This is not a post about politics.
This is a post about our first female Prime Minister. Because that meant something. It MEANS something.
When Julia Gillard was sworn into office three years ago, I was sitting next to one of the most influential women in my life, Lisa Wilkinson. My first boss. My close friend.
As we watched our first female Prime Minister sworn in by our first female Governor General, we gave each other’s hands a tight squeeze. I can’t speak for Lisa but I’m pretty sure we were both thinking of our daughters in that moment. And it’s one we will never forget.
Because you cannot be what you cannot see. And for the past three years, every woman and girl in Australia has seen a female Prime Minister. The power and influence of that cannot be underestimated.
Julia Gillard was the first and it meant something.
Everything is always hardest when you’re the first. There’s no blueprint for how you should behave, nor how you will be treated. And much of her treatment was shameful. Undeniably so.
But that doesn’t mean we weren’t ready for a female Prime Minister. We were. We are.
Yes the polls went south. Yes, she was replaced before the end of her term. And yes, there were some awful moments. But it would be disengenous, unfair and incorrect to say this was all due to her gender.
As Gillard herself said in her exit speech, referring to being the first female Prime Minister and some of the challenges she had faced internally and externally in the past three years: “It doesn’t explain everything. it doesn’t explain nothing. It explains some things. And it’s for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Because for the first two years she was in office, she did not make mention of her gender.
Others did. She chose not to.
And when finally, blisteringly, brilliantly, Gillard rose to her feet and delivered the misogyny speech – this was not ‘playing the gender card’ – it was an authentic, spontaneous and passionate defence of how she’d been treated.
And many of us – no matter which way you voted- explicitly understood what she meant because we’d experienced sexism too at various times in our lives.At work. At school. Going out. On the street. From people we knew. And people we didn’t.
And now, finally, a woman with power and influence was calling it out.
Julia Gillard brought the word ‘misogyny’ into the public conversation in a way that enabled us as a nation to discuss it and debate it and shine a light on the darkest ugliest corners of our society where it lives.
And the positive, transformative effects of that speech echoed around the world, such that their effects are still being felt today. Australian society has now been awakened and sensitised to the issue of sexism. It’s no longer a feminist issue. It’s become a human issue. And we have Julia Gillard to thank for that.
We owe her an enormous debt for giving women – and men – the courage to call out sexism when we see it. To name it and to shame those who perpetuate it.
Her misogyny speech will remain one of the greatest feminist and political speeches of our time. It wasn’t playing a card. It was brilliant.
History will remember it. And her.
So no. I don’t believe Australia ‘wasn’t ready’ for a female Prime Minister. I believe we were. I believe we are. And I believe that thanks to Julia Gillard smashing that glass ceiling, many more will come after her.
And as our first female Prime Minister said in her final press conference, “it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that.”
Julia, I’m sorry that you had to endure such horrible things being said about you. I hope you find peace and satisfaction and happiness in your life beyond politics.
Thank you for breaking the glass ceiling. Thank you for showing my daughter that a woman can be Prime Minister. We owe you a debt of enormous gratitude for that.