Roxon shows there's still an imbalance
Former federal minister Nicola Roxon, centre, with husband Michael and daughter Rebecca, 7.
When Nicola Roxon's resignation from Federal Parliament was announced, I started shouting at the television. And at the Roxon herself.
Watching Roxon battle with her feelings made me battle with my own about what it means to be a working women with children.
Roxon, the federal Attorney-General, stepped down from her position in the cabinet and will retire from politics at the September election.
She was, in the main, responsible for the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes and assisted in the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Excellent work.
She was just in her early 30s when she began in Parliament in 1998, representing the people of Gellibrand, in Melbourne's western suburbs.
Yet, there she was, at just 45, deciding to retire because of family reasons. Freaking family reasons.
She said that when she entered Parliament, 15 years ago: ''I hadn't even met my husband. My daughter [now seven] was a long way from being thought about and, if I did contest this next election and run for a sixth term in Parliament, she would be starting high school before I might retire.''
So here we are, now into our third wave of feminism; and women are still retiring from important jobs because of family reasons. When they still have years to give. Years. Roxon is not even peaking in terms of ability to contribute. I reckon the public could easily have expected at least another 15 years of good, smart, level-headed, effective work from her.
So I was furious. I talked to friends about my feelings and they just rolled their eyes. Women can make their own choices, they said patronisingly. Feminism is about the right to choose.
But it's not until I speak to the chief executive officer of the Diversity Council of Australia, Nareen Young, that I find someone who can talk me down off my high horse.
She says that she too felt frustrated by Roxon's decision but, unlike me - warm hands, cold heart - she could empathise.
Young, too, had made the decision to pull back from public life. She was heavily involved in unions but said she had to make a choice when it came to having a family and working in a high-level job in the Labor movement.
''I didn't have the emotional energy to be the kind of mother I wanted to be … those jobs require so much energy,'' she says. ''I was absolutely determined to work at a senior level but, after having kids, I made the decision to walk away.''
Now, Young's kids are on their way to adulthood and she is once again in a serious job. In the meantime, she has had jobs where she has not had to travel much, where she has been able to commit to parenting but kept connected to her areas of interest. She says she has no doubt Roxon will reappear in the public interest.
''It would be a national tragedy if we didn't see her on the national stage again,'' Young says.
But my fear is that we are still producing young women who put families first - and don't ask their partners to make the same commitment or to make the same sacrifices about their work. That it is always women who have to give up ambition or play down their talents in order to parent. I'm confident that Michael Kerrisk, Roxon's partner, is good at his job. But could he ever be the example to the Australian community that his wife is? After all, Roxon was our first female Attorney-General and took on huge challenges. Won some. Lost some. But managed herself with admirable calm and determination.
For centuries, we've assumed (and we women have swallowed this, too), that men are hunters and gatherers and women are nurturers. But I think in many respects my husband was a better and more patient parent. Which is why he taught them to drive, and read and cook.
There is no way that the job I did as a young mother was anything as time-sucking as being a federal politician with a position in cabinet. I think we would all understand that that's probably 100 hours a week.
Maybe that's a problem we all need to look at - that the parliamentary workload does not address the issue of work-life balance - in fact, you probably can't even get through the work you need to do if you want to sleep seven hours a night.
But the biggest issue for me is trying to teach my own children that, if they ever decide to have kids and ever decide to have partners, that parenting should be a joint responsibility. That mothers or fathers can take the prime responsibility and children will be totally fine.
Roxon, I'm devastated you are leaving politics. You were, of course, an excellent politician. But, more importantly, you were a role model for young women trying to imagine themselves as senior politicians while having a family. There are others in the ministry - your colleagues Tanya Plibersek and Kate Lundy - but I'm not sure that's what we could call momentum.
Please don't forget to come back and show young Australian women it can be done.
And mothers out there, don't forget to tell your sons how important it is to stay home when the children are little.