Destroying the Joint
by Jane Caro (editor)
University of Queensland Press
Published May, 2013
Quarterly Essay 50: Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny
by Anna Goldsworthy
Published June, 2013
Griffith Review 40: Women and Power
by Julianne Schultz (editor)
Published April, 2013
The Misogyny Factor
by Anne Summers
Published June, 2013
The Stalking of Julia Gillard
by Kerry-Anne Walsh
Allen & Unwin
Published July, 2013
Australia’s first female Prime Minister is the figure at the centre of this pile of books, and they were all produced during the last few months of her Prime Ministership. They came out in quick succession, published between April and July of this year; all of them had gone to press before the afternoon of June 26 when Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the leadership spill that saw the federal ALP caucus vote her out of office in favour of Kevin Rudd. All five publications, and the two anthologies in particular, range more widely, but that is where their hearts lie. Griffith Review editor Julianne Schultz is careful in her introduction to Women and Power to keep the discussion at an international level, but her final sentence resonates closer to home, and now seems more appropriate than ever: ‘Early in a transformative new century we need to hold our nerve, and transcend the “witch, liar, troll” backlash.’
Anne Summers’ The Misogyny Factor consists of material she used in two speeches she made in 2012. Summers has been involved in feminist scholarship, journalism and politics for over 40 years and these speeches were grounded in basic tenets of feminist theory she knew by heart. In the introduction to this book, she patiently spells them all out again, presumably for the benefit of those who persist in believing (and if the comments threads on blogs and media sites are any indication, there are many such people) that feminism is a quirk of individual women and is based on their personal hatred of men, rather than a widely-held world view based on the desire for social justice and equality:
the misogyny factor is that set of attitudes and entrenched practices that are embedded in most of our major institutions (business, politics, the military, the media, the church, academia) that stand in the way of women being included, treated equally and accorded respect. … it is more complicated, and far more widespread than the prejudices of individuals … I am talking about systemic beliefs and behaviour. [My emphasis.]
The first of the two speeches was the annual Fraser Oration, delivered in Canberra in July 2012. In it, Summers addressed the nexus of what she regards as the two most basic concerns of gender equality, namely equal pay and adequate, affordable childcare. These and other related matters are addressed in the first few chapters of The Misogyny Factor, along with a quick history of the progress of the women’s movement in Australia and of what she calls ‘the equality project’ over the last four decades. There is an account of the way that project’s fortunes have waxed and waned, depending on who was in government, and of the gains made during the Hawke-Keating era, only to be lost again during the Howard years. Summers expresses disappointment and disillusion with the lack of overall progress made since the Australian women’s movement began to push for change in the 1970s: ‘unwilling to admit that there was actual opposition to the very idea of equality … we underestimated the extent of the actual resistance,’ she writes. She enlarges on this theme a few pages later:
A bitter lesson of the past forty years has been the realisation that we have not been able to guarantee that a reform would be permanent. It did not occur to us back then that a hard-won reform could actually be unwound, reversed, repealed.
Chapter five is a revised version of the speech she gave a little over a month later: the University of Newcastle’s 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture, which she entitled ‘Her Rights at Work’. Many will have read the text of this speech online, either in what Summers calls ‘the vanilla version’ or in the X-rated version featuring images that might shock even the most hardened political observer. In the book version, Summers says, the speech ‘has been shortened a bit, and I have updated a few things.’ She catalogues some of the worst of the gender-specific and often sexually explicit attacks and slurs on Gillard during her time as Prime Minister, from the way she was addressed and alluded to by the Opposition in Parliament to the vicious, hate-filled and badly spelled effusions of online warriors posting to media websites under pseudonyms; from gender-specific name-calling – bitch, witch, schoolmarm – to the obsession with her body and her clothes.
What dismays most is the sheer number and the unrelenting accretion of these slurs, and the fear and hatred of women that they reveal. The people who protest that their dislike and disapproval of Gillard has nothing to do with gender seem quite blind to the way those feelings were being publicly expressed in words and images that were usually gendered and sometimes violently sexual.
Throughout the book, Summers keeps her main focus where it has been throughout her career: on the site where workplace rights and conditions interact with women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. Topics that arise where these two things meet include equal pay, easy access to contraception and abortion, easy access to affordable childcare, and the right to be free from gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at work. But Summers does not lose sight of the intangibles and immeasurables: the socio-cultural pressure on working mothers, the unspoken expectations of women in the workplace, the unconscious discrimination and favouritism in play when appointing or promoting staff, the unspoken fear and resentment – among other women as well as among men – of women with power.
Taken together, this pile of books documents in detail what Mary Delahunty calls the ‘sustained visceral assault on legitimacy’ that took place during Gillard’s three years as Prime Minister. Part of that assault came in the form of an outburst by elderly Sydney shock jock Alan Jones of 2GB, whose abscess of frustration at the sight of any woman in power burst with an unseemly splatter on the last day of winter in 2012. Jones was expostulating on air about government money allocated under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative to help with the political participation and economic advancement of women in the Pacific. He scornfully quoted the initiative’s stated aims:
[It will] increase the proportion of Pacific women in leadership and decision-making roles both nationally and locally. It will increase economic opportunities for women through improved access to financial services and markets. And it will improve safety for women through better services, violence prevention and access to justice.
Admirable goals, you might think, but Jones then made it clear what he thought of them:
Fair dinkum, mate, this is borrowed money – $320 million … She [and here Jones was alluding to Prime Minister Gillard, to whom he rarely referred by name and even more rarely by her job title] said ‘We know that societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating.’ Women are destroying the joint! Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly … there isn’t a chaff bag big enough for them.
That night, as Anne Summers was delivering ‘Her Rights at Work’ at the University of Newcastle, the writer and social commentator Jane Caro was ‘keeping one eye on the telly and the other on Twitter’ when she noticed the swell of outrage about the comments Jones had made that morning. She tweeted: ‘Got time on my hands tonight so thought I’d come up with new ways to destroy the joint, being a woman and all. Ideas welcome.’
The response was overwhelming and often very funny. Now, a year later, the online movement known as ‘Destroy the Joint’ is, as Caro claims, ‘a powerful and effective agent for change’. It certainly demonstrates the growing power of social media.
Caro’s anthology is a substantial collection of essays by women invited to contribute some variation on the theme of joint-destroying. All the contributions are implicitly or explicitly feminist, for obvious reasons, and all lie somewhere on the progressive side of politics. Caro says tellingly in her introduction: ‘We also approached women from the conservative side of politics but, for various reasons, none were able to contribute.’
Most of these contributors were presumably invited on the strength of their online presence and personae or their high profile as social commentators, often both. Leslie Cannold, Nina Funnell, Catherine Deveny and Clementine Ford are all familiar names to any Australian feminist who spends much time online, but others have multiple or highly specialised perspectives on what it means to be a woman in Australia with her head above any parapet within the sights of Alan Jones or any of the others that Kerry-Anne Walsh calls ‘Sydney’s graceless pissed-off old men of radio’. Senator Penny Wong was, at the time, the federal Finance Minister. Wendy Harmer, editor of the feminist website The Hoopla, is also a broadcaster and comedian. There are several fiction writers here: Tara Moss, Melissa Lucashenko, Emily Maguire, Jennifer Mills, Susan Johnson and Krissy Kneen. And while some of these contribute short stories, it is interesting to note that some of the most impressive non-fiction has been written by the fiction writers, particularly Maguire and Mills.
Appearing less than a year after Jones’s original broadcast, the book shows all the signs of having been put together in a hurry. Editing was apparently minimal, and there is a great deal of repetition from one essay to the next, as many of the contributors have included the background story about Jones and Caro, and many make very similar arguments. Some of the contributions are much better than others. But it remains, mostly, a lively and intelligent collection, and is sometimes very funny, if often shallow, given the complexity and gravity of what is at stake. There is not much here in the way of detailed analysis, but then there wasn’t ever meant to be. Caro solicited a range of rapid-responses to the Jones broadcast and its aftermath, to be written, put together and published quickly, before that comment had been forgotten. The value of the book is in its timely, lively documentation of a historical moment: when the open misogyny of a populist, conservative and highly influential public figure triggered a reaction that showed how much of a force social media had become and how broadly influential an online community could be.
Longtime editor Julianne Schultz produces issue after issue of Griffith Review with a strong central theme that sets up internal resonances among the individual contributions, resulting in a publication that is more than simply the sum of its parts. The Women and Power issue seems even more cohesive than usual. Although the individual essays, stories and poems cover a wide range of subjects and styles, it is clear that in many if not most cases Schultz has commissioned the pieces to sit together and complement each other.
The opening piece is an essay by Chris Wallace on the power relations between men and women as they might be viewed by a dispassionate observer if the emotive and richly connotative terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ were removed from the conversation, all of which makes for some arresting anthropological observations about the nature of male power in our society. This is followed by a couple of essays that take as their starting point specific moments in the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard – the day that Tony Abbott stood with a megaphone in front of placards saying the ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’, and the night of Germaine Greer’s Q&A fashion tips on the subject of the prime ministerial arse. (That either event could have taken place at all is something that now beggars belief: what has this country become, when the national broadcaster, an Australian feminist icon, and the man who is now Prime Minister are all central names in stories like that?)
From there the contributions range widely across the theme of women and power: Julian Meyrick on Margaret Thatcher, Anne Summers on gender quotas in political parties, a couple of essays on women in male-dominated sports – journalist Bronwen Kearney on women in competitive surfing, writer and boxer Mischa Merz on boxing – and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s extraordinary memoir of working on oil rigs. The issue examines the place where gender intersects with racial and cultural difference: there are essays and stories about women in Papua New Guinea, in Aceh, in Kerala; about Aboriginal women; about negotiating life in Australia as a Japanese woman and life in the male-dominated world of engineering as a Sudanese-Australian Muslim woman. There are also a number of short stories that, in this context, don’t work as well as the essays, since they seem to have been either commissioned or co-opted in subservience to the theme, and that rarely makes for good fiction.
But all of the contributions speak to each other, sometimes in complex ways. In ‘Standing up to P’, Chris Wallace points out that it is hard to tell, here in 2013, how effective the gains of feminism over the last 40 years or so have been in the wider scheme of things: ‘one can only see bits and pieces, not the whole: one can’t get a proportional sense of how the undeniable achievements of the second wave net out against the remorseless storming thrust of continuing male power.’ Mary Delahunty, in ‘Liars, Witches and Trolls’, then gives one example of how this male power manifests itself when, having added up the increasing numbers of female politicians in Australia, she adds:
One could be excused for thinking that things were looking up. Raw data tells only some of the story of power gained, challenged and diminished; there is something corrosive, undermining, a sustained visceral assault on legitimacy, a sneer at women in control.
None of these items is here on the strength of its ideology alone. There is a consistently high standard of writing: all of it well crafted or well argued or well informed, as befits the various genres. But what it all adds up to is a soul-crushing demonstration of what women are up against in a society where any demonstration or exercise of power by women generates an immediate male pushback – as anyone knows who spends time at the blogs and social media sites where feminist commentators are regularly bombarded with obscene abuse, rape threats and, occasionally, death threats.
Anna Goldsworthy’s summary in Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny of this sort of response is at once shocking and familiar:
Misogyny’s verbal expression usually takes three forms, whether delivered by internet troll, radio shock-jock, political strategist or playground bully. There is the unforgiving assessment of a woman’s appearance, frequently involving the word fat; there are threats or acts of violence, sexual or otherwise; there is the reminder of the fundamental shame of her sex, of her cunt. All are designed to silence her. The misogynist presents a remarkably consistent platform: Shut up you fat cunt. Frequently it is appended with or I will hurt you.
The title of the Quarterly Essay series draws attention to its own ephemerality, but sometimes both its influence and its frame of reference reach far beyond the three-month catchment area. Unfinished Business had its genesis in Gillard’s so-called ‘misogyny speech’, but it ranges far more widely, locating the speech in a number of broader contexts: the words and phrases that recur in these debates; the shaming of other prominent women in different fields (Hillary Clinton, Mary Beard, Hilary Mantel, Gina Rinehart) through crude slurs on their looks; the disconcerting channels through which young girls create their own images as they practise to be women; the necessity of claiming agency and autonomy if women are not to remain objectified and relative creatures.
We are so inured to the idea that feminists have no sense of humour that the laugh-out-loud moments in this essay may come as a shock to some, and Goldsworthy’s humour is so dry and so casually exercised in passing that some may miss it altogether. Her comment on the bizarre neologism ‘vajazzling’ is a brief, deft segue from jewellery to butchery:
In a 2010 appearance on Lopez Tonight, [actress Jennifer Love Hewitt] introduced her own baroque interpretation of the pudenda: ‘after a break-up, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady … Women should “vajazzle” their vajay-jays … It’s cute.’
Perhaps a cute vajay-jay is an improvement on a vajay-jay that dare not speak its name. Indeed, it may be empowering to turn one’s pubic region into a craft project …There are other craft projects that involve more drastic tools. Prompted by the cute genitalia of pornography, labiaplasty and the quest for the ‘designer vagina’ are also on the rise.
Goldsworthy covers a lot of material in a relatively small number of pages, skating across the broad national and international hinterland of the Gillard speech. She manages a number of untidily overlapping topics that have exercised feminists everywhere in recent years by structuring her essay like a piece of music, dividing it into sections, each of which introduces a new theme but also contains echoes and recollections of the earlier ones, opening the discussion out from linearity. Particular phrases, words and images recur throughout like Wagnerian leitmotifs, notably shame and vagina and I was offended and subjectivity and shut up you fat cunt or I will hurt you. Goldsworthy is a concert pianist and she writes the same way she plays, with a self-regulating combination of lightness and control, and the kind of fluidity that can make the observer forget that music is made out of notes and writing is made out of words, and instead simply follow the music of the unfolding arguments.
The Stalking of Julia Gillard, as its title would suggest, is a book with a thesis: it makes the case that Gillard was stalked by Kevin Rudd and his supporters, in the Labor Party and in the media, with the intention of restoring Rudd to the Prime Ministership. That is the proposition Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book seeks to demonstrate, and it does so by presenting an overwhelming amount of supporting evidence.
The book was dismissed by a number of critics when it appeared as being of no account because it was not ‘objective’: Walsh was condemned for mounting an argument and providing evidence – that is, for doing exactly what she had said she intended to do. To me, this response is a simple act of inadequate reading: a category mistake not only about the book’s aims but also about its genre. It was read and condemned by some as though it were claiming to be reportage or history; yet Walsh clearly defines, immediately and then repeatedly, the genre in which she is writing. The first sentence of her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book is ‘This is my contemporaneous diary of an extraordinary time in Australian politics – that of the Gillard Government from June 2011 to April 2013.’ Further down on the same page she writes: ‘So these are my personal observations.’ Over the page, it says once more: ‘This does not pretend to be a definitive account of her government. It’s an expanded personal diary of observations.’
What follows is a series of chapters structured like diary entries, covering the period from 15 June 2011 to 18 June 2013 and focusing on the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard as it was reported in the media and as it was, Walsh argues, systematically undermined by Kevin Rudd and his supporters in Parliament and in the press. Walsh leaves no doubt as to where her sympathies lie – ‘If ever the deck was stacked against someone, it was Gillard’ – but that does not invalidate the arguments of her book, which is crammed with direct quotations and verifiable facts that should leave any reasonable reader in no doubt as to the nature and purpose of Rudd’s campaign.
The Stalking of Julia Gillard, like Destroying the Joint, appears to have been written and published in haste to try to keep up with the speed of events as they unfolded; only eight days after the book went to press, Rudd finally mounted a successful challenge and got back the job he had always regarded as rightfully his. The book is written in the style of a shell-shocked friend on the telephone who has just witnessed some cumulative outrage at work, and is peppered with exasperation and exclamation. ‘Give us a break,’ she says, and ‘No surprises there,’ and ‘Silly me,’ and ‘Hah!’
The speed with which the book was produced shows in its repetitiveness as well as its conversational style. But the repetitiveness is there partly because Walsh wants to show how the same things kept happening over and over again: the same open partisanship of the Murdoch papers; the same Rudd-supporting journalists saying the same things about Gillard; the same persistent failures by the media to report anything of substance about the government’s policies and achievements and instead concentrating on contemptible ‘stories’ about Gillard’s appearance and engaging in constant, febrile speculation about the possible return of Rudd that eventually came to be referred to in some exasperated circles as ‘the leadershit’.
One of the surprises to me in this book is the evidence that Gillard was not the first, nor indeed the second, Labor leader whom Rudd had attempted to undermine and hoped to depose. But perhaps the most damning moment in the entire book is Walsh’s account of a particular day in Parliament, something that many people saw and heard for themselves. In June 2011, an exchange took place in Parliament between Rudd and his opposite number Julie Bishop that left little doubt in the minds of those who understood what was happening:
Opposition Foreign spokeswoman Julie Bishop rises to her feet and directs a question to Rudd about Australia’s diplomatic relations with East Timor, PNG and Malaysia … When Bishop winks at him and asks a supplementary question, inquiring when he’d be returning to Bougainville, he responds with deadpan delight: it is a most ‘sensitive’ issue that remains ‘contested territory’. It ‘must be brought to its proper conclusion,’ he states, his back straight, eyes wandering to the public and press galleries … The Opposition benches rock with glee at the obvious sub-text. Bishop’s question was no polite enquiry about Rudd’s travel plans: ‘Boganville’ is the former Prime Minister’s searing private put-down of The Lodge’s current inhabitants.
The then Minister for Foreign Affairs was apparently happy – indeed, eager – to be seen as publicly complicit with the Opposition in ridiculing his own Prime Minister in Parliament. As with the constant lampooning of Gillard’s unexceptional physical appearance, the ‘bogan’ insult seems to have little to do with reality, but when has that ever stopped a hate campaign?
Walsh is equally damning of her journalist colleagues, recording with growing disbelief the pro-Rudd and/or anti-Gillard op-eds and ‘news’ stories that talked up Rudd while predicting or demanding that Gillard was, or ought to be, about to step aside from the leadership; Walsh provides an Appendix cataloguing these predictions and demands, and it makes most of Australia’s political journalists look very silly. There is some intriguing material in this insider’s view of how political journalists operate and what is important to them. They live in a self-involved bubble, she says, acquiring news and views by talking to each other; they are perpetually terrified of somehow missing out on ‘the story’. It is a picture that goes some way toward explaining why, almost without exception, the Australian media tutted and frothed over Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ and carefully explained how and why it would do her political damage, unaware that most of the women in Australia and YouTube watchers all over the world were pumping their fists and cheering. Walsh is also surprisingly sympathetic to politicians and the torture that journalists put them through. When it comes to Australian political reporting during the Gillard years, she is unequivocally damning:
Over the last few years there have been serious reporting mistakes, gross errors of judgement, biased commentary and empowering of Team Rudd’s agenda … But while ministers are forced into abject mea culpas and apologies for mistakes, we in the fourth estate simply waltz on to the next project without apologising for our errors.
Some reviewers have regretted the fact that this book went to press before Gillard’s leadership ended. One or two have gone further and called this fact a major flaw, as though it were reasonable to criticise a book for not having been written and published later than it was. As it is, one feels that Walsh’s book was wrested away from her by publishers desperate to stick to a production schedule. But she hung on to the manuscript for long enough to be able to mention in her postscript the revelation, in mid-June, that a ‘charming menu at a Liberal fundraiser’ a few months earlier had featured an item it called ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box’. I know a number of women who were deeply distressed by this, but to me it suggested two things that made me feel better. Versions of this alleged joke have been around for twenty years, first surfacing in the US with reference to Hillary Clinton: these people can’t even make up their own jokes. And if this is an image of womanhood that disgusts them, then it is easy to deduce what sort of monstrous fantasy they must entertain by contrast as their own ideal woman, and where they got it from: it is Porn Site Barbie, with artificial melon breasts, liposuctioned racehorse legs, and the genitals of a little girl.
It has taken me several months to write this piece, partly because events have been moving so fast that whatever I had written went out of date on a daily basis. We are now two Prime Ministers on from where we were when I started. What began in May as a review of three books, while Gillard was still Prime Minister, has expanded to a review of five, and Gillard’s biographer Jacqueline Kent has since published a little Penguin Special called Take Your Best Shot: The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard. There have been several substantial essays and interviews published, including a long and insightful piece in The Monthly by Chloe Hooper. There was an extensive interview by Anne Summers published in her digital magazine Anne Summers Reports during what turned out to be Gillard’s final days as Prime Minister, followed a few months later by the extraordinary public conversations between Summers and Gillard held in Melbourne and Sydney on successive nights, three weeks after the Coalition won the election.
There has also been endless public discussion in the online comments threads of blogs and media sites, where several disturbing new myths have begun to emerge. One is that Gillard as Prime Minister ‘constantly attacked men’, which appears to refer to the misogyny speech: fifteen minutes out of three years, aimed not at ‘men’ but very specifically at Tony Abbott, and not for his gonads but for his hypocrisy in accusing anyone else of sexism and misogyny, as he had done in Parliament immediately before Gillard’s speech. Another is that anyone who has any kind of good word to say about her is guilty of ‘hagiography’, a word employed as a silencing tactic in much the same way as the accusations of ‘playing the gender card’.
A third and very pervasive strain of argument that runs through the op-ed pages as well as the comments threads is the notion that simply calling out sexist or misogynist behaviour when you see it constitutes an active, hateful attack on men in general, and deserves to be met with a hail of abuse. But any speech structured, as Gillard’s was, around a justifiable refrain that goes I was offended is not an act of aggression: it is an act of resistance. Chloe Hooper provides a brilliant but depressing insight into all this:
Politics is terrain where complexity or ambiguity doesn’t play well. If [Gillard] mentions sexism, she is playing the victim card, but not to say anything is to collaborate in its denial. … Talking openly about this abuse and calling it misogyny seems to feed the hatred. The more people are reminded of her gender, the more they resent it, and the denial of their own prejudice drives it in deeper.
But there is another reason it has taken me so long to write this. Reading and thinking about too much of this kind of stuff, if you are a woman, can leave you psychologically battered and prey to despair. When you read, take notes and meditate on five volumes of this testimony and evidence of masculine oppression, suppression, repression, stalking, humiliation and naked hatred of women, you can feel it doing you damage. Even – perhaps especially – with the best writing here, I have sometimes felt as though I were wading through a piranha-infested swamp of raw sewage. Often I had to simply stop and do something else, as was the case after I had read this paragraph in Goldsworthy’s Unfinished Business:
Wandering home through a university college one afternoon, I get stuck behind a group of young men, handballing a football back and forth.
‘What about the sandbox, when you fill her pussy up with sand!’
‘The best one is the donkey punch, uhuh uhuh uhuh. Smash the back of the bitch’s head while you’re doin’ it!’
There was one very bad week in mid-June, the Week of the Menu, when some new slur or outrage against Gillard or against women in general made the news almost every day, including the extraordinary moment when Perth radio shock jock Howard Sattler saw fit to ask the Prime Minister of Australia, on air, whether her partner was gay. And every thinking woman who sees and hears this sort of thing must ask herself how widespread it is, and to what extent this sort of deeply held contempt for women has, unbeknownst to her, affected her every foray into public life – or, indeed, private life. Such stories make all but the most unreflective women ask themselves: have any of the men I have loved or liked or worked with over the years ever talked or thought like this about women? And if they have, what does that mean for my life? At the Australian political blog Larvatus Prodeo, one female blogger and online commentator wrote:
the level of misogyny that flared during [Gillard’s] prime ministership was frightening to many of us who did not think it was quite that bad. What made it worse was that a lot of men missed, or dismissed it, or thought feminists were using it as an excuse … For us, it took a woman in power to let us know it was as bad as ever and it was a matter of despair. I remember the menu thing as one of my worst days as a woman.
Many women will have had the same response. But I think – I hope – that my own worst days as a woman were long ago, in the time before feminism had given me the words and concepts that made it possible to understand and name some of the ways in which, because I was a woman, my life as a citizen of the world was being limited, circumscribed and defined. Two of those words were ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’. They help to explain the female condition, but we now know that when women in power use them in public – even if, as with Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’, they are simply repeating words that a man has just used – they will have the skin sand-blasted off them in the next day’s news for ‘playing the gender card’, or ‘starting a gender war’. The irony here is that many of the commentators who reacted hysterically to Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ – and indeed all who try to silence women and shut down these debates: Shut up you fat cunt or I will hurt you – are those who defend most often and most fiercely the principle of free speech.
It is likely to be a long time before another woman has both the skills and the opportunity to make, from a position of such formal and visible power, the point that Julia Gillard made in the closing paragraphs of that speech:
the Leader of the Opposition [is] now looking at his watch because apparently a woman’s spoken too long. I’ve had him yell at me to shut up in the past, but I will take the remaining seconds of my speaking time to say to the Leader of the Opposition I think the best course for him is to … think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society, because we are entitled to a better standard than this.
Julia Gillard, Hansard – Parliament of Australia (9 October 2012, the Prime Minister at 14:42).
Jacqueline Kent, Take Your Best Shot: The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard (Penguin, 2013).