On the day that Julia Gillard gave her public accession speech, on Sept 7, 2010 announcing she would be Prime Minister in the hung 43rd Federal Parliament Of Australia I was sitting in the office lunch room of the prominent private sector firm where I worked.
One of the women there, smartly dressed, intelligent, but not in senior management, some kind of assistant, began vocalising a demeaning assessment of Gillard’s ability and character. In content it was not much different to demeaning assessments of John Howard by ALP/Green voters I knew, but in tone it had a deeply hostile edge not commonly heard and which I had noted with curiousity on a number of previous occasions from other persons here and there.
What was it about Gillard that evoked such a hostile reaction in some ? The woman had not even been Prime Minster 10 minutes.
So I asked, ‘What is it about Gillard you don’t like ?’
‘Uh. Uh She’s terrible, she’s not up to it…uh…she’s…’
‘So its just that she’s on the wrong team. ALP not Lib ?’ I suggested.
‘No. She’s awful.’
The explanation was purely emotional. Not rational. No doubt given time my work colleague could have summoned some rational basis: Carbon Tax maybe, or knifing of Rudd.
But that deeply hostile edge…
As Gillard’s Prime Ministership unfolded we saw the infamous and ugly ‘Ditch The Witch, Bob Brown’s B…’ protests, so happily presided over by Abbott, Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop, as Abbott praised the supposed decency of the shock-jock audience protestors against the supposed reprehensible dishonesty of Gillard.
Later Gillard made us aware of a disgusting genre of anti-Gillard commentary typified by Larry Pickering, intentionally humiliating, deeply personal and plainly misogynistic.
The humiliatory aspect of anti-Gillard misogyny is central to its relevance. To humiliate means to bring low. Gillard, female Prime Minister, had to be bought low because she embodied an overturning of patriarchal power unthinkable and threatening to the Pickering cohort. Females must be subjugated to men. The old order including the freedom to belittle women must be maintained. So the upstart new order, female power, must be humiliated.
Echoes of that humiliatory misogynism appeared typed up on a menu for a Liberal Party fundraiser organised by Mal Brough, a man so superbly protected by the privileged order that even when found guilty (now appealed) of political conspiracy to bring down the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives, the fact was barely reported at all. Tony Abbott was moved to describe the menu at Brough’s fundraiser as scatalogical.
And in the rabid centre of attacks on Julia Gillard was the spittle-flecked Alan Jones much pandered to by Tony Abbott, whose misogyny was explicit as he rattled off names of women who had come to positions of political and social power in Australia and who had Destroyed The Joint. Jones’ plain message – women, in particular atheistic, unmarried, childless, leftist women do not belong in leadership. They are invalid.
Now Jones, Abbott, Pickering and the shock-jock universe do not think that all women are unsuited for power. Margaret Thatcher is a hero of most of them. No, its only leftist women who are unsuited for power, who do not belong, with their unconventional philosophies about marriage and child-bearing. Leftist women particularly represent a threat to Privileged Order because that Order’s truisms, its ontology about the place of women is threatened by powerful women. Leftist women encapsulate the many fears and bigotries of the Privileged Order. They are simply the wrong type of person and invalid, not entitled to be, leaders.
As Tony Abbott put it on the ocassion of Gillard’s attendance at the Harry-Kate Royal wedding:
“She may not believe in God, the monarchy or marriage, but there will be a royal wedding bounce [in the opinion polls Quarterly Essay 47, p. 85]“
A leftist woman in power shows society out of control of the Privileged Order and forebodes the death of patriarchal certainties.
Leftist men are bad enough. But enough of them are tolerably comfortable with male privilege. But a Leftist woman might undo that, that last bastion, open the doors to the clubroom bar and smash the cut glass decanters housing sacramental claret and whisky. Privilege gone. Power gone.
That threat to established order is why Julia Gillard PM attract such hatred and fear. It’s why the shock-jocks and Pickerings and Abbotts and Joneses – 50 to 70 year old conservative white males and those who have similarly imbibed these certainties of the past – so vehemently despised her.
Conversely, for feminist women, Gillard is loved almost worshipfully by a segment of the Feminist Left. In the same way that conservative white males aged 50-70 will reject and despise any powerful leftist female simply on the basis of gender, so the Feminist Left will embrace and celebrate almost any powerful leftist female simply on the basis of gender.
Gillard, summarizing her Prime Ministership, said
[Misogyny] doesn’t explain everything, it doesn’t explain nothing…
We may replace ‘Misogyny’ with ‘Gender’ in the above statement and get the same meaning. Gender explains two things about Gillard PM: the irrational disdain and hatred of a cadre of privileged male conservatives and their traditionally-minded fellow travelers, and the hero-worship she receives from a segment of the Feminist Left. Anna Goldsworthy, prominent feminist writer said:
There are those who will vote for Gillard because of the sheer fact of her anatomy, a qualification that trumps any policy. These are the most devout members of the sisterhood, the ones for whom, as Greer wrote in 1999, “to be feminist is to understand that before you are of any race, nationality, religion, party or family, you are a woman”. And there are those for whom Gillard’s gender is the only disqualification required.
Gillard was indeed a threat to Privileged Order, to patriarchal certainty. And she succeeded in getting to the highest office of the land. And Gillard is correct. There will be more to follow her. For Feminists, despite the ways in which Gillard falls short of the feminist ideal, Gillard is a harbinger of a New World, a new society, proof that the feminist ideal is obtainable. She has become a Feminist hero, if not quite an idol.
For Feminist women, Julia Gillard PM represents not a threat to the old world but a promise of a new world.This is why Gillard’s most ardent supporters are Feminists like Anne Summers who has provided intellectual attack and defence against Gillard detractors, Margot Kingston who self-described as a Gillardista and well, read any Feminist-friendly blog. The beaming Summers-Gillard interviews in Sydney and Melbourne which farewelled the Gillard era were a celebratory procession welcoming this new world; the new reality.
Julia Gillard PM is very significant. She’s the beginning and the end. Watch that space just to the Speaker’s righthand over the despatch boxes. The men are.