Whilst the Canberra press gallery and broader Australian media mindlessly waste ink and data postulating who “won” Tuesday’s political tussle, I’d suggest the only winner was politics itself.
What about Julia Gillard’s rousing speech effectively obliterating Tony Abbott in his chair with clear examples of his sexism and potential misogyny? That was no watershed feminist moment in Australian politics. It was an opportune time to score a big political point. No one likes a hypocrite so what better time to speak out than when Abbott cries sexist?
There have been a litany of moments in Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership when she has effectively chosen to ignore Abbott’s overt displays of, and complicity with, sexism towards herself and Australian women in general. By expressing her unquestionably genuine offense now, only when her reputation and minority government is at stake, gives off hints of opportunism and sends the wrong message.
It signals to all Australians that calling out sexist remarks towards women is the last resort and socially unacceptable or god forbid, a bit awkward. “You’ve got to toughen up and move on, that’s just how it is. We’ll respect you more if you don’t complain and just take it on the chin”, right? Wrong. But that social fallacy is what keeps many people silent against gender discrimination.
If the woman who holds the highest office in this country won’t or feels she can’t speak out against the extreme sexism directed at her until nearly 2 years into her tenure and only when it’s related to the credibility of a parliamentary motion against the Speaker, how can other less powerful women do the same and with confidence?
In isolation, Prime Minister Gillard’s speech is a progressive light for Australian women and should be applauded, in reality the message, muddied by context and implicit political associations, changes nothing. It’s all just a load of politics.