There are messages you hear, read and feel as a young woman. You absorb them from friends, mothers, grandmothers, fathers, drunk men, boys in school, the news, movies, music.
”You’re capable, you’re a “boss”. But you’re also vulnerable, less than.
“You can be a doctor! Women can do anything!”
“But don’t walk alone at night, don’t make them angry, don’t wear that, hold your hand over your drink, hold your keys between your fingers, check the backseat of your car. Just in case, it’s not all men.” But it’s enough.
For the second time in 12 months, a very clear signal has been sent to young Australian women like myself, aspiring to enter parliament. It tells us there’s a hostile attitude that lurks within the corridors and the hallways, the offices and the chambers.
It doesn’t matter how often I hear that I should pursue my passion for politics “…because without women entering parliament, the culture can never change”. When courageous survivors like Brittany Higgins share their stories but the Prime Minister says he must consult his wife and think about it as a father, it reminds me how differently women are valued. Or, to be more accurate, not valued.
It reminds me of the day my grandma told me what to do on a night out. How to cover drinks, hold keys, use a taxi. I wasn’t even 12 years old. It reminds me of gazes, catcalls and unwelcome hands.
In the hours of writing this, multiple women as young as 16 have been coming forward alleging inappropriate behaviour, including unwanted touching, against the senior aide of Craig Kelly, Frank Zumbo. He continues to work in the Liberal MP’s office.
The claims bravely shared by Brittany Higgins and the women working with Zumbo also surfaced in the same week that marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children who were murdered in a horrific domestic violence attack.
This may appear as an untimely coincidence to some, but for many women, especially those in parliament, it is an echo of the whistles and taunts we’ve endured throughout our lives.
As a business or as a workplace, it is not appropriate to direct your own employees to evaluate the culture perpetuated amongst themselves. So why is this acceptable for a majority government?
Parliament, and especially the Morrison Government, owes women an independent inquiry. Not because they’re daughters or wives, sisters or mothers. But because they are whole, living beings with agency, deserving of respect, support and the right to feel safe in their place of work.
Bianca Hogeveen, aged 19
Young Democrats graphics whiz