More and more sexual semantics (abuse!) are hurled at Australia’s first female Prime Minister as just another victim (?) of this country’s entrenched albeit unconscious sexism masquerading as tolerance, albeit acceptance. Or many so-called esteemed female writers have claimed. I beg to differ, at least to the extent that levelling the blame, as they voice it, at men, is to simplify a far more complex issue of why we seem (that being the operative word) incapable of analysing Julia Gillard for what she stands for and indeed, espouses as policy in the parliament. In today’s Age, writer Dr Lindy Edwards, author of The Passion of Politics, suggests that men who pump themselves up by denigrating women actually reveal their innate weakness; and it is time for good men, of which there are many, to take matters into their own hands and stop the attack on Gillard because of her gender. Certainly, there is obvious validity for this denigration by some men; the now notorious menu about her body parts and the question asked on Perth radio about her partner’s sexuality – is Tim gay? And the media has been full of many other examples of contempt (supposedly just harmless jokes) about her sexuality in that she is childless and unmarried. Edwards continues her tirade against the male gender by claiming “they tap into an ideal of male sexual power to create a cocktail of ego, aggression and sexual energy that they channel into battle” be it in the military or on the football field. Furthermore, she adds these men “pump themselves up by putting her (and women per se) down”.
From my perspective, just yet another mere female who has had to contend with copious comments about my big tits, legs like a frog and being too fat, among other things, as well as having my sexuality questioned (is she really a lesbian in denial?) amidst thoughts that I must hate men some 40 odd years ago, both in the U.K. and in Australia mostly from colleagues I worked with in the media, it wasn’t just SOME men articulating these sexist attitudes, but very sadly, many, many women, too, later including my sisters, my mother, members of the medical profession and some of my female so-called friends. To say I was put down professionally, albeit intellectually, is an understatement. Of course, I was not Prime Minister or in a position of recognised power, but I believe, just like millions of other women out there, we have all experienced malign and nasty attacks for no other reason than being female with all the unconscious assumptions that implied. And as females, we may not have conformed to the required stereotype of being trim, taut and terrific and without doubt, tough, not a ‘lady’ no more or less. I’ve written in previous blogs about much of the sexist diatribe against myself; at work, at home and at play, but I am angry at Edwards for singling out men as the ones culpable of castigating Gillard. Indeed, I penned a blog ‘The Trouble With Julia’ some 18 months ago; in that she appeared as nothing but an automaton, and I didn’t find her realistically convincing. Certainly, I didn’t attack her body parts, her jackets (heh, Greer!) or her decisions to remain unmarried and childless, but I just didn’t believe in her as a committed and real human being, albeit as a Prime Minister. However, I never warmed to Rudd, criticising him as smarmy and disingenuous while I loathe Tony Abbott & Co even more. I’m even frightened by the seemingly inevitable reality of Abbott as our next Prime Minister; based on issues of policy rather than personality. But that’s for another blog. What I’m saying is that it’s not just men who are denigrating Gillard; the obvious sexual condemnation, dismissed too often as just humorous banter, eschews a far more profound problem about Gillard and as much as I hate to say it, she’s just not smart enough to have won the hearts and minds of a majority of Australians. Playing the gender card is just superficial spin denying a discontent for far too many of us about her as the country’s leader. And the reason I suggest she’s not smart enough is that she, too, has played that card herself, her recent lambast involving abortion as an issue to be decided by men (despite the historical fact that it was indeed, a male Dr Bertram Wainer who campaigned so tirelessly, albeit dangerously, for abortion law reform), the disappearance of Liberal female politicians from Parliament and omnipresent blue ties, failed to resonate with many women at all. Certainly not with me either, and I can only sympathise about her poor judgement and lack of clarity in using these inappropriate examples of LNP sexism. Of course, Edwards does say that criticising her about policy is OK, but not her sexuality; whereas for me, both sides of the debate have fallen victim to the same spin; any denigration of your opponents can work if you’re clever enough, smart enough or shrewd enough for people to believe it. That’s part of politics as I’ve always understood it. In my final year of high school way back in 1966, I had to write an essay on personality vs policy; there were NO women even in Parliament yet this was such a pertinent issue some 47 years ago. What’s changed? Moreover, Ted Baillieu, former Premier of Victoria and outed during his first term by no less than a MALE colleague, was often criticised by the then Labor Government of Victoria during the election campaign as a Toff, a spoilt and rich privileged male member of the Establishment. Just more polemic attacking his circumstance of birth rather than policy and it didn’t deter voters from electing him as Premier. Attacking Gillard as a female is for me, much the same; just more politics, be it class or gender; it won’t count unless there’s more substance to the criticisms and even more significantly, a more credible and winning personality. I believe policy comes second best, however much my belief might erode our sense of a just and fair political game that dictates how people vote. Baillieu seemed genuine and sincere the many times I saw him on TV, and while I hated his Liberal politics and never voted for him, the effort by Labor politicians to discredit him as a toff went down like a lead balloon. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all too easily judge someone, and not just politicians, but journalists, sportsmen and women, actors and an array of other celebrities who constantly appear on TV, by how they come across on the box. We form opinions about them, like them or loathe them, when of course, we’ve never met them at all in real life. That’s how gullible, suggestible, most of us are. We don’t even think that much about what these people say; it’s all to do with appearance and that word again, personality. And Gillard doesn’t come across that well, even when she’s calling the shots and not being hassled or hammered by media questions designed to incite her ire. Despite Baillieu’s initial appeal to a majority of Victorian voters, slim though that majority was, he self-destructed due to an inept and insipid performance as leader and for an array of different reasons of course, Gillard too has self-destructed, not because of male attacks on her gender or lampooning her sexuality, but because she has allowed members of her own party (not just Rudd as Latham has defined it) to destabilise her efforts and has not been smart enough to stop them It is sadly, a party divided. I contend too that it is also, for both Baillieu and Gillard, issues to do with personality; Baillieu seemed increasingly bland and uninspired, Gillard just seems to operate like a programmed robot. Moreover, by replacing Gillard with Rudd as leader of the Labor Party, it has supposedly been claimed, if polls are to be believed at all, that the party would increase its electoral vote considerably. And I’m presupposing that this leadership change would not involve much significant shift in policy so I’m left to ponder is it just Rudd’s personality that more people find endearing or dare I refer to body parts, that he has an appendage she doesn’t! But by Gillard using her gender to attack Abbott & Co is just not clever enough as it fails to address the real problems within her own party, and that’s just for starters. That’s not to say she has not been persecuted by some of the media et al for being female etc but she still seems too controlled, too manufactured and too distant from real men and women in this country. If she can’t even convince me; an ardent Labor voter and supporter all my life, and a woman as well, what’s there to say? Maybe on the other hand, she’s just too clever and unable to tap into the less clever of us in Australia. Left wing Labor Senator Doug Cameron suggested a couple of weeks ago she should just be herself, but I can only reflect on whether she’s lost sight of who she really is and what she really believes in. If she’s allowed herself to be manipulated by the so-called faceless men of Labor, then that’s her mistake; if she’s adopted the LNP policy on asylum seekers etc that’s her mistake too, and on it goes. She still seems like an automaton without passion about her own policies, except perhaps about the Gonski education reforms. Maybe it’s her delivery; more than once I’ve heard commentators claim Labor just can’t sell its message; they’re NOT getting through to people about what they HAVE achieved, and maybe this is true, but I can only wonder at her advisers and cohorts. Has she been listening, even trusting too many people who are sadly out of touch with the people in this country and their concerns. Or as another political analyst claimed recently on TV, are millions of Australians just apathetic about politics? They’re just tired, even bored with the constant leadership fracas, gender baiting and misguided rhetoric?
When I wrote about Gillard 18 months ago, I also wondered whether I, like many women, expected too much of her because she was our first female Prime Minister I still ask myself that question and I’m not smart enough either to clearly answer it, indeed, I can’t even clarify what I really did expect except certainly more humanity, more compassion and more equity! (Her decision to put single parents, mostly women, on Newstart, I found abominable and grossly unfair; not for the parents as much as for the children. Living in poverty means thousands of kids ARE left behind!) Saying she has been disappointing as Prime Minister might just be an easy cop out for me too; but then, do any of our heroes or heroines in life live up to our perfect ideals? Of course they don’t; we are all just human at the end of the day and we all make mistakes; some more costly than others. The sad reality for Gillard is that she has seemingly made too many mistakes, either by her own misjudgements (Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper to name a couple) or accepting advice and guidance from people who are just using her for their personal self-interest. I don’t know. East Timor as a detention centre was another huge error; the government hadn’t even consulted the country’s leaders! I don’t need to detail the long list of mistakes; but what I do feel is that she has paid for them very, very dearly because she has not been politically expedient and pragmatic enough and dare I say it again, clever enough to quell the rising storm against her, both inside caucus and outside in the public domain. And it’s hard to ascertain whether she’s just been so ill-advised or fallen on her own sword without advice from anyone. Her enemies, within the party, the media and Opposition, have been far cleverer, or nastier, in seizing the opportunity to plot her demise. Yes, I do feel for Gillard, like I have in the past for Keating who self-destructed with hubris and for some of my sporting heroes who never lived up to their promise, as players or coach. But when you take on the job as Prime Minister, most of us recognise it’s a VERY dirty game; and I admire Gillard for her resilience and her strength in withstanding at least some of it. Maybe as some have posited over the past three years of her minority government, politics in Australia has sunk to an all-time low, but I’m not convinced it’s ever been a clean and fair game. Just ask Whitlam or another woman unjustly pilloried, former Victorian Premier, Joan Kirner!
Many of us in Australia, women AND men alike, are just too damn ignorant or apathetic about policies, politics and the rules of the game (are there any, really?) to single out sexism as the culprit. I just heard on the TV yesterday that only 1 in 2 18-year-olds are so far, enrolled to vote on September 14, as well as more than 1 million other eligible people unenrolled, and that suggests a far more serious problem to confront than Gillard’s gender. But let the people decide on that one! Apathy has its own price!