by ANNE SUMMERS
ON 24 JUNE 2010 Julia Eileen Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister. She had served as deputy prime minister to Kevin Rudd in the Labor government that was elected on 24 November 2007. As DPM she had enjoyed enormous popularity and although the means by which Gillard assumed the top job was controversial – and became more so over the course of time – initially her elevation was greeted with widespread enthusiasm.
There was a palpable sense of history in the media coverage, with most outlets treating Gillard’s ascension as an important event, to be taken seriously. The public seemed pretty pleased as well. Her popularity rating was high. Women and girls, especially, were thrilled at this milestone having been reached.
Most observers of Canberra today agree that the current political environment has become especially toxic. The hung parliament, and the expectation on the part of the Opposition that it is just one lost vote on the floor of the House away from government has raised the stakes to levels not previously seen in Australian politics.
As a result we are experiencing an era in politics where there is very little civility. The overall temperature of discussion and debate is torrid and people use language towards and about each other that even a few years ago would have been considered totally out of line. This, sadly, is the new norm.
But what is NOT normal is the way in which the prime minister is attacked, vilified or demeaned in ways that are specifically related to her sex (or, if you like, her gender). Calling her a “liar” might not be gender-specific, although as I have pointed out, it was not a term used against back-flipping male prime ministers.
There are countless examples, however, where the prime minister is attacked, vilified or demeaned in ways that do specifically relate to her sex and I propose to devote the rest of this lecture to describing, categorizing and exploring the implications of them.
Some of the examples are benign, in the sense that they are examples of a double-standard, of a woman being treated less seriously than a man of similar status would be.
A few weeks ago in Darwin my friend was picked up from her hotel by a cab. The taxi driver said to her, totally out of the blue: “How could you be staying at the same hotel as the lying cunt”. Apparently Julia Gillard had stayed at the same hotel the week before when she was in Darwin to welcome the Indonesian president. The taxi driver continued: “Someone should have shot her while she was here. Everyone wants to do it.”