Once, when she was Prime Minister—the first and only woman to occupy that position in Australian history—I saw Julia Gillard speaking on the floor of parliament. Television footage and print depictions of “Ju-liar”, a deliberately barren, frumpy, deceitful witch, had not prepared me for the spectacle of Gillard in the flesh. In a black suit, with her iridescent red hair and her distinctive mannerisms, she danced like a flame against the flat backdrop of grey, seated men.
She commanded that room. I wished everyone could have seen her like that, wished there was enough diversity in public reportage to convey the power and complexity of this three-dimensional and singular woman.
Watch Julia Gillard’s iconic misogyny speech below. (Post continues after video…)
Some say the eventual downfall of Julia Gillard was caused by the sexism and misogyny of men in Australian politics and in the media. Yet it was Australian voters, and their low opinion of Gillard, that pushed her own party to oust her.
Gillard challenged deep-seated ideas about women’s natural roles. She refused to be silenced or ignored by her male colleagues. She was unmarried and had chosen her career over having children. As deputy PM, she helped oust Kevin Rudd from office, and then took his job. These acts demonstrate her refusal to be stuck as a second fiddle to a man she thought incompetent or bow to the entrenched gender hierarchy.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton also challenges traditional ideas of a woman’s place.
Although she is also a wife, mother, and grandmother, to the public Clinton is first and foremost a politician.
Over the three decades she has been in the public eye, Clinton has been portrayed as ugly, pantsuit-wearing and fashion backwards. She’s been called humourless, out of touch, a frigid, undesirable schoolmarm whose lack of appeal effectively caused her husband to stray. She has been criticized for being part of the political elite and cosying up to business interests, for changing her positions based on political expediency.