The news this week has featured a former prime minister's wife criticizing a current prime minister's wife. It's apparently something she said 'off the cuff' a while back. But it has now been reported in a new biography and it's making headlines and discussion shows all over the radio.
Mrs Whitlam said that Mrs Howard 'should have done more' in her role as the wife of the PM. She could have started foundations or charities, she could have been more vocal on public issues (presumably not political issues), she could have lent her support to various causes.
There has been lots of talk about whether the criticism is justified, and how much Mrs Howard has done, and precisely what Mrs Whitlam did when she was the PMs wife, but I haven't heard anyone say in various media discussions yet that Mrs Howard is entitled to do just what Mrs Howard wants to do!
I take it a bit personally, because the PMs wife is the only real parallel I have can think of to a minister's wife, which is what I will be in about three months time. She's the wife of a public leader who is seen by the people he leads. Like a church minister, being the PM is the sort of job which one person does, but the two people are seen together in it.
No-one cares about what their local doctor's wife does. No-one thinks about the school principal's spouse does. No-one takes issue with the wife of the soccer club. But the wife of the minister is in the public eye, just because her husband does what he does. Everyone keeps talking about the 'role' of the wife of the PM, but no-one really wants to define what it is.
Poor Janette Howard. She might not be the sort who wants to go public on lots of things. And for the people who expect that, she won't ever be a success. If she was a second Hillary Clinton, she'd cop flak for getting involved in her husband's job. Whatever she does, she'll never win.
I think it's really slack of Margaret Whitlam to criticise. She for one ought to know how hard the 'role' is to fulfill. And it's not up to her to say what Janette Howard should or shouldn't do.