New Zealand's two women Prime Ministers have spoken about how some criticism and abuse directed at them focused on their gender.

Helen Clark and Dame Jenny Shipley were both interviewed at length for Radio New Zealand's The 9th Floor series.

Clark's interview was published today. Asked by Guyon Espiner about gender-based abuse, Clark said that "nasty stuff" was a feature of some of her political career.

It "receded a bit" when she became Prime Minister in 1999.

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"Then in the 2008 campaign it came back - the bumper sticker of 'Ditch the bitch' in the far South that was observed," Clark recalled.

"There was a bit of that. You think, 'How pathetic', really. But again, when you have been in Government a long time things start to accumulate - the series of grievances, there comes a point when those will overwhelm other things you do and take you out."

Politicians' families could take the criticism and abuse harder than the person it was directed towards, Clark said.

"My sisters say it was a very happy day for them when I ceased to be Prime Minister. Because they were kind of sick of it...your family tends to take these things much harder than you do yourself. Because if you have been in politics a long time you build a brick wall around that kind of thing."

Dame Jenny Shipley. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Michael Craig
Dame Jenny Shipley. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Michael Craig

, Espiner asked how much of the reforms pushed through when Shipley was Welfare Minister were driven by herself and then Finance Minister Ruth Richardson.

"Isn't it interesting that people want to poke the torch at the girls in the family," Shipley responded, recalling commentary at the time as clearly defined by whether the subject was a woman or man.

"If you look at the language - 'men are bold, women are vindictive, dah dah dah, dah dah dah'...I'm not telling you that it's hurtful. I'm telling you that it's an observation.

"Helen Clark and I could give you the long list of counterpoints about how people described the both of us, compared with our peers...it tells me more about other people than myself."

Radio New Zealand analysed the more than 100 comments posted on its Facebook posts about The 9th Floor series, and found there were two abusive comments about former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, one for Mike Moore and one for Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Dame Jenny copped more than 60.

Recently, Labour MP Annette King said she felt some of the speculation that surrounded her then position as deputy leader was sexist.

"No one says that Winston [Peters] is too old. Isn't it interesting? I hear that as a woman I'm too old, but Winston who is older than me isn't too old. So I find it a bit sexist, really," King told the Herald in February.