FOLLOWING a predictably ridiculous week in politics, yesterday Australia bid farewell to its first ever woman prime minister.
Julia Gillard graciously bowed out from running the country to which she has devoted many years, while the social networks booed about State of Origin and commented on her appearance.
Echoes of “red box” and “boo politics” were sadly nothing new, and as an Australian looking on from the gloom of London — I was ashamed.
Gillard was not the perfect leader, with vague Gonski reforms, unsatisfactory policy around asylum seekers and conservative views on marriage equality. I’d be lying however if I said I thought these were the key reasons she was voted out.
Her recent foray into the battle of the sexes did reveal an underlying truth present in much of the world, which is not only that misogyny is still trickling through modern society, but more so that an attempt to fight it won’t be tolerated — by men and women alike.
But isn’t there something inherently wrong when a woman can successfully run a country, be admired internationally, and still fall victim to discrimination?
Though she was a key player, I was rather incredulous at the reports of Gillard “reopening the gender wars” with a presentation to the Women for Gillard group which in turn caused a seven per cent drop in support from male voters. To me this says one thing; the message many feminists have been delivered by men who prefer to belittle them — sit down, and shut up.
And though it meant her eventual exile, I’m very glad she didn’t.
If we examine the issue closely, we will see it followed an incident where our nation’s prime minister was immaturely reduced to her body parts on a restaurant menu. This followed on from the many rude names and personal jabs made at Gillard’s expense that, though she didn’t show it, wounded her.
Gillard issued a response, reiterating that this is not desired for women voters who want to be respected as equal. Following a history of attempts by Abbott to deny women abortion rights, while displaying systematic ignorance about women’s capabilities, she stated the truth.
A woman is not starting a war for taking an abusive partner to court. A female employee is not starting a war when demanding equal remuneration to that of her male colleagues, and a woman prime minister is not starting a war by saying misogyny is unacceptable, both to her and the women of Australia.
Her failings lay only in her frustration bubbling over. Instead of simply rolling her eyes and rising above it, she chose to engage — allowing Abbott to slide in and say “let’s focus on the issues,” which his friends at NewsCorp will purvey as taking the high road.
It’s no secret that Murdoch and his motley crew aim to promote scandal and highlight fault to appease a largely ignorant and capricious voting public. The people said they don’t want gender politics. Amazing though that so many women, and indeed so many men, never stopped to appreciate where they would be without it.
Gillard might have known the gender card would be her downfall. But like many other leaders who have instigated positive change, she went ahead and did it anyway.
Just as many recently hailed former Queensland premier Rob Borbidge, who sacrificed his political career for the sake of gun regulation, or Paul Keating who faced great opposition for granting land rights to Indigenous Australians, Gillard should be remembered for having the courage of her conviction.
The backlash of KnitGate serves as proof that Gillard’s feminism, rather than her gender, came to define her. Some suggested it promoted her in a way contrary to her policies – though I fail to see how fighting for equal rights must be synonymous with “not knitting”. Women can be assertive, regardless of whether they wrestle with sharks, jump off cliffs or knit toy kangaroos for royal infants.
Overall, with the gender card, Gillard said it best in her speech last night: “It doesn’t explain everything, it doesn’t explain nothing – it explains some things.”
But most importantly, she stated: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that – and I’m proud of that.”
We have already seen Gillard’s legacy in schools and universities, magnifying the ambitions of Australian girls and young women, the benefits of which are paramount. The UK Women’s Business Council recently made the case that there is a serious economic argument in broadening the horizons of girls in order to get more women in the industrial and political pipeline.
The overwhelming business case for maximising women’s contribution to UK economic growth shows by having equal male and female representation, the UK could further increase GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10 per cent of GDP by 2030.
So as the politics continue — with Rudd at the helm of the Labor Party, and Abbott with new fish to fry — strong minded men and women look on, hoping the efforts of Gillard and women like her will lead to a healthier, stronger and more woman-friendly society.
And to them, I say getting rid of Gillard was not the end of strong women, it was the beginning.