Home Lifestyle How Barnaby Joyce became every woman’s worst nightmare

How Barnaby Joyce became every woman’s worst nightmare

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Barnaby Joyce has a history of screwing over women.

When asked last year about his efforts to increase the number of women in the Nationals, he managed to name three men and not a single woman. And when it comes to women’s health policy, such as introducing the potentially life-saving Gardasil vaccine, he fretted that it might encourage promiscuity.

How Barnaby Joyce became every woman's worst nightmare
Barnaby Joyce on ABC’s 7:30. 

The news of his affair with a former staffer and his decision to leave his family takes things to a new low. He now represents many women’s worst nightmare.

Women often make a deal when they get married. He’ll go out into the world to build his high-profile, high-status, high-earning career and she’ll do… everything else.

How Barnaby Joyce became every woman's worst nightmare
Natalie and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce arrive for the Midwinter Ball at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 14 June 2017. 

Typically, that includes raising the kids pretty much on her own, taking on the associated domestic work and emotional labour.

In many instances, it also means running every aspect of her husband’s private life, from remembering his mum’s birthday ­— plus choosing and buying the present — to booking his dentist appointments and making sure he has a freshly ironed shirt to wear. She’ll work tirelessly as his emotional sounding board, and smile, and make boring small talk at his work functions.

All the while, she’ll be earning no wage for this fulltime job called “supportive wife”. Her superannuation is non-existent. Her CV is so out of date she’s practically unemployable, or she’s doing unsatisfying, poorly-paid work because it won’t interfere with his career.

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To top it off, she’s bone-tired all the time, and has very little identity other than being Mr Successful’s wife. 

But that’s okay because they’re a team. Right?

And then one day he decides the deal’s off. He terminates her wife employment contract with a pathetic muttering of empty words about his personal failing. Her farewell gift is seeing a photo of her younger replacement who’s all sprightly and not worn down by 20 years of tireless service.

And while his wife is left hurt, humiliated, betrayed, alone (and quite possibly poor), he’s off romping with his new babe, enjoying the successful career that his wife helped to build, and, when it suits him, still getting to be a father to the children that she raised.

This is the situation of Natalie Joyce who, after learning of her husband and Deputy Prime Minister’s affair and lovechild, told the Guardian:  “This situation is devastating on many fronts… For my girls, who are affected by the family breakdown, and for me as a wife of 24 years, who placed my own career on hold to support Barnaby through his political life.”

It’s the position that Karl Stefanovic’s ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn found herself in after sacrificing her own very promising media career so Stefanovic could build his, only to have him trade her in for a younger model. Thorburn is left to pick up the pieces and help manage the emotional fallout.

As Thorburn told Fairfax Media, “I am just focused on helping those affected by the ever-changing landscape of my ex-husband’s life, to navigate it”. 

Out of the public spotlight, there are countless other women who sacrificed their youth, vitality, and career- and wealth-building years to be the woman-behind-the-man, only to have him suck them dry and then leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to say that women should work or not work. Some women have very good reasons not to do paid work or to sacrifice their own career progression for the sake of their husband’s. And it’s easy to see how women can choose – or even just fall into by default – the role of woman-behind-the-man.

But often that choice is made within a culture where girls are raised to believe that the very best thing a woman can be is self-sacrificing. Our culture is full of stories romanticising and celebrating women who sacrifice all for love.

Last week, Mamamia‘s Clare Stephens wrote an ode “to all the women who have sacrificed their careers for men who ultimately disappointed them”.

“We see you. We see your work, your support, your morning well wishes and your wise afternoon conversations. And on days like today, we see your pain, and we see your sadness. We see your strength. Because sacrifice is never easy,” Stephens wrote.

It’s a great sentiment of support for all these self-sacrificing, invisible women, but rather than romanticising their sacrifice, let’s learn from it.

If women are going to make the choice to be the woman-behind-the-man, then let it be an informed choice. Know what you’re risking. With divorce rates at around the one-third mark, any woman could be left by her husband. Or perhaps she will want to leave him but feel trapped by her dependence on him.

If a newly-wed Natalie Joyce could have foreseen how her beloved Barnaby was going to screw her over so spectacularly in years to come perhaps she would have made different choices. Perhaps not. But either way, this is a choice that women need to make with their heads and not just their hearts.

Kasey Edwards is the author of Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind. www.kaseyedwards.com

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