By FIONA ARMSTRONG
Growing up in rural Queensland during the 70′s, I have been exposed to more than my fair share of sexism.
This was the era of Joh Bjelke Peterson after all, and women were largely invisible in public and political life.
Insulting women on the basis of gender was a national sport, and attitudes to women in that state at that time was in part responsible for my decision not to return to live there following my first overseas trip at age 20.
Sexism was an ever present issue for the period of my professional life spent working as a registered nurse and – during that period of reflection that motherhood affords – one of the reasons I chose to change career.
I chose journalism – also a profession notorious for its sexist treatment of women, but while I was certainly witness to sexism, I was largely unaffected by it. And in the career I now have – in advocacy, research and communications in the health and environment not-for-profit sector – I’m pleased to say I have had the privilege of meeting and working with more men genuinely supportive of female leaders than in both my former careers combined.
But while I have witnessed plenty of sexism, it’s not something I have ever felt compelled to campaign on, or even respond to, preferring to simply avoid sexist environments and people.
That is, until Julia Gillard became Prime Minister.
The events of the last week have highlighted this in a way that has meant even the most reticent of observers now concede the treatment of our first female Prime Minister has been shockingly disrespectful, degrading, offensive and sexist.
But really, I wonder, what took you so long?
As documented in Anne Summers recent book, The Misogyny Factor, she has been exposed to deeply offensive and violent insults for the entire term of her Prime Ministership.
Like Alan Jones suggesting she should be stuffed in a chaff bag and dumped at sea. Or that her father “died in shame”. Tony Abbott saying she has a target on her forehead but won’t “lie down and die”.
Ex Howard staffer Grahame Morris suggesting she should be “kicked to death”. A talkback caller asking if taxpayers paid for her tampons. Degrading and pornographic images and cartoons circulated online.
By the middle of last year my level of concern about the way the Prime Minister was being treated and the impact this would have on young women considering roles in leadership and public life led to a series of conversations with other women seeking their views on how they felt about it, and what might be done.
Over the period of a few months, a loose group formed, with women in media, diversity, health, and disability whose views I respected and who shared a deep concern that women in Australia all stood to lose if we failed to stand up against the tide of vitriol and hatred that was being expressed towards women leaders in Australia.