There has been a lot of talk today about how it’s all well and good for Prime Minister Gillard to stand up in parliament and call out the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, for his hypocrisy about misogyny*, but many claim her own conduct/policies on other matters render her speech redundant.
While I agree, that Prime Minister Gillard (who I am no great fan of generally speaking) has a lot of work to do on issues like equal marriage rights, refugees, indigenous affairs, social support for single parents, and other issues, I think dismissing her speech yesterday undermines just how important the topic of misogyny from our political leaders is to the women of Australia. Indeed, the women of the world.
We as a nation have watched our first woman Prime Minister treated in a manner that no male politician would ever be be subjected to, both in parliament and in the media. We as a nation have heard the man who wants to lead our country, suggest that half of the population, women, are less adapted to exercise authority or to issue command. We have heard this man suggest time and time again that women are somehow inferior to men. Again, he is referring to half of the population of the country, whom he expects to vote for him to lead them. On a regular basis, this man and the politicians he leads have referred to any woman in the Labor party as “the handbag hit squad”. This is the man that said in an interview (therefore on the public record) “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…”
Misogyny and sexism are rife in daily life in Australia, and when the man holding the highest position in the political opposition in this country AND who expects the Australian people to vote for him to lead the country, makes statements like those Prime Minister Gillard quoted, and I have shared here, is it any wonder?
Prime Minister Gillard has a responsibility in her role, not only as the Prime Minister but as a woman in such a position of high rank, to represent the women of Australia. Yes, she represents all Australians, but being a woman herself, and being the example of a woman in public life and power, how she allows herself to be treated, reflects on how she allows all Australian women to be treated.
Yesterday, she stood up and said “Enough.” She stood up and spoke out against an issue that affects half of the population of her country directly, and the rest indirectly, whether they wish to admit it or not. This is not some trifling matter to be thrown away because other policies and positions she holds do not come up to standard. If you are a woman in this country, and you expect to be treated with basic respect as a human being, then the speech Prime Minister Gillard made yesterday should matter to you. It should be significant to you and to this country, regardless of whether or not you align yourself with the Labor party or Prime Minister Gillard herself.
Yes, we need to keep pressuring Prime Minister Gillard on other issues. We need to make it clear that there is still much work for her and the Labor party and indeed parliament to do to earn our votes and to successfully lead this country.
But we also must remember that in one regard at least, she has taken a significant stand for the women of Australia. In her words:
the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.
We are entitled to a better standard than this. All women, everywhere are entitled to a better standard than they are currently receiving, all over the world. And to that, I say thank you Prime Minister Gillard, for finally standing up on one of the most important issues facing Australian women, all women of the world, today.