23 Jun 2013, Comments (15)

If Gillard is replaced, what does it mean to the rest of us?

Author: Helen

It’s on again. And it’s been on multiple times this year: repeated attempts by the media and some parliamentary hotheads to convince us that the PM should be rolled and replaced by a bloke.

If this was to happen before September (or if she stays, and the Libs win), what does it mean for women in Australia?

I’m sure there is no need to tell you that the PM is on the nose for many sections of the Left. Many of us are ambivalent. Just as she made us all punch the air with the speech which is going down in history as “*the* misogyny speech”, her government changed the law to further disadvantage single mothers. They commissioned the Gonski report, then announced their intention to take funding away from tertiary education. To feminists, it seems that with one hand she giveth, and with the other she taketh. I’m frequently bitterly disappointed by Gillard and the policies she supports. Unfortunately, some Gillard opponents think that you are either For her or Agin her, and if you’re Agin her (politically) this can be separated completely from any feminist issues. This simplistic view fails to take into account the damage done to women if Gillard loses the September election or is replaced by a man from her own party before that. It now appears that damage will be inevitable.

Screenshot of a letter to the Age by Tony O'Brien of South Melbourne. "Come on Tim, now's the time to do the right thing by Julia - propose to her. A June wedding is about the only thing that might save her in the polls."

Why do people talk about the PM in terms of weddings and proposals?


Australians have had a hard time coming to terms with the first woman Prime Minister. If you’re one of those cheery souls who genuinely doubt entrenched sexism still exists, you might want to put on a hazmat suit and read for a while in the comment threads of any of our news outlets. There’s no shortage of both men and women in these fora, or just in the pub or at the tram stop, who maintain that they’re not at all sexist but the PM is just incompetent, for some reason they just can’t explain properly, well they just don’t like her…et cetera.

And so many of the cartoons, comments and other references to Gillard make the point again and again that, by the way DID YOU NOTICE SHE WAS A WOMAN? A FEMALE TYPE WOMAN? As if that notion had to be reinforced and kept in the forefront of our minds. I wonder why that would be?

Tandberg cartoon. Julia Gillard looking diffident in a wedding gown while a M-F couple look on. Man:

More wedding imagery. You just can’t have enough of it!

I would accept this notion that the criticism and abuse of Gillard is just normal par for the political course if it was framed in the same terms as it would be for Paul Keating or Tony Abbott. But it isn’t.

The problem is with the way in which actions by women and minorities are deemed to have meaning for the entire group. We might say that Whitlam was “Brilliant but flawed” or that Latham is “brilliant but flaky” and so on, but it doesn’t reflect on the fitness of white men, as a category, to govern. Those who would tell us that Gillard’s treatment is no different from the normal inter-male cut and thrust of political stoush are not noticing the media / political obsession with her gender.

Time and again, our news outlets remind us of Gillard’s female (=outsider, from the point of view of the PMship) status. Time and again she is described in a frame of her genitalia, fertility or lack thereof, domesticity or lack thereof, f*ckability or lack thereof. News articles on political alliances used metaphors of marriages, weddings, dates, divorces. We’re never allowed to forget that this person isn’t a member of the default group, but one of the other. She is to be understood in the context of sex and relationships and clothes, not power and governance. That’s how we are used to talking about women. The perpetrators will swear till they are blue in the face that there’s nothing gendered about their remarks and that it’s all exactly the same as aggression between men in politics.

(The outrage from conservative sources at Gillard’s remarks about blue ties is interesting considering the obsession with the PM’s hair, jackets, shoes and everything else about her sartorial life.)

XKCD cartoon, How It Works. (1): Two men write maths problems on a whiteboard. One says to the other:

XKCD cartoon “how it works”. xxxxxxxx

It doesn’t matter that Gillard’s perceived “incompetence” is largely a construct of lazy journalists and hostile political and media opponents. While Gillard is hardly the PM of my dreams, with her support for cruel policies for asylum seekers and single mothers, she’s hardly incompetent compared with the male leaders we’ve had up to now. Even giants like Whitlam and Keating had their weaknesses, as we know. But no matter. The story has been set – Gillard’s incompetent. And the corollary to that, whether you’re on the pro-Rudd Labor or Liberal side, is: Bring back a man and put him in charge.

If Gillard had been Julian Gillard, this would have been seen as a problem pertaining to Julian Gillard. But since it’s Julia Gillard, society’s perceptions of women come into play. She will be judged (again), but we’ll all be judged along with her. There won’t be another woman PM for quite a while, as our deeply sexist society will dismiss her time in office as “the experiment that failed”, “failed political correctness” or some other smugness. The criticisms of Kevin Rudd’s working methods, or the loopiness of John Madigan or Cory Bernardi, on the other hand, won’t prompt people to form any conclusions about the fitness of white men to govern. That’s how stereotyping works.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

Comments (15) »

  • blue milk says:

    Looks like we have very similar views. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Tad Tietze’s piece in The Overland..? http://overland.org.au/2013/06/not-a-crisis-of-misogyny-a-crisis-of-political-authority/

  • iODyne says:

    Great view from your balcony dear watcher, and all too true … and that letter above from Tony assumes that it is Tim not proposing, when it could more likely be JG not accepting.
    A wedding is always so good for ratings that the Abbott could be suggesting this to his Bishop.

  • Deborah says:

    Well said, Helen. Are you going to post this over at the big purple blog?

  • eilish says:

    I just posted relating to “If Gillard’s name was Julian…” at the purple place. I promise I hadn’t seen this!

    I dunno about posting it there. Her stalker is really annoying.

    I was gutted when I realised the SPB changes went through on that day.
    I am disillusioned with Labour, not Gillard personally. I think she is a great politician. The problem is politicians are terrible human beings.

    We need to keep building up the numbers of women. We’ve got 20-30% currently: and nobody showing signs of having the same cast-iron stomach for the job as Gillard. (Really, she’s extraordinary. Nobody says how “like a man” she is. That’s probably been the problem. She’s refused to be an exception.)
    When I was young, I thought our culture would change. I had hope that each new generation would gradually see the old notions dying out. Nope. 15 year old boys display the same attitudes as their grandfathers.

    Julia’s speech about the men in blue ties is a prophecy for the next -how many?- years. The wonderful thing is women keep stepping up. They join the army, they join politics, they work on developing video games.
    I am totally going to be a lesbian in my next life.

  • Peter says:

    I rather foolishly thought that Australia had grown up a bit in the past two decades, but sadly current events in politics put the lie to that misconception.

    The Howard Sattler affair illustrates just how stupidly chauvinistic, sexist and bigoted the Australian mainstream media and much of the electorate remains.

    I cannot imagine any media person with the effrontery to have asked Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser or Gough Whitlam whether their partner was a homosexual. But when the PM happens to be a woman, well, apparently anything goes.

    The issue is not same-sex partners, which I have no problem with. It is to do with respect for the office, regardless of the gender of the person holding that office.

    We need more women in politics, not less. But I can’t imaging any female rushing to join a political party and stand for election when Howard Sattler’s antics and Mal Brough’s Liberal Party function menu are indicative of the lack of respect still being shown not only to female politicians, but to all women in this country.

  • Helen says:

    When I was young, I thought our culture would change. I had hope that each new generation would gradually see the old notions dying out. Nope. 15 year old boys display the same attitudes as their grandfathers.

    Me too, Eilish. Me too.

  • Helen says:

    Welcome to the Balcony, Peter. Yes the treatment of JG is sure to have a chilling effect on able young gels looking for a career in politics. (This is where the DtJ movement has real relevance. Do we really want to maintain this Joint in the shape it’s currently in?)

  • Helen says:

    Andie, I had a look at the Tad Tietze piece today, it was a bit tl;dr for me today and referred to another piece by Van Badham which I should also have a look at. You’ll have to give me a few days! 🙂 Debra, thinking about it, but think not.

  • eilish says:

    No, that stalker is creepy.

    Also, some commenters have a very strange inability to engage with the actual subject and divert off into discussions about whether you are having feelings about Khemlani.
    I’m not having feelings about Khemlani: I’m remembering the scandal.
    Tragically. I’m SO OLD.

  • Helen says:

    You mean G-G? He/she is a very annoying and angry person, but I don’t feel directly threatened, just frustrated. What’s that internet term for someone who dumps a whole bucketload of Wrong in every post so that replying to all the shitty points would take you a lifetime, and you can’t be bothered?!

  • eilish says:

    He makes me want to beat my head on the keyboard, but I also admire that his delusions are sincere. He feels the outrage. He’s one of Tony’s People, as described by First Dog on The Moon.

    My Google fu is inadequate to finding that term: I’m sure there is one.

    In the election thread, I stated that nobody mentions Whitlam’s Sheikh. To my great amusement, nobody has wanted to talk about him. It has gently been suggested that I might want to refer to facts and not my feelings when discussing the scandal.(People are very polite at LP,I must say.) Funny how nobody says that re: Gillard.

    re: blue milk’s link- chicken and egg? Sexism undermines authority which reinforces sexism. And it’s not just the Right that are taking their attitudes out for some healthful exercise.

  • Helen says:

    Eilish, because I jump in and out of these conversations I had initially missed your comments on the LP thread “Weekly Election 2013 roundtable” with special mention going to #35 to #41. Wonderful! Do you have a blog? (Anyone who hasn’t read this thread do go over there and read Eilish’s comments!)

  • eilish says:

    I don’t blog. I hear you get rather unpleasant emails and things when you blog. I just blow in and out of other people’s. I was going to make HaT my home, but I got in a stoush with Lauredhel about ob-gynery and she told me to shut up and go away. I thought to myself at the time, “She’s going to be sorry she won’t hear all about my dad.”
    I quite liked my work in that thread. I’m too depressed to comment now. Last night we had footage of Therese coyly resting her head on Brave Kevin’s shoulder, and this morning he was holding a baby.
    I much preferred Gillard knitting.

  • Thanks for this, Helen. I wish I could have been as articulate about the leadershit.

    Don’t bother with Dr Tad’s piece, BTW – I reckon he’s completely missed the point, and in light of other things he’s written, I was surprised.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks, David!

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