It’s time to Ditch the Sexism in Australian Politics
Written By Maddy Crehan
The recent change of Prime Minister has sparked a media frenzy, after Malcolm Turnbull successfully overthrew Tony Abbott in a leadership challenge on the 15th of September, with 54 to 44 votes. This is not the first time Australia has gained a new Prime Minister by these means, but there is one major difference — the media’s portrayal of the ‘traitor’.
In 2010 Julia Gillard challenged Kevin Rudd for the position of Prime Minister and won, making her Australia’s first ever female leader — a milestone that should have been celebrated and supported by the nation. This was not the case. Gillard was met with a sea of sexism from the media, the public and the opposition. Her overthrowing of Kevin Rudd sparked labels such as ‘back-stabber’, ‘deceitful’and ‘bitch’. These differ dramatically from recent headlines celebrating the most recent change of leadership such as “Triumphant Turnbull”, “Turnbull is our Man” and “Rich Dude Becomes PM”. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to Abbott’s defeat may be partly due to his increasing unpopularity and incompetence, though Turnbull’s traditionally ‘masculine’ and authoritative characteristics have also played a major role in this media whirlpool.
Surprisingly the only negative reaction to this coup is largely aimed at Julie Bishop. She has been described as ‘disloyal’, ‘secretive’ and, just like Julia Gillard once was, been named the ‘Lady Macbeth’ of Australian politics. This title is a direct reference to her gender, suggesting that those same traits Malcolm Turnbull is praised for are undesirable in a female leader and reduced to ‘bossiness’. This also implies an out-dated idea that a woman’s role is primarily to serve and obey men, and if she challenges this she is seen as a threat to the masculinity of male politicians. Bishop has been forced to defend herself time and time again to the media over the past week for her ‘betrayal’ of Tony Abbott, whilst Turnbull has been celebrated and welcomed on shows like Australian Story.
The sexist attacks on Julia Gillard that started with the ‘back-stabbing’ label continued relentlessly throughout her term as PM. Countless comments were made about her appearance and lack of homely (or in other words ‘womanly’) values. At an anti-carbon tax rally in 2011 protesters held highly offensive signs reading “Ditch the Witch” and “Ju-liar Bob Brown’s Bitch”. As if it wasn’t bad enough that people were using misogyny as a protest tool, the (at the time) opposition leader Tony Abbott held a press conference in front of said signs, publicizing his approval for gender-based insults and encouraging the spread of sexism in Australia. Gillard later spoke about this appearance stating “I really don’t know why this wasn’t a career-ending moment for Tony Abbott. Sexism is no better than racism.” Despite Gillard being praised world-wide for shaming Abbott as a bigot in her ‘misogyny speech’ in Parliament on the 9th of October 2012, Abbott amazingly went on to win his chauvinistic-fueled campaign and worsened the progress of gender equality in Australia.
Though sexism is still blatantly present in Australian politics and media, hopefully with more women being sworn into cabinet, and the Minister for Women actually being a woman, the prejudice against female leadership will be eradicated and gender stereotypes wiped out. On her last day in office Julia Gillard proclaimed “What I am absolutely confident of is that it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that. And I’m proud of that.” Let’s hope she’s right.
(An old speech that’s still incredibly relevant and valid can never be shared too many times!)
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