Paula Bennett takes crack at America for lack of female leadership in new Women's Weekly spread

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett appears on the cover of Australian Women's Weekly March 2020 edition.
National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett appears on the cover of Australian Women's Weekly March 2020 edition. Photo credit: Photo / Australian Women's Weekly March 2020 edition

The United States has not yet had a female president, and the National Party's deputy leader Paula Bennett has made her disappointment known in a new magazine spread.  

Bennett reflected on her time as Deputy Prime Minister between 2016 and 2017 in the Australian Women's Weekly March cover story, in which she compared New Zealand's progressiveness for female politicians to the US. 

"Look at America, they still don't even have a female president," Bennett said, looking back on her history of being a single teenage mum to becoming deputy leader of New Zealand's largest political party. 

She recalled a time when she met a group of American tourists at a domestic airport terminal and looked back on how they couldn't believe she knew then-Prime Minister Bill English, when she mentioned "Bill". 

Bennett said she told the tourists she knew Bill English from work, and the first thing they assumed was that he was her husband, rather than asking if she worked with him. 

"It just amuses me so much that in their minds, it must have been my husband in politics," Bennett said. "That's where America is at."

New Zealand has had three female leaders, the first being the National Party's Jenny Shipley. The Labour Party's Helen Clark was the second, followed by incumbent Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

The US came close to having a female president in former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ran as the Democratic candidate against Republican President Donald Trump in 2016.  

Americans will vote again in 2020, but it looks unlikely a female will go up against Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are dominating the race to become the Democrat nominee. 

New Zealand will also go to the polls in September this year, and Bennett is leading the National Party's election campaign, after announcing in August 2019 she will not stand again in her Upper Harbour electorate, to focus on her new role. 

Bennett told Women's Weekly that as much as New Zealand can be divided on politics at times, she said she thinks Aotearoa is in a better place than the US. 

She said she met a man in the US who owned a hotel, and he wouldn't let Barack Obama stay there because he didn't agree with the former US President's politics. 

"We're very lucky in New Zealand," Bennett said. "I have really good friends who vote Labour - who cares? It makes the world a better place, I think, to have that."

Looking back on past female leaders of New Zealand, Bennett said she felt for former Prime Minister Helen Clark who was often judged for her physical appearance. 

"I think about what Helen Clark went through, as a woman leader."

Bennett admitted finding it frustrating how she will "put up a photo of me speaking at an event and it'll be more about what I was wearing or whether or not they liked my haircut than perhaps who I was speaking to, or what I was saying". 

Bennett - who went public about having gastric bypass surgery for health reasons in 2018 - also condemned the "cruel" online trolls who have attacked her. 

"There's been so much shaming in so many directions over the years," she said. 

"I've been very honest and open about the operation and I always knew that would mean that I would get a level of judgement. But I don't really get how people can be so cruel."

Bennett appeared on the cover of LGBTIQ+ magazine express back in January, in which she admitted to binge-watching comedian Tom Sainsbury's parody videos of her and even thanked him for giving her access to a new generation of fans.  

Her magazine covers follow recent criticism of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from critics who claimed she was spending too much time doing photo-shoots instead of her job.  

Bennett and Ardern have both featured on the covers of Women's Weekly and NEXT magazine.