John Bartlett

‘…JUST LIKE A WOMAN’

‘…JUST LIKE A WOMAN’

By on May 2, 2012 in Blog | 4 comments

Driving out of Geelong during the week towards Torquay, I was trying not to notice the new Armstrong Creek development (http://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/armstrongcreek/armstrong/) where there’s soon to be an influx of 60,000 residents, when I observed a new billboard along the highway. It displayed a familiar taunt: ‘There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’ with an unflattering image of Julia Gillard.

Like many people I was hopeful when Gillard took over government that we might experience a different sort of governing, less confrontational perhaps. There’s been plenty about the Gillard government that’s been disappointing but perhaps my expectations were too high. We’d been looking forward to our first female Prime Minister.

However, the anti-Gillard hysteria, which is now on the verge of becoming some sort of fashion statement, has I believe gone just too far. Are we all suffering from some sort of convenient amnesia that we think the Gillard government invented wiliness? Surely it’s no worse than any other past government. Hasn’t it actually achieved some real change and made some hard decisions despite difficult circumstances?

I don’t have a long political memory but I seem to recall most governments juggled with the truth or twisted facts from time to time to suit themselves. Here are a few examples that spring to mind:

  • John Howard’s much-vilified distinction between ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises
  • In October 2001, it was alleged that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard in order to manipulate the Australian Navy to pick them up and take them to Australian territory. In response to this incident, Prime Minister John Howard announced: ‘I certainly don’t want people like that here.’
  • Remember the Godwin Grech affair and the effect on Malcolm Turnbull? (http://www.pipingshrike.com/2009/08/the-slow-toppling-of-turnbull-resumption.html)
  • On August 2001, the Howard Government refused permission for the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, carrying 438 rescued Afghans from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters, to enter Australian waters. This triggered an Australian political controversy and fear-mongering in the lead up to a federal election, and helped return the Howard government to power.

 

I’m not defending duplicity from any government but like it or not, it’s been a big part of the political day-to-day rough and tumble. We’ve conveniently forgotten past political events and portrayed Julia Gillard as the first Prime Minister to employ a bit of cunning in order to survive. The difference is we judge our female politicians differently to the men.

Past Australian politics is littered with the corpses of potential female leaders who were treated more harshly than their male counterparts – Joan Kirner, Cheryl Kernot, Carmen Lawrence, Christine Kenneally and Anna Bligh are prominent examples.

We’re currently experiencing I believe a similar sort of misogynistic attack currently on Julia Gillard. It’s open season for commentators to take crude pot-shots at our Prime Minister. At an anti-carbon tax rally in Canberra in March 2011, angry protesters held up signs that said “JuLIAR” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” and “Ditch the Witch.” In my judgement, this was as shameless a hate-fest as were the Cronulla race riots in 2005.

Gillard has been labelled, by radio broadcasters Alan Jones, Ray Hadley or by callers to these programs as “a menopausal monster”, “a lying cow”, “a lying bitch”, a “vitriolic, bitter, lying, condescending facade of a prime minister”, “a horrible mouth on legs” and “brain dead”. Alan Jones is currently under investigation by the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) for his comments. (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/the-gender-agenda-gillard-and-the-politics-of-sexism-20120225-1tv7n.html#ixzz1taf5Zs7s). Less shrill and less vindictive but no less negative the ABC and The Age more recently have joined in the persecution. (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/michelle-grattan-live-chat-why-gillard-should-quit-20120430-1xts3.html)

If the Gillard government is toppled it won’t be entirely of the government’s making. The chorus of strident misogynistic commentariat will have been largely responsible. Tell me I’m just being paranoid.

‘Nobody feels any pain

Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev’rybody knows
That Baby’s got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.
She takes just like a woman
And she makes love just like a woman
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.’

From ‘Just Like a Woman’ by Bob Dylan (1966)

 

    4 Comments

  1. I hadn’t heard the appalling languge whcih you quoted but I already believed that Julia was being judged by a different yardstick than previous (male) Prime Ministers. She is no worse than any of her predecessors but has extremely low approval ratings for no reason that I can discern. I suspect a doubel standard is being applied. A woman has to be ‘perfect’ to be considered equal and, of course, no politician is perfect to everybody or even to anybody all the time. The very organisation of our political process means that those who succeed are people who are accustomed to compromise and political expediency and I’m afraid we have to accept that, even while we ask / hope for higher standards. However, a woman should not be penalised for being the same as her male colleagues, which I believe is what is happening, and the carping attention to her looks and clothing are ridiculous in the 21st century. We want a responsible leader, not a fashion plate!
    Gabrielle

    PS. Re the quality of the politicians our system throws up: an interesting evaluation of democracy is that it is a very unsatisfactory way to run anything, but that the other options are worse!!

    gabrielle bridges

    May 13, 2012

  2. Misogyny towards Gillard is definitely running rife through the language of our commentariat. There seems to be a joy in the media of building people up and then tearing them down, but especially so with women. Britney Spears, though a very different kind of character, is an excellent example of the joy that can be taken in tearing building women up and then tearing them down.
    There has always been vitriol directed at government leaders and a lot of disrespect was directed at John Howard and Paul Keating. But the focus on her hair colour, and clothing demeans her hard work in achieving such a prestigious role, like it all comes to some superficial issue of whether she is sufficiently fashionable.
    It’s a great article, thanks John.

    Paul M

    May 6, 2012

  3. A minority government is a coalition. The electorate gave no clear mandate to either Labor or the Coalition. Both sides had to negotiate not just with independents, but with a Green representation seeking early action on the climate issue. Labor was on record as being in favour, but so was the Coalition. To govern, Labor or the Coalition had to win independents and Greens who wanted action now. So a government which reflected a commitment to doing something about climate change was inevitable. The electorate clearly sent a message in favour of action now. So Julia listened and acted. She negotiated a deal which reflected the will of the people. The commentariat is out of touch and driven by some kind of inability or unwillingness to put that side of the problem. I think it has to do with the fact that women are just not accepted in leadership roles really.

    Frank Purcell

    May 3, 2012

  4. here here!

    Bronwyne

    May 3, 2012

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