Women have been under-represented in Australian political life since Federation in 1901. Not only in the numbers of women in Parliament, but also in making their voices heard. Women don’t have the financial clout to lobby parties, as business leaders do. Simply attending a protest rally is difficult when you have small children to care for. But I attended a rally today, made possible only because my little boy could chill out in a carrier, despite the wind and on-again-off-again rain. We were outside the National Press Club, while Prime Minister Julia Gillard was inside addressing the media. This isn’t a political blog, so I won’t be discussing the politics of the rally. But I do have a few observations about babywearing and its place in our democracy.
I’ve been attending rallies for about 15 years now, for various reasons. And in the last couple of years, there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of mums with babies at the rallies I’ve been to. It’s much easier to hold up placards or participate in public walks with the kids tied onto you, and no worries about them running onto the road or being upset by all the loud chanting. Plus protest rallies become a social event, almost like a mother’s group for the politically active.
Whether the rally is for parenting issues, or totally unrelated issues, mums and dads are taking up their right to have a say in how the country is run. And it’s a good thing for democracy, simply because it enables a more diverse range of views to be heard. It means we’re also hearing from a sector of the community who are preoccupied with nurturing, caring, and gentle behaviours and roles. Quite a contrast with the business sector who dominate paid political advertising, younger revolutionary activists, and trade unionists whose protests tend to be more active, loud, or aggressive than the protests organised by a bunch of babywearing mums. Not that there’s anything wrong with being politically aggressive – I just enjoy seeing diversity in the way we express our views.
The comments from non-babywearers show that our passive, peaceful forms of protest are making an impact, too. While not everyone knows the right terms (I’ve had a TV cameraman refer to my ring sling as a shawl), they know it’s all about looking after the child’s needs. I’ve had comments about how effective my gentle tone of voice was when speaking to a packed hall with sleeping newborn in a FWCC (front wrap cross carry), and “oohs” over my sleepy three year old in a SSC (soft structured carrier) from the Federal Police detective at this morning’s rally.
Oh, and the babywearer-spotter’s roundup at today’s event: a gorgeous printed cotton ring sling, another very elegant neutral toned plain cotton ring sling, and lots of SSCs in various colours and prints. Didn’t spot any mei tais or pouches, and I vaguely recall a stretchy wrap but could have been wrong. Only saw two prams (one was a double for twins). Still, that’s a pretty high percentage of babywearers for a rally of about 35 women!