Good on ya, Julia: from the UK with love
In Julia Gillard’s parliamentary smackdown of Tony Abbott, women’s experiences with misogyny are recognised the world over.
SO, I see Bronwyn Bishop believes that her rival has “played the gender card” and assumed a “victim” position, which has consequently “demeaned every woman in this parliament”.
Apparently, if Gillard “can’t stand the heat, [she should] get out of the kitchen”. Translate: Gillard should shut up and put up, and allow men to carry on making sexist comments while latent misogyny and harassment reigns and abounds in the public – and private – eye.
Sorry, is that a little harsh? Possibly so.
It is by far not all men who think that it that it is acceptable to employ humiliation tactics through heckling and catcalling women in a public arena, to refer to a woman as a “man’s bitch”, as Tony Abbott did, or that women who have an abortion are taking the easy way out. It is not all men who would still consider that “men are, by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command,” or who attempt to disempower a whole gender by prescribing what “the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do their ironing”. Oh but of course, that was about carbon pricing, wasn’t it Tony; something us women could never comprehend. I don’t know why I worry my pretty little head about it at all, come to that. Surely the men will sort it all out over brandy and cigars while I just perch here and indulge in idle gossip concerning the latest village scandal. Maybe I’ll even go and powder my nose.
- Julia Gillard misogyny rant on Tony Abbott goes viral
- Bronwyn Bishop says Gillard speech ‘pathetic’
- Full transcript of Julia Gillard ‘misogynist’ speech to Tony Abbott
As a whole, the west has come a long way in redressing gender disparities, but while legal and institutional change may be a first – and significant – step towards creating an equal and fairer society, altering a mindset takes considerably longer. While the sexism we suffer now may not be as overt as back in the day, that’s exactly what makes it so hard to deal with.
The term ‘microaggressions’, defined by Pierce et al. in 1978 as “a wide range of verbal and non-verbal communications, intentional and unintentional, that portray insensitivity, disrespect, and/or negligent attention to some salient aspect of the others’ cultural heritage,” springs to mind.
If Bishop can claim never to have suffered at the hands of microaggressions, never to have felt that shaming, humiliating sense of being completely disempowered by another who possesses a history of dominance and privilege, and consequently uses it to debase those who have historically been denied such power then, quite frankly, I envy her.
When women were fighting for the vote in the UK, the suffragists, whose protests were more peaceful and collected, often berated the more militant actions of their suffragette peers, which many believed only proved the point that women were irrational and hysterical and therefore unsuited to the “public sphere” of politics.
But it was the actions of the more outlandish sector that drew the greatest amount of attention to the cause, and contributed to keeping the fight alive in the public mindset. This is where, in the contemporary climate, Gillard’s speech resonates.
Were these women really hysterical? Yes, I imagine so. I certainly would be if I had to spend my days corseted and silenced, taking my tea in the drawing room and talking twoddle while the men were out working and actually living their lives. Oppression breeds hysteria, and anyone who is suffering from being pushed down and disempowered by another, whether as a group or an individual, culture, or nation is, one day, likely to snap. Just as Julia Gillard quite rightly did last week.
Gillard’s speech has brought to light a very real phenomenon that has been ignored and dismissed for far too long. “I almost had shivers down my spine,” said Sara Charlesworth, an associate professor at the University of South Australia. “I was so relieved that she had actually named what was happening. She was so angry, so coherent and able to register that enough is enough.”
While some critics claim that Gillard’s speech was a political disaster that resulted in her loss of credibility, millions more the world over are basking in the long awaited relief that comes with one’s experiences being validated and recognised, and finally brought out into the open. Good on ya, ‘Straylia!
I’d love to see other leaders follow suit, and draw attention to the phenomenon of microaggressive sexism that continues to filter through western society, and risks being transmitted onto younger generations.
Julia Gillard hit the nail on the head and has, hopefully, brought to light a massive issue that needs to be acknowledged and confronted in order to maintain any hope of one day living in a society where men and women experience real equality. I only hope I live long enough to see that time arrive.
Read more of Elizabeth’s work on sexism in contemporary culture at elizabethglanville.com/feature-articles