Julia Gillard holds the highest elected office in the country. Her rise to power was controversial, yes. To retain the Prime Ministership she was forced to break a promise, like many, many politicians before her (John Howard’s “Never ever” in relation to a GST springs to mind) and since then has been subjected to constant vitriol at the hands of the media, the Opposition and even the public.
To sum up the disrespect and gender based discrimination PM Gillard has been subjected to during her term, I highly recommend you read this speech, written by Dr Anne Summers. In it she discusses the treatment the PM has received, from being constantly referred to by her first name in national papers, to emails of crude, offensive caricatures of her being circulated through parliament, apparently with no recourse.
I can’t even scan through my own Facebook newsfeed without seeing hateful, sexist memes and commentary about PM Gillard. Otherwise reasonable people, swept up in the vitriol normalised in our media, joining hate groups online, sharing images and slogans criticising the PM on everything from the colour of her hair, marital status and choice not to have children to her gender. Her policies and actions are, for some reason, seen as secondary to these things.
The latest icing on this very nasty cake comes in the form of a menu from a Liberal fundraiser in Brisbane:
When I saw this, I was sure it must be a hoax, another silly meme put together by some sexist Facebook page owner in a vulgar attempt at humour. But no, it would seem, this was a legitimate menu. This was initially confirmed by (and apologised for) Mal Brough. He claimed the menu was written by a non-party member and was intended as humour. But he apparently allowed it to go ahead. Oh, no, that’s right, he doesn’t recall it. Neither does the guest of honour at the small function, Joe Hockey. Convenient much? Since this story hit the news, the restaurant owner Joe Richards claimed he made the menu as a joke and did not distribute it amongst the guests. The convenience grows. Finance Minister Penny Wong and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek have both made similar observations.
I’m going to go all out here and call bullshit. I think this menu was most likely handed out and laughed over and now that there is hell to pay for it, these politicians are kindly letting the restauranteur take the fall.
I don’t believe Mal Brough has “forgotten” seeing it. Why would he apologise for it if he didn’t see it, didn’t endorse it? I have my doubts as to whether or not Joe Hockey has also “forgotten” seeing it. The fact that Brough apologised- then claimed he hadn’t seen it, is very telling. I think he knows just how sexist, offensive and disgusting this “joke” really is, and now that it has resurfaced, he’s doing his level best to swim in the opposite direction.
Despite condemning the menu, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has come out in defense of Mal Brough. His attitude, despite Brough’s confusing behaviour (“Yes, it was a deeply offensive menu that I apologise for although it had nothing to do with me and I never saw it”-paraphrased, but you get the idea) is now to more or less tell us to move on, to get over it. “Yes, yes it was awful and tacky, but it wasn’t us so lets talk about something else.” (Again, paraphrasing.)
Now would have been a fine time for Tony Abbott to do more than pay lip service- he could have used the opportunity to speak out against sexism, to take swift and decisive action to show that this sort of misogyny was unacceptable.
Take note, Liberal voters- this is the sort of attitude that is endorsed by the Liberal Party. Actions speak much louder than words. Instead of taking action, Tony Abbott is instead mouthing empty words, and doing nothing.
If you’ve read Dr Anne Summers’ speech linked above, you know about the systemic sexist discrimination the Prime Minister has been enduring for quite some time now, and I personally was never more proud of her for standing up in parliament and giving her now famous speech refusing to take the lectures misogyny dished out to her by the opposition leader. In light of this atrocious menu, it’s worth watching again.
If you don’t like Julia Gillard, ask yourself- Is it because she is a woman? Is it because her hair is red? Is it because she chose not to have kids or get married? Is it because she’s not religious? If you answered yes to any of these, then ask yourself how any of these things have any bearing on her ability, intelligence or policy. We live in a secular democracy where women are supposed to be equal to men.
Politicians are not beyond criticism and PM Gillard is no exception- but the criticism should be based on her policies, her political actions. Not her gender. We should be concerned with her party’s agenda and plans for the future, not her hairstyle. We should be discussing her campaign, not her personal relationships and lifestyle choices. I am heartily sick of seeing her vilified and persecuted for all these things because, when we come to the root of the issue, it all comes down to her gender. I never once saw John Howard’s hairdo discussed in a magazine. There was never any questioning of Kevin Rudd’s decision to marry and have children. And I’m yet to see a Labor function menu making obscene references to Tony Abbott’s penis.
In short, Julia Gillard is a human being. She is someone’s partner, friend and family member. How would you feel, if your daughter, friend or partner was subjected to the same level of gender based persecution and disrespect that she is? I don’t agree with her every stance and policy but I do have tremendous respect for her. She is an intelligent and capable person doing her best at a very hard job while enduring appalling treatment. In her place, I don’t think I could cope. She’s a stronger woman than I am.