I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen people come together from all over a workplace to gather in front of a TV, captivated into silence. Schapelle Corby’s sentencing. Ian Thorpe’s “big announcement” (his first retirement). The day Kevin Rudd was rolled as PM.
It’s rare and spontaneous and it happened this week when Julia Gillard gave the speech that became an international sensation. This was not a speech about politics. It had little to do with Peter Slipper or even Tony Abbott. This was a blistering take-down of sexism. It’s the speech so many of us have made in our heads in the cab on the way home; in the office bathroom; lying awake at 2am to the jerk who crossed the line and finally pushed us too far.
Julia Baird is a journalist, broadcaster and author (you can follow her on Twitter here). She has a PhD. on female politicians and the press, and her book on the subject – Media Tarts – is a fantastic read. In a weekend op-ed on Julia Gillard’s speech and the reaction to it, she wrote:
It struck a chord because she made a speech millions of women have rehearsed in their heads for years – against a colleague, boss or opponent they consider to be obnoxious or sexist – but never made. Liberal women, Labor women, Democrat, Republican, donkey-vote women and even some Liberal women (just quietly) gathered around their computers and yelled, air-punched and cheered.
Because Gillard said things women aren’t supposed to say, in any job, and most of all, in politics. She made a speech that politically is dangerous and may cost her electorally.
They were the words we dream of being able to articulate with such assertive, methodical passion. That’s why Julia Gillard’s speech had women talking and fist-pumping this week. And that’s the story the press gallery and political journalists missed. As journalist David Marr said, it was the defining speech of Gillard’s career and one of the great political speeches in recent memory albeit delivered in squalid circumstances.
To focus on the circumstances and not the substance is to ignore the fact that Julia Gillard put the subject of sexism squarely on the table – not just in parliament but in offices, coffee shops and dinner tables all over the country.
How extraordinary (in a good way) to have these conversations about sexism and feminism and even misogyny taking place.
So what about the claims made by some (male) journalists and broadcasters that Gillard was ‘playing the gender card’?
Julia Baird isn’t buying it and neither am I. As she writes:
You’re just acting the victim, women have been told for decades when speaking about vile remarks, sexual approaches, or differential treatment. You should toughen up, take it on the chin, or accept it as a part of life. Or as Julia Gillard was advised repeatedly this week, turn the other cheek.
Because that’s what politicians do, right? Accept criticism silently.
…..This week Gillard made no suggestion she was a victim. She suggested sexism is wrong. The ”gender card” was ignored, and flipped on its head.
What will endure is this speech, and the electrifying moment when Australia’s first female prime minister fought back against those who say women have no right to lead: hard.
Have you found yourself having conversations about sexism and feminism and misogyny this week? Do you think it’s a good thing it’s being discussed?