Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, was sacked by her party just months before the next election and replaced by Kevin Rudd, the man she ousted three years ago, after losing a ballot of MPs by a margin of 45 to 57.
The horror was not so much her leaving, Sarah Dunant wrote in the BBC website magazine, but the way in which during her three-year term leading a minority government, and despite delivering economic growth in a world recession, she has been subjected to a campaign of clear misogynist abuse.
Faced with accusations of “deliberate barrenness”, that her father had died of shame because of her, that her partner was gay (because who else could bear to live with her), she had also watched opposition leaders take photo opportunities with protesters whose banners read “Bitch” and “Witch”.
And finally there was that “joke” entry in a fundraiser menu: “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.”
The main source of ire towards Gillard appears to come from her decision not to have children.
“Anyone who has chosen to remain deliberately barren … they’ve got no idea about what life’s about,” said Senator Bill Hefferman in 2007.
Then last year, Mark Latham, the former Labour leader, said: “Having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime.
“And by definition you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice.
“She’s on the public record saying she made a deliberate choice not to have children to further her parliamentary career,” he said, and claimed she lacked empathy, adding: “I’ve also had some experience where around small children she was wooden. And I think the two go together.”
Last year, Tony Abbott, Gillard’s opponent, again referred to her personal life when talking about a government plan to stop a payment to new parents: “I think if the government was more experienced in this area they wouldn’t come out with glib lines like that.”
It was Abbott, of course, who was on the receiving end of Gillard’s powerful speech against misogyny last year, in which she ran through the sexist things he had said and done over the years, and which was described as a “defining moment” for feminism in Australia.
Gillard’s “misogyny” speech, as it has become known – a riveting piece of political rhetoric, delivered to the House of Representatives in 2012 – has been seen and appreciated by millions worldwide.
Her farewell speech was pretty impressive too.
Her successor in the Labour Party and as prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has announced the appointment of an unprecedented six new women to his 20-member cabinet and 11 women ministers out of the 30 on the front bench, up from 9 under Gillard.
Victoria senator Jacinta Collins enters the cabinet as minister for mental health, Catherine King will be minister for regional Australia and Julie Collins takes the portfolios of housing, homeless and the status of women.
But a women’s rights group has nonetheless accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of treachery – for his treatment of his predecessor.
The Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) placed full-page advertisements in four Australian newspapers praising Gillard’s achievements and slamming both the Labour and the Liberal parties for their actions over the past three years.
Somebody had to.
The statement says Rudd orchestrated a treacherous “seek-and-destroy” mission against Gillard, while Tony Abbott made opportunistic appeals to people’s prejudices.
It also accuses seasoned reporters of becoming players in an aggressive campaign of sexist and chauvinistic abuse and says that the mainstream media ‘failed to engage in dispassionate reporting’.
And it concludes by saying that ‘the truly ugly aspect of our national life revealed by the past three years should give cause for us all to reflect on what else is required to restore and maintain respect, civility, common decency and a fair go for women – in our society and in our democratic politics.’
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