By Mikayla Chadwick
Today, Dan Andrews fronted the media for the 94th day in a row. But, while we expect him to show compassion and take the blame, are we asking too much?
In today’s political landscape, we force our politicians to be emotional: we want their compassion, we need to see them suffer as we do, we need to see them happy for our nation’s successes. So, what does this mean for Daniel Andrews?
What does it mean when we expect him to be civil, calm and collected when answering questions from a reporter for the 94th day in a row, when he knows they will publish yet another article asking him to take personal responsibility, or label him a dictator? How much can we ask of our leaders, emotionally, before it becomes too much?
Politicians, like waiters and retail staff, are service workers. Their employment depends upon their service to others: their role is to represent us. According to studies, politicians experience emotional burnout and depersonalisation in their jobs, as much as any other service worker. The pain a waiter goes to when he smiles with a ‘customer’s always right’ attitude, is likened by academics to the burden on a politician to smile and respond graciously to a reporter who publishes attacking and victimising articles about them. When the currency of today’s crisis is emotion, be it the fear of contagion or frustration about being in lockdown, how much emotional outpour can we expect from our leaders?
I argue, we can’t possibly expect as much as we do.
A simple scroll down Daniel Andrews Instagram feed will find a plethora of abuse scattered in comments on family photos.
Admittedly, Andrews’ is likely posting photos of his family in an attempt to humanise himself to the public – reminders of ‘I’m suffering too’ and ‘we’re all in this together’. Yet, the act of posting a photo of your family, while expecting to be called a paedophile, a dictator and a villain, requires some emotional work in and of itself. Andrews is experiencing daily something called ‘emotional labour’.
Coined by an American sociologist, ‘emotional labour’ is the effort one endures to act out an expected emotion, while genuinely feeling an entirely different emotion. The classic example usually given is that of an air hostess smiling at her passengers, despite her inner exhaustion. Her employment requires her to smile, even when she really doesn’t feel like it. Though it may be onerous to feel sympathy for our leaders, it can be suggested that Daniel Andrews is suffering the same burden as the air hostess.
Rachel Baxendale, in particular, not only writes incredibly confrontational and scathing accounts of the MP, but is standing in front of him at every press conference with questions ready to be fired. These include hypotheticals that he couldn’t possibly be expected to realistically entertain.
Here, Andrews must maintain a calm and respectful manner, despite what could all well be his true feelings of anger or resentment towards her as a reporter. Statements, even from fellow politicians such as Tony Abbott, saying we are in the harshest lockdown in the world, are found inaccurate by institutions such as Oxford University, who indicated that 13 other countries have achieved the maximum possible score for the overall severity of their lockdowns – Victoria is not alone. Yet, Andrews must keep it together in front of the press. This is a requirement of his job.
Other studies suggest that the role of the politician is to personalise the political – to make his moral integrity and familial accountability political fodder. Leading in a time of crisis embeds you in Australian households – press conferences and decisions made by Andrews affect us in an unprecedented way.
His position on COVID is as much up for ridicule as his personal life. People feel justified in attacking his family on Instagram, because they feel as though Andrews has personally victimised them; as if our leader has personally locked their doors and thrown away the key. Yet, if we saw no photos of his family, if we saw him react with anger to a journalist, he would also be ridiculed.
His position on COVID is as much up for ridicule as his personal life. People feel justified in attacking his family on Instagram, because they feel as though Andrews has personally victimised them; as if our leader has personally locked their doors and thrown away the key.
What Andrews is confronted with as a service worker is indicative of a wider, systemic problem that neoliberalism confronts us with. Our personal lives now are our professional lives. Personal attributes, such as optimism and confidence, are now listed as requirements in job descriptions. Emotion is okay, only when it fits the company well.
For instance, the ill-conceived campaign #GiveDanTheBoot, escalated to boots being hung on Andrews’ father’s grave as a sign of discontentment with Andrews’ leadership. In response to this, Andrews commented “Shame, shame on him, shame”.
Given, shaming the man who hung the boots consequently shames the entire campaign. However, when The Age deemed Andrews as ‘emotional’ in a headline, it was okay because it reflected the family values, we expect of him. Here we can see that he was allowed to be emotional because it served his party’s purpose. Again, the employer (us) set the rules for how and when he is allowed to respond emotionally to an ongoing string of events shaping his life.
If we are to hold Daniel Andrews personally accountable for every decision made during the COVID crisis, then we do not understand the complexity of working in politics.
This is not to argue that Andrews should be void of responsibility. Rather, he should be cut some slack, for prioritising the people over the economy, as opposed to Trump’s prioritisation of the economy over the people. And, to clear this up now, yes, if the economy collapses many people will suffer, but it is the people who sustain the economy. If we all die, so shall the economy.
Let’s give Andrews some credit for keeping us alive and undertaking the burdensome task of managing his emotions day-in-day-out.
Mikayla Chadwick is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, focused on human and legal rights, global affairs and popular culture. Mikayla holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is currently completing a research degree in sex work policy reform. To read more from Mikayla, check out her website: mikaylachadwick.com.
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