While the exposure of Barnaby’s affair was a positive, it reminded me of what most of us face regularly.
Justifiably, the news of Barnaby Joyce’s affair gained traction after Australia got over the initial reviled reaction and found it unacceptable. And it’s wonderful. The media really embraced it far more than just the usual “oh no, his poor wife” rhetoric, which led to this gem in a Sydney Morning Herald article, in response to calls to legislate against extra-marital affairs for politicians because will someone think of the poor women having affairs with these men:
“Women do not need protection. What we really need is an equal opportunity to philander.”
All this got me thinking about my own experiences. I’ll caveat this diatribe by saying as a middle-class, white, wealthy Australian, I am well aware of my privilege and make no assumptions that I am more disadvantaged than others. I’m not. I have a wonderful life full of opportunity. And yet, I’ve still felt the harsh sting of inequality. Mostly, in my career. I am a young woman in corporate banking, you can imagine how it is.
In case your imaginative powers don’t extend to literal scenes you would have seen in Mad Men, let me tell you about some of them. I’ve had managers explain to me that women are “just better suited to being assistants.” There have been plenty of surprised/irritated/suspicious customers when I have responded, “yes, I am the manager.” I’ve been passed over for promotions to end up training my new boss, as I was more experienced than him. Gossip has circulated that I have received so many promotions because of the occasional blowjob. I have even been given a substantial pay rise, purely because someone in HR found out that my vagina and I were being paid less than my male counterparts for the same work.
Why did I feel the need to keep it a secret? Why did no one ever question his behaviour and say “wow, what a scum bag, I can’t believe he would put you and his fiancé in that position”?
The worst experiences though, were in situations that resonate with Barnaby’s predicament, the risky and yet inevitable work-related affair. Although mine was more like Affair Lite™. I recently recounted the story of my post-networking event make out session with an engaged man, in the context of discussing Barnaby too, and its retelling brought about the sort of rage that only hindsight can provide. First, obviously, I was unaware of his impending nuptials. Second, don’t judge, this is 2018. Third, OK you can judge a little, but I was 23, who knows what the fuck they’re doing at 23.
Some work friends and I were at a function, the kind where no one remembers the reason for the event or the content of the presentation preceding the open bar the next day. The drinks had been flowing all evening when the flirting started, and then, well, you know how it goes. Nothing serious happened, although I doubt his fiancé would appreciate knowing his tongue was down my throat. As it turns out, my colleagues knew he was engaged, but let it happen, because bro, he was hooking in. The next day over hangovers and bacon and egg rolls, the lecturing began:
You should be more careful.
You shouldn’t drink so much.
I was just worried that something bad would happen to you.
What if people get the wrong idea about you?
I was good friends with these colleagues, best friends even. Their statements horrified me. Neither would listen to reason that it was offensive that they hadn’t even considered asking the same of the other party. They feigned that they were just worried that if this got out, my career might be ruined.
Sadly, it’s probably true, that one misjudged terrible kiss could trash my entire reputation. Some months later one of the friends caught up with the affianced gentleman at a networking lunch, where he followed up the announcement of his engagement breakup by bragging about hooking up with me.
High fives abounded and my friend said to me later while recounting the events of lunch, see, I told you.
The fact that he was engaged at the time became known to me long after the fact. I was outraged that I had been dressed down over the event, when in my eyes, he was now the villain. The response from my friend was the same lame excuse for bad behaviour we’ve endured for years, that boys will be boys. The reveal and the pitiful rationalisation was book-ended by the worst of it: “oh, I didn’t tell you he was engaged because either way, what you did was slutty.” It was as if I acted alone. Maybe he was an innocent bystander, plied with liquor, lured into my car under the guise of an innocent lift home and then viciously attacked by my ravenous tongue. It didn’t matter what he did, either way, I was the slut.
Also on The Big Smoke
- The obvious double standard we have for Joyce and other philandering politicians
- Micro-cheating: The grey area of infidelity we should not ignore
- We men need to talk about what we’ve let our friends do to women
In hindsight I think, where was my boozy lunch? Why didn’t I get to brag about that sucker, the slutty solicitor I seduced? Why didn’t I get high-fives for being such a player? Why did I feel the need to keep it a secret? Why were my “friends” so ready to congratulate him and discourage me? Why did none of those male friends just say “yo, he is spoken for,” and mostly why did no one ever stop and question his behaviour and say “wow, what a scum bag, I can’t believe he would put you and his fiancé in that position“?
Because, the patriarch fucks us all, that’s why.
I don’t need a pay rise, I don’t need help with my career, I don’t need special treatment. I need equal opportunity to act the way a man does. And if that’s not OK, maybe we should reconsider what is appropriate behaviour for men.