Sydney Morning Herald

A man's best friend, but feminism's worst enemy

By Miranda Devine
July 7 2002
Sydney Morning Herald

Fallen star . . . Cheryl Kernot had been touted as a future PM. Photo: Belinda Pratten

"Thank you Cheryl. She's put the reputation of females back a hundred years," came the message on my answering machine from a friend who is a soaring success on her own terms in a male-dominated profession, not to mention a happily married mother of two tiny girls.

Yeah. Thanks a lot. With all her sanctimonious, honey-voiced pronouncements about feminism and the status of women and all her complaints about sexism and blokey cultures, Cheryl Kernot has proved herself to be the single worst enemy Australian feminism has ever had. Not only was she seemingly incapable of restraining herself from committing adultery with a renowned charmer, but she blamed the subsequent fallout on sexism and the unreadiness of Australian society to accept a successful woman in politics. Barf.

Every time she opened her mouth last week she damaged the feminist cause. The woman once touted as a future prime minister had been a will-o'-the-wisp blown about by the whims of men, the Labor Party, blokey cultures, the media, her hormones. When Kerry O'Brien asked her on ABC-TV on Tuesday about her undisciplined outburst on election night in 1998, she said: "It revealed to me that I was extremely menopausal."

Menopausal! After generations of proving themselves, women had just about escaped the accusation they were prisoners of their hormones. Men no longer regarded them as over-emotional or unreliable in business because of "that time of the month", or at least they knew they shouldn't say it aloud. Yet, now here is licence, from a self-proclaimed standard-bearer of Australian women's aspirations, to wind back the clock and reduce any woman over 50 to a ticking hormone bomb.


Yet still her cheerleaders claim her downfall is due to the fact she is a woman and the media and the Labor Party are sexist. One after the other last week they mouthed the tired old lines that nobody believes any more.

"I've never seen a worse example of double standards, because there are many, many, particularly men but some women, in politics who've had various personal affairs," said Joan Kirner, who, it turns out, knew all about the Kernot-Evans "grand consuming passion" and expected it would be exposed sooner or later. "So why is it suddenly different for Cheryl?

"The lesson here for young women is that if you want to succeed in politics, you can't succeed by male patronage."

Jennie George, ACTU president turned federal Labor MP: "I can say that it's not a climate that's very accommodating of women - it's very hard for any woman to make her way." It's hard to imagine any climate that could accommodate a person as self-obsessed and remorseless as Kernot appears to have been.

Natasha Stott Despoja, milder than her elders: "The media treatment [of Kernot] will possibly discourage people, particularly women, from entering public life."

Women's Electoral Lobby national chair Sandy Killick: "The major concern here is that we are discriminating against a woman politician ... we're dredging up something that we wouldn't be dredging up if it was a male politician in the same position."

To put these claims to the test, just imagine if Cheryl Kernot had been a man. Imagine a 27-year-old married male teacher at an all-girls Catholic school in the mid-70s, who got to know a Year 12 student and embarked on a long-term sexual relationship after the girl graduated. It's hard to imagine the man being treated as lightly, at the time or two decades later, when the story was published.

Would this man have become Democrats leader? Would he have been wooed into the ALP? Certainly not in quite the same way. Would he have been swept straight into a ministry? Would he have expected to join the leadership team? Would his erratic behaviour, his demands, his petulance and temper tantrums have been tolerated for so long by so many? Hardly.

It was precisely because she was a woman that Kernot's political career had a rails run. When it suited her, she played the woman card, lazily, carelessly. It was an excuse for everything. Her failings she generalised as the failings of all women. Single-handedly, she squandered a good deal of the opportunities and momentum Australian feminism has built up over generations.

Yeah, Cheryl. Thanks for nothing.

Buses drive motorists to the edge

If traffic congestion is a problem in Sydney, how is the solution to create bus-only lanes that force cars on to an even smaller portion of the road?

That would be like helping a starving man by cutting his food ration. You don't do it unless you want to kill him.

Killing Sydney's love affair with cars is, of course, the aim of public transport experts who keep urging the Government to blanket the city with bus-only lanes.

They hope motorists will become so fed up with the resulting gridlock they will actually start catching the buses, which usually run around half-empty haemorrhaging taxpayers' money.

One bus loop from the city to the airport and Sydenham, for instance, with two trips in the morning and two in the evening, carries just two people a day, State Transit told the NSW Pricing Tribunal in May.

And the solution is to put on the road more buses people don't want to catch?

Oh, and to pay for it, you impose more tolls on motorists whose share of the road keeps shrinking.

This is one of the brainstorms from a 13-volume transport report released last week.

The study, by the Camperdown-based Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at Sydney University, also claims there is widespread community support for new taxes on car-drivers.

Someone has been sniffing the fumes on Parramatta Road for too long.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald