But would we be using “icon’’ and “legend” and “author’’ and “star”, in the same context; talking about a 61-year-old woman, who separates from the husband who had carried the behind-the-scenes load for decades? I suspect not.

It was the same when Wayne Bennett released a statement, announcing that he had split from his wife Trish, after 42 years.

“As an NRL head coach and thereby a public figure I today inform you about a personal matter and the fact I have separated from my wife and the family home some time ago,” he said at the time.

And it was dutifully reported as that, with a few odd light barbs.

But just imagine if Les or Wally or Wayne were women, with those same big or publicly-funded jobs. Would we think the same? Would it be reported in the same way?

It’s hard to even think of a case – but if Jacinda Ardern split from her husband, for example, would it prompt an empathetic look at her workload?

Or would the commentary be more tailored to talk about her husband Clarke Gayford and the long days he spent looking after their child, while she chose to run around the country making announcements?

Of course, there are exceptions, but in 2021 we are still seeing a glaring disparity in how males and females are seen, and reported upon.

From bequeathments to schools, to advertisements, to even how men and women are described in court. Too often, a ‘mother’ appears before a judge. When it’s a father, he is routinely described as a “man”, with no reference to the fact of whether or not he has children. Often his age is considered irrelevant; but a woman’s age, it appears, is crucial.

Perhaps they seem small discrepancies, but each one puts equality a step further away.

Gender equality has come a long way in recent years; an example of that is in the number of female ministers in Queensland, or the gender of those leading the state’s big universities, or in many of the top decision-makers in the public service.

On company boards, too, there have been some tentative inroads.

But perhaps true equality only comes when the behaviour of women is seen, and commented upon, in the same way it is with men.

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