In a new interview with an Australian TV show, a male reporter said he was “smitten” with the New Zealand PM – before asking when her baby was conceived. We have to keep calling this casual creepiness out, says Stylist’s Digital Women’s Editor Moya Crockett.
There are many things that make Jacinda Ardern interesting. The New Zealand prime minister is the world’s youngest female head of state, for a start. She supports the decriminalisation of cannabis, the compulsory teaching of the indigenous Māori language in schools, and has described capitalism as a “blatant failure”. And in the four months since she was elected PM, she’s ticked off a long list of accomplishments, from introducing a bill to tackle child poverty and committing to reforming the country’s abortion laws (which, incidentally, are very similar to the UK’s).
But according to a cringeworthy interview doing the rounds online, there are only two things that make Ardern truly fascinating: her attractiveness, and the fact that she’s pregnant.
Ardern was recently interviewed for the Australian TV show 60 Minutes, and the result was a sad indictment of the way in which even the most powerful women can’t avoid being reduced to their appearance and fertility.
“I’ve met a lot of prime ministers in my time,” said reporter Charles Wooley by way of introducing the interview, which aired in Australia on Sunday, “but none so young, not too many so smart – and never one so attractive.” As he spoke, the camera zoomed in on 37-year-old Ardern’s face. So far, so creepy.
Wooley, 69, admitted that he was “smitten [with Ardern] just like the rest of her country”, while promotional clips for the interview on Australia’s Channel Nine described the New Zealand PM as “young, honest and pregnant”.
In one of the interview’s more eye-popping exchanges, Wooley quizzed Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford – who announced their first pregnancy in January – about when their baby was conceived.
“[There is] one really important political question that I want to ask you, and that is what exactly is the date that the baby’s due?” he asked. When Ardern replied that she expected to give birth on 17 June, Wooley replied: “It’s interesting how many people have been counting back to the conception… as it were.”
Breezing past Ardern and Gayford’s horrified laughter, he continued: “Having produced six children it doesn’t amaze me that people can have children; why shouldn’t a child be conceived during an election campaign?”
In response to this extraordinary line of questioning, Ardern rolled her eyes and appeared to take a moment to gather her thoughts. “The election was done,” she replied firmly. “It was over. Not that we need to get into those details.”
The overwhelming response to the interview on social media was one of shock and derision. “Dear New Zealand, our best mate,” wrote Australian academic Belinda Barnet on Twitter. “You know how everyone has a creepy uncle you need to avoid at Xmas parties? Sorry we got him to interview your PM. Please tell @jacindaardern we reckon it was gross.”
Ardern, who has previously been bullish in her belief that women should not be asked about pregnancy and motherhood in inappropriate contexts, brushed off the furore surrounding the interview. On Monday, she said that she was “not fazed” by Wooley (although she added that his question about when her child was conceived should be “put under the heading of ‘too much information’”).
Wooley, for his part, has hit back at criticism of his interviewing style, positioning himself as a defender of free speech for alluding to a head of state’s sex life. In a conversation with radio network NewsTalk ZB, he described the backlash against his interview as “Orwellian”.
“I think you’ve got to be so careful with newspeak and thoughtcrime and everything else,” he said. “We suffer the same thing in Australia.”
In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, ‘Newspeak’ is the deliberately restricted language used to limit citizens’ ability to understand and participate in politics and society, while ‘thoughtcrime’ is the criminalisation of holding beliefs that oppose or question the ruling party. And it’s generally accepted that Orwell was not defending the right of out-of-touch men to quiz powerful women about the intimate details of their pregnancies in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but was instead trying to highlight the perils of nationalism, censorship and state surveillance.
However, Wooley’s invocation of the writer fits with a wider pattern of people equating ‘free speech’ with ‘the freedom to say whatever I want without anyone calling me out on it’ – so let’s settle this once and for all.
Of course Wooley has the right to ask Ardern inappropriate and overly personal questions that he would never, ever ask a male politician. He also has the right to describe her in gooey, objectifying terms that – again – he would never use to describe a man.
But the pleasant flipside of that rule? Well, it’s that we have the absolute right to point at the creepy, outdated weirdness of his interviewing technique, and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Stylist’s Visible Women campaign aims to raise the profiles of women in politics – and inspire future generations to follow their lead. Find out more about the campaign here, and see more Visible Women stories here.