For some, International Women’s Day is a time to confront persisting gender inequality and call for systemic change.
For others, like Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, it’s an opportunity to hand out pink flowers at the train station.
The Liberal backbencher came under fire on Monday after tweeting a photo of himself giving away one of many pink flowers to a passing woman in his Sydney electorate to mark International Women’s Day.
Sharma told Guardian Australia that while “the merchants of misery on Twitter accuse me of crimes against the zeitgeist, the dahlias brought some joy and smiles to many faces – which is what they were intended to do”.
But the timing of the photo wasn’t great for a government struggling to address allegations of a historical rape against attorney general Christian Porter – which he denies – and its mishandling of Brittany Higgin’s rape allegations against a ministerial staffer.
Sharma’s gesture was seen as further proof that the government was out of touch and out of step with women’s rights.
The picture quickly amassed thousands of angry comments and retweets that called Sharma out for failing to read the room.
Some women pointed out that unsolicited advances from strange men are the opposite of what women want on International Women’s Day.
Other users suggested Sharma could have done something more practical to help women.
Speaking to Patricia Karvelas on ABC News this afternoon, Sharma, joined by Labor MP Anika Wells, said he doesn’t “tend to read the reactions on Twitter because it’s quite demoralising. But the reaction on the ground was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was happy to receive a flower.”
But Sharma did appear to have seen one tweet from SBS writer, Alex Lee, whose friend was the woman photographed receiving a pink flower in his Twitter post.
Lee posted a screenshot of her texts with the woman, who said that she felt Sharma’s actions were “completely weird and wrong”.
“I felt like saying this doesn’t make me want to vote for you mate,” the woman texted.
Sharma told Karvelas that he hadn’t handed out the flowers as a way to score votes.
“I don’t expect her to vote for me. It was for everyone. I didn’t hand them out saying ‘are you a Liberal voter?’ first. It was an exercise designed to mark International Women’s Day and have a pleasant surprise on a Monday morning,” he said.
But Labor’s Wells argued that the gesture was “for many woman, just another uninvited advance from a man who expected a woman to be grateful for it”.
“I know you are good in this space, I know you have good intentions and you want to see progress,” Wells said, addressing Sharma.
“And the frustration, like I said coming back to this reckoning [we are seeing in parliament], is that good women look at good men like yourself and say ‘if good men like yourself can’t see that this wasn’t the right thing to do, how can we have faith that things are going to get better?’”
When asked by Karvelas whether he will play florist again next year, Sharma said “Absolutely. I will do it on any number of other occasions.”
Wells didn’t miss a beat. “Please don’t,” she said.