OPINION

When news broke of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's "close personal relationship" with the allegedly corrupt former MP Daryl Maguire, I was devastated.

I was devastated not by the revelation that our Premier made a bad romantic choice; god knows, I have made a series of them myself. I was devastated by the outpouring of mockery and disdain on social media towards an excellent politician who happens to be fallible, and who also happens to be a woman.

As a fellow middle-aged single woman (I am two years older than Gladys Berejiklian), I can vouch for the loneliness of being unpartnered, and the craving for intimacy and connection.

A senior politician is not above these yearnings, nor should we expect them to be. I can also vouch for the scarcity of good quality single middle-aged men, and can only imagine how few of them a politician would meet.

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Premier Gladys Berejiklian holds a press conference after revealing she had been in a ‘close personal relationship’ with former MP Darryl Maguire who is being investigated by ICAC. Picture: Toby Zerna
Premier Gladys Berejiklian holds a press conference after revealing she had been in a ‘close personal relationship’ with former MP Darryl Maguire who is being investigated by ICAC. Picture: Toby Zerna

Ideally, our Premier would make sensible romantic choices; ideally, all us single people would. Unfortunately, however, being smart and professionally successful does not necessarily translate into matters of the heart.

I'm smart and reasonably successful and I've fallen for a series of unsuitable men, one or two of whom could give Daryl Maguire a run for his money. Unlike our Premier, my liaisons were not made public, but had they been splashed across the media I might now be in an institution.

Now, Ms Berejiklian's critics claim that it is not her one-time relationship with Mr Maguire that is the problem, it's her failure to divulge what she knew about him at the time.

As Opposition leader Jodi McKay said on ABC News, "It is what she didn't do. She knew what was going on, she knew what (Daryl Maguire) was up to, and she didn't do anything."

At the time of writing, this is an unproven claim, and - to me - reveals a naivety about the workings of intimate relationships.

The Opposition leader is married, and perhaps does not understand the compartmentalisation that can occur when people are in less than ideal romantic entanglements. We can ignore red flags. We can refuse to ask important questions. We can block out information to protect those precious moments of intimacy.

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MP Daryl Maguire and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in Wagga in 2017.
MP Daryl Maguire and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in Wagga in 2017.

This, it seems, is what Ms Berejiklian did during her relationship with Mr Maguire. In their personal phone calls, she shut down his explanations of his business and financial dealings on more than one occasion.

"I don't need to know about that bit," she told him. No doubt, she didn't want to know.

Was she unwise? No doubt. We can all be unwise in matters of the heart. But that doesn't make her corrupt, and her lack of judgment in her personal relationship doesn't necessarily translate to her professional life.

I've made bad choices in relationships and remained a great mother, a conscientious worker, and an honest and morally upright member of society. Gladys Berejiklian made a bad choice in her relationship and has remained a strong and steady leader in a phenomenally challenging year.

RELATED: Gladys phone call you didn't get to hear

Gladys Berejiklian being pummelled at a press conference on Tuesday. Picture: Sky News
Gladys Berejiklian being pummelled at a press conference on Tuesday. Picture: Sky News

Any political affair makes headline news, but it is hard not to see sexism at play in the calls for Berejiklian's resignation.

If a male Premier had been mates with a bad egg, and failed to interrogate him on his business dealings, no-one would have blinked. But the salaciousness of the context (ooh! a sexual relationship!) and the fact that female politicians are held to much higher standards than males, has blown this out of all proportion.

Now, our politicians need to be held to a high standard, and their behaviour should be ethical and in the interests of the constituents.

But it is unreasonable to expect our politicians to be perfect, and it is absolutely unreasonable to expect them to be less than human. Human beings - even the best of them - make mistakes.

We need to assess our leaders on their overall performance and their dedication to the community, not on their (inevitable) minor lapses of judgment.

If we want consistent dispassionate rationality from elected officials, we will need to get rid of people altogether, and cede power to our AI overlords. But if we continue to vote for actual human beings - human beings with feelings and desires and moments of weakness - we may need to cut them a little slack.

Kerri Sackville is a freelance writer and author of Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife | @KerriSackville

Originally published as Sexism in Gladys outrage we can't ignore


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