My name is Eliza Brebner Griffin. I am 26 years old and a member of the Victorian Young Labor Executive. I have been involved in Young Labor for about two years and have been asked to share a little about my experiences as a woman in politics.
Given the age restrictions of Young Labor, when I did become involved I quickly discovered I did not have any time to waste!
I have no doubt that issues of gender are still a barrier to women’s participation in politics. Some of those barriers were what delayed the commencement of my active participation, despite having first dreamed about being an MP at the age of 9.
My early life was fertile ground for the development of my political interest. Growing up in Adelaide, I attended a school that has educated a number of Federal MPs (all male thus far). The Jesuits, who ran the school, constantly implored us to be ‘men and women for others’, to use the gifts and talents we had to serve those around us in the pursuit of justice.
The girls’ school I attended for the final years of my schooling in Melbourne was a very different environment. Whilst the school is very highly regarded, the administration seemed far more concerned with producing nice young ladies with high ATARs than instilling a broader sense of purpose or service.
The school did not offer politics or economics at VCE level, subjects I had my heart set on studying. It saddens me that these subjects still seem to be viewed as stereotypically masculine and the school did not draw the girls’ attention to how these fields influence so much of what happens in the world.
I think the fixation with niceness holds many young women back from political participation. This social pressure seems much greater for women, as being ‘nice’ is the antithesis of being a bitch. I think it is important for all people to be kind but it would be fantastic if more young girls understood that there are more important things than being liked by everyone.
Having support and friendships in politics is important for your health and your productivity. However, I have learned that it is impossible to have strength in your convictions and keep everyone happy. Further, I have learned that I don’t want or need the approval of those I do not respect.
Sometimes learning that someone doesn’t approve of you is a sign that you are on the right track! You bring all of who you are to politics. I can see how each chapter of my life fuels my involvement and colours the manner in which I chose to operate. I am grateful that I have pursued interests in sport, music and community as the perspective I gained has helped me to navigate politics with an eye to the ‘real world’. I am inherently interested in doing what works to improve peoples’ lives.
The advice I have for young women and girls considering getting involved in politics is the same advice I give to myself on a regular basis;
Give things a go, gain experiences and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Politics (and life) is about progress, not perfection.
You will make mistakes, so make them with the best of intentions and endeavour not to repeat them.
Be persistent, be patient and be a good listener.
Keep your values and integrity at the forefront of everything you do.
Assume that everyone you meet will be very, very important one day (if they are not
already) so be respectful. However, demand the same level of respect for yourself though your actions.
If it smells like bullshit, it probably is.
Trust your gut.
Every battle feels important, but learn to tell the difference between a battle and a war. Then win the war.