At age 3, my first meaningful interactions with a woman working in business are with my Secretary Barbie.
Age age 4, imagining the future is to see myself having a house and a lawn and kids to run on the lawn.
Between the ages of 5 and 10, I am conditioned to be empathetic, sensitive and kind, while my male classmates are taught to be hard-working, resilient and confident.
At age 11, when family friends come over for dinner, I watch as the women busy themselves cleaning up the meal while the men sit in the lounge discussing politics.
At age 13, I go to high school and realise that smart girls are not attractive girls, and my popularity would be better served if I sit slumped in the back of a classroom feigning disinterest rather than eagerly answering questions.
At age 14, upon losing the regional debating final, a guy from the other team shakes my hand, smirks and says that “for a girls team, you put up a good fight”.
At age 17, not one career advisor or teacher or adult suggests I should consider politics as a career, despite the fact I am that 17-year-old who is on all of the youth councils and student bodies, I am a debater, and I show an interest in political issues.
At age 18, I go to university and find myself in law lectures and tutorials being talked over and shouted down. I am told if I want to do well in this career, I need to “toughen” (read: man) up.
At age 22, I go to a party and some dude wants to talk about abortion rights – because that’s a fun and purely abstract debate – and then tells me I should “calm down” about the fact he is telling me I should not have a say over my own body.
At age 23, my grandparents’ first question to me is still “do you have a boyfriend”.
At age 24, I sit around the table at a meeting of people in similar entry-level jobs and remark on the fact there are 13 other women and only one man. He’s our boss.
At age 25, I am made to laugh along to jokes about how Julia Gillard is just an angry, barren ginger who is married to a gay guy haha it’s just a joke why can’t you take a joke take a joke oi.
At age 30, when I decide I want to have kids I am told I should be able to juggle my career and parenthood – a full-time job in itself, and if I fail to do both then I’m just not cut out to be A Career Woman.
At age 32, I ask my firm whether I can work part-time and they say “of course!” and then mentally dump me in the basket of other part-time mothers who will never be partners because they can’t be relied upon to work until midnight every night. I am not given important clients or challenging work, and as a result I see my career begin to stagnate.
At age 34, I miss the staff Christmas function, which involves playing golf and then “getting on the piss”, because I am at home looking after my child with the flu. At the staff Christmas party, three younger and less experienced men stay up until 3am drinking whiskey with one of the partners. All three get promoted the following year.
Between the ages of 25 and 35, I lead community groups and volunteer countless hours to issues about which I care. However, when seeking a new role in a firm, I am told this irrelevant to the position.
At age 40, I decide I want to go into politics. At party meetings, I meet countless men who automatically discount every single word that comes out of my mouth purely because I am a woman.
At age 41, seeking promotion to the party list, I have advisors telling me that it “wouldn’t hurt” if I lost a little weight and suggesting a range of lipsticks that would suit my skin tone.
At age 42, seeking election, I have to be prepared for the fact that instead of just my grandparents enquiring as to whether I had a boyfriend, my love life – or the lack thereof – is going to plastered across women’s magazines and gossiped about over water coolers.
And if at age 45, I was put forward as a candidate for the party list and that position had been made available to women because of the continuing marked lack of women in politics, I would be told I “just got it because I was a woman”. Meanwhile, no man, ever, is told that he only got the position because every other card was stacked in his favour.
At every age, I get told that to be a female politician is to be ugly, aggressive and unlikable.
At every age, I have my appearance scrutinised, any changes in my size or wrinkles on my face reported, and my decision to have or not to have children considered the subject of legitimate debate.
At every age, I am told that it is all OK now because we had a female prime minister, governor general and Chief Justice, as if these exceptions have become the rule.
And today, I am told that it’s not fair that there would be measures aimed at ensuring women enter politics. I am told it is not fair that a party would aim to ensure still less than 50% of its MPs are women. I could be forgiven for thinking that a representative democracy should not be made to be representative.
I am lead to believe that affirmative action in politics means having worthy and deserving men lined up at the door for a position and then going and plucking the first female off the street. I am meant to disregard the fact women still face both institutional and overt discrimination – be it in politics, wider employment or society in general.
If you think affirmative action is about giving women jobs over men, you ignore the fact every other aspect of politics is geared towards men. You ignore that the culture of politics is inherently masculine. This is not a market that will simply correct itself. This isn’t about giving women special treatment or advantage. It’s about recognising that across society – at every age and every stage – males have received special treatment and advantage. If we’re really worried about fairness and equity, let’s get up in arms about that.