Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Ladies' Thinking Club

Australia has a new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (NB this is not meant as a breaking news flash as the election was 7th September).  Whilst his victory was not unexpected, the line up of his new cabinet aroused considerable comment as there is only one woman, Julie Bishop the new Foreign Minister, amongst the nineteen members.  As you can imagine this has given rise to lots of comments and discussion about quotas and female representation.  Almost every female of note in Australia seems to have been asked for their opinion, though strangely no one has come knocking on my door, whilst there are emotive statistics flying around about the fact that Afghanistan now has more female representation at a senior parliamentarian level than Australia.   However it is worth noting only a year ago Australia had a female Prime Minister, female Governor General and female Head of State (Queen Elizabeth).

I think I fall on the side of encouraging good women rather than imposing quotas that could lead to mediocre women to match the numerous mediocre men in government.  One of the arguments out there is there aren’t enough good women – but one only has to look around to see that isn’t true, the correct response is there aren’t enough good women prepared to consider politics as a career, and the reason for that lies with the nature of politics and politicians rather than the potential calibre of women as a race.

Whilst considering the women in politics question I listened to the following interview with Agnieszka Fryckowska the Base Commander at the British Halley VI base station in Antarctica.  She is in charge of a 13 man team, with most team members doing 18 months on the base, 9 months of which are spent as a small group isolated from the outside world with the added bonus that for a couple of those months the sun fails to make it over the horizon. 

Agnieszka sounds a fabulous woman in a fascinating job, and what had me cheering was when she was asked about being the only woman, not to mention the boss, her response was that as members of the team “We are hired for our ability to do the job, not whether we are male or female.”  And in the end I think whether you are running the equivalent of Ice Station Zebra or the Australian Liberal Party that has to be the right answer, notwithstanding there are lots of things you can do to make life easier for talented women to apply.

When I was back in the UK earlier on in the Northern Hemisphere summer I came across some sample questions from the General Paper for the Fellowship Exam at All Souls College at Oxford.  The questions were in one of the Sunday papers and the Drama Queens and I whiled away a train journey whilst considering issues such as “Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?” and “Is it an extremely unnatural condition for a male and female to live continuously together?” and one of my particular favourites; “It has been said architecture is frozen music.  Does this make any sense?”

I got back to Sydney and stuck up a copy of some of the questions above the cooker – always useful to have something to read whilst supper chars, before deciding that I don’t see enough of my female friends and I should have an evening where I made them talk about some of these questions – a kind of Ladies Thinking (and obviously Drinking) outing. 

I know it sounds incredibly pretentious but I love my book club both for the books we read and the discussions we have about them, but also for the fact it gives us all an excuse to get together, and I thought having a think about some of these questions would give us a focus.

I was a complete bundle of nerves before the 14 women turned up and in fact was in the running to invent a question of my own along the lines of  “How advisable is it for the hostess to have a couple of quick drinks before guests arrive?” but I have to say it was the most fantastic success and people really seemed to enjoy the chance to talk about all kinds of issues and really welcomed the chance to be forced to move off the children/husband/dog/holiday conversation roundabout we sometimes all get caught on – generally enjoyably I should add as if you want mindless banter at the school drinks party then I am your woman.  However I certainly came away from the evening feeling completely buoyed by what a fantastic, thought provoking, interesting, risk taking group of female friends I have, who lift me up emotionally, and intellectually and make me laugh big time, and if I was Tony Abbott I’d be giving them a call quick smart as they are just the kind of people to run the country.

Tony Abbott was a Rhodes scholar so will be familiar with All Souls College, but I can’t help feeling that had he had a go at this question in the run up to the election he might have at least had some answers for his critics!

“If you were Prime Minister, what considerations would you take into account in deciding the size and composition of your Cabinet?”


  1. wish I'd been there too - if only for the wine and laughter! xx

  2. I wish you had been there too - need to have a global party