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Mia and Jamila face off over THAT photo of the Prime Minister.

Images released today from an exclusive photo shoot for The Australian Women’s Weekly have certainly got everyone talking.

The iconic magazine’s latest photo shoot features Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who makes a departure from image and instead poses on a comfy chair, dog Reuben at her side, while knitting a toy kangaroo for the soon-to-be-born Royal Baby.

Mamamia’s publisher, Mia Freedman and Editor, Jamila Rizvi had vastly different reactions to the striking image. Here’s what they had to say…

Jamila Rizvi.

JAMILA RIZVI, MAMAMIA EDITOR

Ugh. That was my reaction to the photos released today by the Australian Women’s Weekly, that will feature in their new edition, out tomorrow. And it’s a hard feeling to convey with any eloquence because it’s a complex and layered ‘ugh‘. But I’ll try.

I’m not one of the nasty grumbling types who thinks ‘politicians are paid to work for us, not waste their time making toy kangaroos. Why isn’t she in a briefing on Australia’s mission in Afghanistan. HUH?” Nor do I fall into the ‘knitting is anti-feminist, why is the Prime Minister posing like a 1950s house wife’ camp.

And as frustrated as I am that we don’t hear more in the media about the Gillard’s considerable achievements for Australian women (paid parental leave, record child care funding, greater protections under the Fair Work Act, anyone?) – I do understand that the public is interested in the human side of our politicians.

So about that. The Prime Minister knits. Good on her. I imagine it is both relaxing and satisfying to knit stuff.

Having failed Year 7 sewing myself, I could not say for sure.

For me, the imagery of the Prime Minister knitting is no different to Tony Abbott at the beach, Bob Brown bush walking or Kevin Rudd, I don’t know, stamp collecting. It’s part and parcel of politicians trying to show the electorate the non-professional side of their lives, which is often more endearing than the increasingly undignified nature of our political debate.

But the reason this particular photo of Gillard bothered me so much is because it made me remember (with deep, deep horror) the 2010 election debacle over the ‘Real Julia’.

Perhaps you recall it? For those who don’t: Our (then) exceedingly popular, well respected and newly appointed Prime Minister had her style, her tone and her manner of speaking completely hijacked by PR-types who ignored their opportunity to capitalise on her extensive appealing qualities and instead wanted Gillard to appear more traditionally ‘soft and feminine’.

Ugh. Moving forward, anyone?

A few weeks later, frustrated by her flailing election campaign and desperate to be herself again, the Prime Minister insisted the public would see a return to the ‘Real Julia’.

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And this photo shoot? Is the opposite of real.

The Prime Minister is quoted as saying (while she smiled at the camera, knitting needles in hand, wind machine whirring) that ‘this feels slightly absurd’. And that’s exactly how it looked because while the picture is a fantastic shot of our very photogenic PM – it doesn’t look like she believes in it.

This is the Prime Minister I voted for, says Jamila.

The whole scenario seems painfully contrived. The photo lacks the warmth and authenticity that – when you meet Julia Gillard in person – is overwhelming.

My immediate reaction was ‘ugh’. Why? Because the photo reminded me of how much I miss the Julia who had a greater controlling stake in her own public identity. Because that is the Julia who has the capacity to win hearts and minds.

I long for the days where we saw photos of the Prime Minister with hair flying and eyes flashing, standing at the dispatch box and tearing shreds off Tony Abbott for his lack of actual policy alternatives.

I miss the photos of Julia in her kitchen, with a fruitless fruit bowl because she’s been too bloody busy to go to the grocer.

I want to see more photos of the Prime Minister standing behind a wooden desk looking ass-kicking, razor smart and uber-powerful – because incidentally that’s exactly the kind of woman she is.

That’s also the kind of woman I want running my country. And perhaps if voters saw more of her, more of them would be putting a number ‘1’ in the little box next to ALP candidates, come September 14.

MIA FREEDMAN, MAMAMIA PUBLISHER AND FOUNDER

Mamamia publisher, Mia Freedman

So our Prime Minister knits. And has a dog. Why is this a problem? How is it different to the fact that the Opposition Leader likes to ride a bike? Or has three daughters?

I’ve never been of the belief that politicians should only speak about policy. I’m interested in politics but I’m also interested in people. And why would you not want to know a bit about the political representatives we elect?

To me, the photo of the Prime Minister knitting a kangaroo for the royal baby only has to pass one test: is it authentic? Does it authentically represent who she is?

Well yes. Yes, it does.

If Tony Abbott had been photographed knitting in the Women’s Weekly, I would have had a problem with that. Because it would have been bollocks. Ditto if Julia Gillard had been photographed in cycling Lycra for Women’s Fitness magazine.

Inauthentic. Spin.

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But Julia Gillard is a famed knitter. She has spoken about it loads of times before. She’s knitted things (booties? I wasn’t paying attention) for Fifi Box’s baby and other children. This isn’t even the first time she’s been photographed with her knitting. Or her dog.

So what, exactly, is the offense here? Are we seriously looking to pull Julia Gillard apart for every single little thing she does, says or wears?

It’s exhausting. Petty, mean-spirited and incessantly negative.

While the Women’s Weekly insists the idea of the knitting theme came from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) the PMO says the magazine had many photo options (with and without knitting) and chose the knitting images for maximum impact.

Neither of these claims is a surprise.

If you’re a magazine editor, you choose the image that will give you the most publicity. Box ticked.

And when you speak to a particular media organisation, you dial up your commonalities with that audience. Politicians aren’t the only ones who do this; it’s common sense.

When you visit your grandparents you behave and talk differently to when you’re having wine and pizza with your girlfriends. Duh.

Nobody is expecting the fact that Julia Gillard knits or that Tony Abbott has kids, to change your vote. But posing for photographs in magazines or holding babies in shopping centres is part of what they do. Does Julia really sit around in full hair and make-up and a styled outfit, doing her knitting? Probably not.

But magazines have stylists (I’m told there was even a knitting stylist on the Women’s Weekly shoot, to make sure the wool looked good because for many of their readers, knitting is a very serious business) and TV needs pictures.

‘But what about her POLICIES’ some are saying. Well, yes. It would be lovely to talk about those and goddamn it she has been trying. But the only thing the press want to ask the Prime Minister about is Kevin Rudd.

Our Prime Minister constantly engages with all kinds of media (and their diverse audiences), from Mamamia and ivillage.com.au to Laurie Oakes and Leigh Sales. Julia Gillard is far more accessible to the media and to journalists than Tony Abbott ever has been (Mr Abbott, we’re still waiting for you to visit MM HQ…. our open invitation is now in its third year….) As she should be.

But profiles in magazines or on shows like 60 Minutes mustn’t be confused with Q&A. They are not about policy, they are about getting to know the human sides of public figures. And that’s OK.

Deputy Editor’s Note: Mia and Jamila have not seen each others’ writing before publication. I made sure of it.

 What do you think of the pic?

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