By KAYLIA PAYNE
Now, I know this is a shocking title. I’m sure none of you reading this would agree. And I don’t either (cue sighs of relief). But whether or not I want a female prime minister doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s just that I simply can’t help but think that Australia isn’t ready for one.
Not because I don’t want equality, because I do. Not because I don’t think that a woman is just as capable of being Prime Minister as a man, because I do. But because Australia’s attitude towards our first female Prime Minister is so embarrassing on a world-wide scale, and so completely shameful that it has taught both myself and women everywhere just how equal, and how respected, we are not. And how very far Australia has to come in its attitudes towards women, especially women in power.
Now I’m not saying that the general dislike of Gillard is any demonstration of sexism. Australians have a tendency to loathe whoever is in power at the current time, and to be honest, I love our dissatisfaction. It means that we’re never very likely to settle – and though kicking up a stink about every.single.thing.ever is slightly annoying at times, it is better than the alternative. In fact, I myself am disappointed with Gillard’s performance. As a left-wing vegan feminist I was hoping for a Gough Whitlam style change, not simply another Rudd sucking up to the right-wing middle class and forgetting about everyone else.
But I am so much more disappointed with the public’s reaction to her. Because the dislike goes further than I have seen it before. Because it is accompanied by not just a lack of respect for Gillard as a politician, but for Gillard as person.
And it seems to me that this severe disrespect stems only from the fact that she’s a woman.
I have both read and seen so many comments calling her a ‘bitch’ or a ‘slut’ with vehemence never encountered before in regards to someone in public office. Her appearance is constantly criticised- not in the way that we laughed at Howard (I swear politicians are elected simply on how easy they make a political cartoonist’s job) but in a way that implies that if she is not attractive, what on earth is she doing all up in our faces.
One only has to go to an ‘I hate Julia’ facebook page to see photoshopped half-naked pictures of her in horrible positions and comments mocking her gender like ‘get back in the kitchen’ or the fact that she menstruates. I even had a customer at Gloria Jean’s comment in what seemed to be genuine horror ‘she might start a war while she’s on the rag!’
Her marital and childless status has been mocked by many – even people I know who certainly would never have dreamed of judging anyone else for it. And what really screams disrespect to me is this: she is the first politician that people go around calling by their first name – Julia. Or ‘ju-liar’ as the more ‘clever’ Australians refer to her. It might seem like a little thing, but I have never heard anyone talking about ‘John’ or ‘Tony’- as if her sex voids her from the type of respect due to a male politician.
And due to the public’s reaction to her, Abbott has played the gender card over and over again without anyone calling him on it or saying that it’s inappropriate (at least not until Gillard blasted him herself in her memorable speech).
Abbott has consistently gone around making comments like “Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘No’”, “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons” and “I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”.
And yet has never been a lasting outcry to these outrageously sexist statements. General members of the public going around every day talking about the ‘stupid red-head bitch’ and ‘the slag’ and no one even bats and eyelid anymore.
This lack of respect is not just going to affect this generation. Little children will hear their parents talking like this about a woman in power and will take on those attitudes. This will stem a new generation of people that still see women as second-class citizens; as people that don’t command the kind of respect that a man does.
The purpose of this article is to ask you, nay implore you, to think about the way you speak about Australia’s first female Prime Minister. You don’t have to like her. But by calling her a bitch, slut, or any other offensive word thrown only at women, you are guaranteeing that the next female Prime Minister, and women in general, will continue to be treated with the same disrespect.
*Note: the title and introduction are tongue in cheek. Whether Australia likes it or not, I’m for one am very excited that we finally have a female Prime Minister! But for how long? We’ll know soon after 14 September…
This piece was originally published on HerCanberra, and is republished here with full permission.
Kaylia is a career-student who is currently doing her MA in Writing and Literature. A public servant by day and a writer by night, she dreams of one day having a job where she doesn’t need to wear shoes to work.
Do you think Australia is ‘ready’ for a female Prime Minister? Are you embarrassed by the gendered criticism of Julia Gillard?