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

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: "Is it time Julia got married?" (note the constant use of the first name). Woman: "Well, she'll certainly never be given a honeymoon in politics."

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: "Wow, you suck at math." (2) A man and a woman at a whiteboard, the woman writes an identical maths problem on the board. The man says "Wow, girls suck at math."

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 the Cast Iron Balcony

Categories: gender & feminism, parties and factions, Politics

20 replies

  1. I’m sure that at least part of the confected outrage about the PM’s knitting photos this week is that she’s happily engaged in a traditional female pursuit.

  2. I’m sure that at least part of the confected outrage about the PM’s knitting photos this week is that she’s happily engaged in a traditional female pursuit.

    They had the editor of the WW interviewed on ABC radio in Adelaide yesterday morning and I found it rather interesting how forcefully she made it clear that the knitting story was not her idea, was suggested by Gillard’s team and that she thought it was not a good idea. But you don’t turn down an interview offer from the PM.

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

    Helen – I think I saw you make a similar comment on LP implying that Gillard’s demise would reflect badly on whether a woman should be PM. It wasn’t something I’d thought about beforehand I think because except for the usual suspects I don’t think that aspect of general criticism has really been a MSM theme. I’d really hope that this is not the case, and I suspect it would not be but perhaps I’m wrong.
    It was disappointing to see Roxon leave – although I strongly disagreed with some of decisions she made I thought that overall she was pretty effective and potential future PM material. And I suspect they are going to lose a lot of future talent in September.

  3. From the Prime Minister’s Press Office blog:

    Background on Women’s Weekly article and photo shoot
    Women’s Weekly requested an interview and photo shoot in March.
    It was suggested by the PMO that a news angle for the story could be the Prime Minister’s gift of a knitting package (wool, patterns, and knitted toy) for Kate Middleton, for the July edition.
    Women’s Weekly agreed to the idea of the article.
    Women’s Weekly arranged the photo shoot, including requesting that the Prime Minister knit and that her dog, Reuben, attend.
    Women’s Weekly claim that the PMO organised the photo shoot:

    Overington – ABC Melbourne – 25 June 2013
    The difficulty was because it was organised by her media team.

    In fact, Women’s Weekly had complete creative control over the photo shoot. The PMO did not rule in or rule out any particular shot.
    An estimated 400 shots were taken.
    Shots of the PM were taken with and without knitting needles and wool, with and without Reuben, and in a formal outfit and an informal outfit. Reuben was also photographed with the knitted roo.
    It was entirely Women’s Weekly’s choice to publish the image they did.
    The PMO agreed to a wide-ranging interview. Caroline Overington interviewed the PM for one hour on her achievements, leadership, misogyny, knitting, the Royal Family, Kyle Sandilands.
    Not a word of this interview appeared in the article published in Australian Women’s Weekly.

  4. tigtog @ 3- looks like both the PMO and WW are backpedaling a bit perhaps because they are scared of a backlash? Not that I think it really matters politically – I can’t see it swaying votes either way.

  5. It is just another way to have a go at the PM. Fuck the lot of them.

  6. I want Wendy Davis for PM.#SB5

  7. Mindy @ 6 – Wendy Davis did an amazing job! And I liked how one of her colleagues suggested that the rule about not leaning on the desk or sitting didn’t apply to her because the rules talked about “leaning on his desk” 🙂

  8. As far as I know Chris it is still going. They just have to hold on until midnight Texas time, 5 minutes from now. The gallery is in uproar and the Senators can’t be heard. They might just make it! Wendy is still standing.

  9. Looks like they are holding the vote after midnight. I don’t know what this means.

  10. PM @JuliaGillard calls leadership #spill after @KRuddMP‘s backers move against her, @EJGriffiths reports <a href="http://t.co/pgmTXCxDtJhttp://t.co/pgmTXCxDtJ</a&gt; #auspol— ABC News (@abcnews) June 26, 2013

    She says parliament can’t go on with TV crews barreling around perilously… First #spill to be called on OH&S grounds— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) June 26, 2013

    Epic trolling of Rugby states by the Victorian PM. It’s as if Rudd called one in the middle of the grand final #spill— Sport With Balls (@Bad_motivator) June 26, 2013

  11. Rudd has accepted the terms.

    Wendy Davis is saying that the Texas bill is dead. (unconfirmed but fantastic if true)

  12. Cecile Richards ?@CecileRichards 7m
    BREAKING: Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has agreed that #SB5 is dead.

  13. She did it. The woman is a fucking legend. *tears*

  14. Watching the spill I feel that as a woman living in Australia I’m in a lose-lose situation. Either Gillard stays and Abbott is propelled into office by the hateful barrage of patriarchy-flavoured media comment; or we get Rudd, along with a sigh of relief from everyone who just wanted Business as Usual with a Man at the Wheel and those Uppity Women Put Back In Their Place.

  15. Of course, a conservative woman – Sophie Mirabella – helped stopped the Republic. Much bigger symbolically than anything Gillard’s done. Conservative women tend to break more glass ceilings globally than progressive women – just look at Thatcher.

  16. Not happy Kevin. Not happy.

  17. 7.49pm WST – Well, that was a day.
    I think Julia Gillard has proved, once and for all, that she is probably one of the best politicians of her generation, and I desperately hope she chooses to re-enter politics in any election which gets held in 2016. Her exit speech was brilliant, and I have nothing but respect for the fact that she managed to get through the whole thing without even the slightest sign of breaking down. As the ABC keeps pointing out, she’s still relatively young, and I’d hope she finds something worthwhile to be doing now she’s no longer going to be contesting the next election.
    As for Kevin Rudd – he’s lost a lot of the front bench (there were a number of parliamentarians who have said they couldn’t work with him, and have chosen to reinforce this by quitting their jobs as ministers, so no matter what happens, there’s a reshuffle on the cards) and he’s facing an inevitable motion of no confidence from the Liberals tomorrow (I suspect they won’t be able to suspend standing orders fast enough) no matter what happens. So I suspect he’s having to talk very fast with Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to try and get his position solidified (he has Wilkie and Katter on side). While both Gillard and Swann are talking up the prospect of the ALP winning the next election, my own suspicion is that from the strategists in the Rudd camp, this is very much a case of “I may have run aground, but they didn’t sink me!” – the election is still going to be very hard to win.
    Has this changed my vote? Nope. I was going to be preferencing the Greens first no matter who led the ALP (always assuming the Natural Law Party[1] doesn’t somehow rise from the political ashes to stand a candidate in the seat I’m inhabiting) and I was always going to be preferencing the Liberals last.
    As someone who was pleased to see a woman in charge, but appalled by the backlash against this from the media and the public opinion, I’m finding myself somewhat bitter tonight. I can’t help but see this as a triumph for the misogynists, no matter how these things are phrased. However, as Ms Gillard put it, at least her being there shows a woman can do the job, and that makes it easier for the next woman, and the one after her, and the one after that.
    [1] Yogic flying FTW. I’d put them first on the grounds they’re the political equivalent of chicken soup – can’t help, can’t hoit!

  18. Agreed @Megpie71 – that was a brilliant speech – extremely dignified, with none of the wobbling of the lower lip that we got from Kevin.
    We’re all tired and emotional in the angharad house tonight as is, having just been through school musical week and I have no thoughts, just feelings right now. So mad about this. I am just going to go read about Wendy Davis instead, because that is the way it is supposed to work…

  19. But might I add that it is pretty cool that the two talking heads discussing this on the ABC right now are Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb, not two blokes…

  20. Voxpop in Werribee had a bloke being asked why he thought the return of Rudd was a good thing. “I dunno, seems like he has a lot of experience.”
    Gillard is a middle aged woman who has been in politics her whole life, but Rudd is the one who seems “experienced” to him.
    You can’t tell me they’re treated equally.
    With the Gonski legislation not yet cold in Hansard the Channel 10 news described the parliament as “paralysed” under Gillard.
    I give up on this country.

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