By THOMAS HUKAHU
TWO weeks ago, I shared with you a speech made by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the importance of supporting education in these trying times where the pandemic is affecting all of us everywhere in the world.
Gillard made the speech to open a day’s session in an academic conference early this month and I was impressed and motivated by her address.
While checking on other stuff related to Gillard, I stumbled upon her misogyny and sexism speech which has become a phenomenon of its own.
In this article, we will look at Gillard’s speech and then reflect upon what she is saying.
What is misogyny?
Before we look at Gillard’s speech, let us get the term “misogyny” defined.
Even though it may sound new to you, I am sure you know people around you who can be labelled as “misogynists”.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, misogyny is defined as the hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women.
It is related to sexism, which is prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, and is applied to both sexes, not just aversion towards females.
Sexism is commonly used and is more open, by the way people talk and even their body language.
Misogyny is however more subtle and even when it is not exhibited openly by people, mostly males, it still lingers in their minds.
(We will get to that a bit later.)
Merriam-Webster also states that misogyny can be distinguished from the closely related word sexism … and also carries the meaning “behaviour, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex”.
Why did Gillard say what she said?
One more thing has to be mentioned here to give some context as to why Gillard, who was the prime minister then, was making this speech on misogyny and sexism.
In 2012, Opposition Leader (then) Tony Abbott had raised an issue about sexism and related issues in Parliament when Speaker Peter Slipper was investigated for a possible misuse case as well as a sexual harassment allegation which included certain text messages.
Slipper’s name was mentioned by Gillard in her speech.
At that time, Slipper was the member for Fisher, a division in Queensland.
Gillard speaking in 2012
Here is what Gillard said in her speech, particularly in directing her words at Abbott:
Thank you very much Deputy Speaker. And I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition, and in so doing I say to the Leader of the Opposition: I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not.
And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man — not now, not ever. The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office.
Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation, because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.
Let’s go through the opposition leader’s repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism. We are now supposed to take seriously that the Leader of the Opposition is offended by Mr Slipper’s text messages, when this is the Leader of the Opposition who has said, and this was when he was a minister under the last government – not when he was a student, not when he was in high school, when he was a minister under the last government.
He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being underrepresented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros, the Leader of the Opposition says: “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power, generally speaking, than women, is that a bad thing?”
And then a discussion ensues and another person being interviewed says, “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says: “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are, by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussions says, “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.” This is the man from whom we are supposed to take lectures about sexism.
And then, of course, it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition as minister for health said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004. I suggest you check the records.
I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said, “What the housewives of Australia need to do… what the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing …” Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia!
And then, of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny, of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself …” – something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.
I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch. I was offended by those things.
Misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition.
And now the Leader of the Opposition wants to be taken seriously. Apparently he’s woken up, after this track record and all of these statements, he’s woken up and he’s gone, “Oh dear, there’s this thing called sexism; oh my lord, there’s this thing called misogyny. Now who’s one of them? Oh, the Speaker must be because that suits my political purpose”… doesn’t turn a hair about any of his past statements, doesn’t walk into this parliament and apologise to the women of Australia, doesn’t walk into this parliament and apologise to me for the things that have come out of his mouth – but now seeks to use this as a battering ram against someone else.
Well this kind of hypocrisy should not be tolerated.
And then second, the Leader of the Opposition is always wonderful about walking into this parliament and giving me and others a lecture about what they should take responsibility for; always wonderful about that – everything that I should take responsibility for, now apparently including the text messages of the member for Fisher.
Always keen to say others should assume responsibility, particularly me. Well can anybody remind me if the Leader of the Opposition has taken any responsibility for the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals and the attendance at this event of members of his frontbench? Has he taken any responsibility for the conduct of members of his political party and members of his frontbench, who apparently when the most vile things were being said about my family raised no voice of objection.
No one walked out of the room, no one walked up to Mr Jones and said that this was not acceptable. Instead, of course, it was all viewed as good fun – until it was run in a Sunday newspaper, and then the Leader of the Opposition and others started ducking for cover.
Third, Deputy Speaker, why the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously on this motion. The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have come into this place and have talked about the member for Fisher.
Well let me remind the opposition, and the Leader of the Opposition particularly, about their track record and association with the member for Fisher.
I remind them that the National Party preselected the member for Fisher for the 1984 election, that the National Party preselected the member for Fisher for the 1987 election, that the Liberal Party preselected Mr. Fisher for the 1993 election, then for the 1996 election, then for the 1998 election, then for the 2001 election, then for the 2004 election, then for the 2007 election and then for the 2010 election.
And across many of those preselections Mr Slipper enjoyed the personal support of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that on the 28th of September 2010, following the last election campaign when Mr Slipper was elected as Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition at that stage said this, and I quote; he referred to the member for Maranoa, who was also elected to a position at the same time, and then went on as follows:
‘… and the member for Fisher will serve as a fine complement to the member for Scullin in the chair … I congratulate the member for Fisher, who has been a friend of mine for a very long time, who has served this parliament in many capacities with distinction …’
Reflecting Gillard’s words
I think Gillard’s message is clear.
(You can also view the video on YouTube to understand how serious the matter was to Gillard.)
Although Gillard directed her words at Abbott, many men listening to her would have learned something about misogyny and sexism.
Did you catch that part about Abbott standing beside a sign that had a bad comment?
Is that not a kind of thing that a man would do if he is politically fighting against a team led by a woman who happened to be ridiculed by a citizen’s sign?
But then that is wrong, right?
A woman politician is not a witch or bitch.
She is a representative of the people as much as her male colleagues are.
Think about it: Male politicians are never called sorcerers or dogs.
Do you realise that this is sexism and misogyny?
You are saying something about a member of the opposite gender but would not do the same for those of your own gender.
Isn’t that hypocritical too?
Final point: Be rational
If you have been in a meeting where a woman is always talking, what may be going through your mind?
Will you want her to talk less and let others participate too?
Before you make up your mind about that, think about her points.
Are they logical and rational?
If they are, then why should she stop talking?
I think that is a good way for us to judge whether we may be practising misogyny or sexism, or harbouring feelings of such, without being aware of it.
Sure, sometimes, some women talk too much.
But then some men talk too much too.
We have to be rational and fair.
At all times, we have to be rational to avoid leaning towards misogyny or sexism.
Next article: Learning from a master short story writer
- Thomas Hukahu is an Australia Awards student in Adelaide, South Australia.