Australian PM Julia Gillard Receives Backlash For Being Honest, Because of the Patriarchy

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s smackdown on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. If you haven’t, catch up below. You will absolutely not be upset you spent fifteen minutes watching it or reading the transcript. If it’s clear to us that Gillard’s speech was amazing, then why are people attacking Gillard for being a hypocrite and saying she has damaged her own integrity?

First, some background on this speech and the issues surrounding it: Speaker Peter Slipper was recently caught saying some pretty sexist and terrible things in text messages to advisor James Ashby. These messages are problematic and have led to a lot of discussion recently regarding whether or not to dismiss Slipper, and Abbott himself has gone on record talking about how disgusting Slipper’s misogynist texts have been and how Parliament needs to do something about it. Well, that’s all fine and good, except there’s already a court case against Slipper for sexual harassment from Ashby. Slipper has since resigned from his position as Speaker.

It isn’t a Parliamentary issue. Claiming it is Parliament’s place “to judge Slipper when there is a court case in motion sets a dangerous precedent and makes a mockery of what Parliament is for.” No one was in support of Slipper’s text messages, they were in support of separation of powers. Parliament and the Judiciary system are two separate powers, just like the United States’ Executive and Judiciary branches. Key word: separate. Because it is a Judiciary matter now, it isn’t a Parliamentary matter. Gillard wasn’t ignoring the Slipper issue. Slipper made some terrible comments about vaginas, but Abbott has the potential power to make terrible laws about vaginas. That’s what Gillard’s speech was about.

Pinpointing exact sexist comments made by Abbott in her speech was sheer genius, especially considering Abbott’s wife tried to label him a feminist earlier this week. Honestly, I read that article thinking that it must have been from The Onion. Perhaps this new feminist-Abbott angle inspired Gillard’s speech, referencing quotations from Abbott himself:

He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia… The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true… that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Nevermind the fact that Abbott has been extremely outspoken about women’s reproductive rights and health, especially in reference to a blanket abortion ban. As Corrine Grant of The Hoopla points out, Abbott has given speeches claiming that “abortion is the easy way out”, has tried to prevent access to Gardasil (the cervical cancer vaccine) and voted against easily accessible RU486 (the abortion pill). Yet, Gillard is getting the backlash from the media.

The Australian media has latched onto the strange idea that because Gillard didn’t vote in favor of dismissing Slipper, that she is a hypocrite who can’t possibly be for women’s rights. Apparently, she doesn’t respect women enough to dismiss Slipper for his sexually harassing texts, but Gillard wasn’t making a speech about Slipper. She was making a speech about the hypocrisy of Tony Abbott calling himself a feminist in the wake of the Slipper case.

Perhaps the most upsetting critique of Gillard’s speech comes from Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald. In his opinion piece, he says, “If there was one thing that should have been different about Gillard’s prime ministership, it should have been that Australia’s first female prime minister should have been a flag bearer for women.” In what way is Gillard not being a “flag bearer for women” by calling out the Opposition Leader’s extensive track record of misogyny? Was it when she voiced her opinion from a woman’s perspective or maybe when she said it was hurtful that the Liberals have attacked her family in the past?

Tony Abbott is totally a feminist
via {SBS}

Abbott has said of the speech, “Just because the Prime Minister has sometimes been the victim of unfair criticism doesn’t mean she can dismiss any criticism as sexism or she can dismiss any criticism on gender grounds.” Yes, Mr. Abbott, I am completely sure you would still have called her a “witch” and  “bitch” if she were a male politician.

I’ll be the first to admit that Julia Gillard hasn’t always been my favorite person. I found it unsettling when she took over power from Kevin Rudd, but I had high hopes for her as the first female Prime Minister of Australia. Although she lost some points with me by saying she wasn’t in favor of marriage equality, I still support Labor’s decision in focusing on Slipper’s case as a judiciary matter, not a Parliamentary one.

There seems to be a “boys club” mentality in Australian politics, this week’s Q&A assured me of that, whether they admit it or not. Calling that out does not diminish Gillard’s credibility as a leader. I don’t find it surprising that male journalists have been the majority behind the Australian media’s major backlash to her speech, but I am left questioning if we even watched the same speech.

Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 190 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. Likewise, I haven’t always liked Gillard, but her response to this issue is something that I can stand behind, and honestly, listening to anyone take down Tony Abbott is always a guaranteed good time. The ‘boys club’ mentality in Aussie politics seems to mean that women are judged by different standards, and all of their decisions are viewed in light of them being women rather than politicians.

  2. I agree with you that sections of the media with an agenda against the Gillard Goverment have been tried to twist her response. I’m not so worried about it – the louder they shriek the more scared they are about what was a devastatingly effective attack from the PM.

    I hate to be a deb because I know people love this speech – and I love it too, it was epic – but I do feel this article paints rather a rosy view of Gillard. I think it’s pretty naive to claim Gillard’s speech had nothing to do with Slipper when she offered it in response to a question about Slipper, talked about Slipper in the speech, and the whole thing occurred on a day that the Parliament voted on Slipper and then he resigned. I think a big motivation for her was trying to deflect attention back on to Abbott while she was copping heat over Slipper.

    “It isn’t a Parliamentary issue.”

    I disagree with this and I think this is an example of a common misunderstanding about the separation of powers. The separation of powers just means that Parliament makes laws and the courts hear cases. It means that a judge can’t make legislation and that the Parliament can’t hear criminal trials (hope I am not oversimplifying too much). It does *not* mean that Parliament can’t exercise its usual functions when there is a court case happening. It’s a normal part of Parliamentary business to appoint and remove the Speaker of the House.

    If Slipper’s remarks about women had not been dealt with politically. Ashby’s case is a sexual harassment case. It actually has very little to do with Slipper disrespecting women by making vile comments about their genitalia. That would have only been covered insofar as it related Ashby’s personal case is a political one. The only form of justice the women of Australia would have got is political justice. And that is precisely what they got, in the form of his resignation.

    “She was making a speech about the hypocrisy of Tony Abbott calling himself a feminist in the wake of the Slipper case”

    Err, has Tony Abbott actually called himself a feminist? Did Tony Abbott’s wife even call him a feminist? I watched her speech and didn’t hear the f word. Happy to stand corrected though.

    Also – and I say this as someone who got all up in Tony Abbott’s face the day before the vote on RU-486 – he didn’t call her a bitch or a witch. He was at a protest where there were signs saying those things, he was in front of the signs, and the media took photos of him. Now that is pretty shocking and I do accept the PM’s account of that protest. But it is not the same thing as calling her those things himself.

  3. Clementine Ford’s has been the only article about this I’ve managed to finish without blinding rage happening. I think the people who don’t see the mysogyny in the Australian media are wilfully ignoring it, the vitriol is SO gendered. She’s constantly described as ‘shrill’, a witch, a backstabbing liar (though when men take over leadership it’s just politics I suppose?).

    I think this was the first time we’ve seen Julia Gillard just be herself, she comes across so rehearsed most of the time. I suspect she wouldn’t be doing so badly in the polls if there was a bit more of this.

  4. Ok sorry for the massive longwinded post, and to add to it again – but seriously, if it was right for Cory Bernardi to be demoted for his comments on gays, why isn’t it right for Peter Slipper to be demoted for his comments on women?

  5. It would be terrible to have Peter Slipper remain in the High Privileged Office of Speaker representing Australia. If Julia Gillard had her way he would still be the Speaker meeting international guests and soon leading delegations to other countries such as Canada and Argentina. This would have been a national embarrassment and terrible message of disrespect towards women, especially as the debate continued here in Australia. Why didn’t Julia Gillard realizes this and lead our nation. Instead she defended him. Thank Goodness common sense prevailed to pressure Peter Slipper to resign, even after Julia Gillard voted for him being Speaker in Parliament.

    • there was an article in smh i believe outlining how labor was well aware of the fact that peter slipper wouldn’t get enough support from the independents etc to keep his post, but that given his mental state they didn’t want to have everyone completely reject him and also to agree on any point with the liberals. plus an opportunity for gillard, woohoo

  6. I applaud Gillard’s speach. In general Australian men are the most sexist, chauvanistic men I have ever encountered. I lived in Australia for 4.5 years and never endured such ill treatment from men and was constantly being judged by my gender rather than as an individual. When it comes to Australian men you could call me a misandrist. I don’t hate them, but I am certainly prejudiced against them. Australian women just deal with the sexism their males exhibit, but not Gillard. That speach made my week!

    MacKenzie Connell
    Author, “Australian Men: Don’t Go There Girlfriend”

  7. I agree that it was odd the way she replaced K Rudd I would rather have Julia as PM. Kevin also voted against marriage equality and has been friends with Bob Katter for about twenty years, any politician I seem to agree with somehow finds a way to annoy me, if I could choose who the prime minister was (I mean not choosing out of JG and TA but out of all of the frontbenchers) I would choose Anthony Albanese however I shall continue to vote for labor because tony abbot is just a ridiculous candidate for pm and probs won’t be opposition leader in time for the next election anyways so… (I’m not quite sure how to end this)

  8. It was good to see JG being herself for a change!!! It’s about time the general population of Australia wake up to the outright BIAS in the mainstream media. If this speech happened in any other country it would be almost uniformly celebrated, however, on this occasion majority of the praise came from overseas with very little credit given locally.
    The past year or two have really highlighted how personal and attacking federal politics has become. It is an embarrassment, we live in a truly wonderful country with opportunity, low employment rate, reasonable health care, good public institutions, and the politics (and peoples attitudes) is worse than it has ever been.
    It is time to feel proud to be Australian and live in what I believe is the best country in the world.

    • The best country in the world, where we don’t let gays marry, and we lock up refugee children on islands in the middle of nowhere. The best country in the world, where our Indigenous people die 16-17 years earlier than non-Indigenous people.

      Truly we are the lucky country. It is time to fight for an Australia worth being proud to be part of. Time to fight for the best country in the world.

  9. Much as I enjoyed the speech, there were also welfare reforms passed that day by Gillard’s government which will impact single parents -primarily women. Here’s a good article http://overland.org.au/blogs/lfmg/2012/10/on-that-parliamentary-smackdown/ Oh for the days of Aunty Helen (NZ). But it was a great speech and brilliant how it got picked up internationally!

    Can’t even start to comment on the refugee situation- it’s not really on topic and I’m a little drunk- but I guess you know there’s a protest against offshore processing Oct 21st…

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