Jun 24, 2010

Prime Minister Gillard

There was a moment, around half past nine this morning, after Julia Gillard had been announced as the new Prime Minister of Australia, that my heart suddenly caught in my chest.

We have a female Prime Minister.

Now the fact that she wasn't leader at the time of a federal election doesn't make it an "illegitimate" appointment. Sure, the circumstances were extraordinary, complex, with more than a hint of sadness - but it doesn't mean Julia Gillard isn't any "less" of a leader. We're not America, we don't elect our leader specifically - we elect a party, and the party chooses its leader. QED.

Sure, it will be even better when a female is elected PM after a campaign. And while I'm not saying it's "the same", the last time my breath caught like that was when Barack Obama was elected US President. It's that thought of "Finally, this has happened here. Finally, things are starting to even out."

It's not an endorsement of Julia Gillard. I am very aware that she is a politician, and like all politicians, is capable and most likely skilled at the tricks and deceptions of the trade. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you can't be a prick. But for one moment, I felt the separation of the politics from the gender, and felt a breeze from a door opening.

Prime Minister Gillard is bound to face criticism. I would like to think this will be restricted to her policies, decisions and visions for the nation. The realist in me knows that talkback callers will focus on her funny-sounding voice, the fact she chose not to marry or have children, and probably her hairstyle for good measure. Best of luck to her in rising above what are likely to be harsher standards, at least to begin with.

And of course this appointment this doesn't mean magic pixies have fixed everything for women. Women will continue to be underpaid compared to men in similar positions. Women will continue to have to make hard choices when it comes to work/family balance. Women will continue to suffer dreadful abuse in many forms.

But all these things CAN change. And sometimes you need those big, bold changes to spark off a train of smaller, perhaps more meaningful changes. And criticising women just for being women is not going help in any way.

So to anyone reading - and particularly to women reading - HAVE that moment. One day soon it's going to be as normal as sunshine to have female Prime Ministers. But experience this moment, and remember it. Remember it, so you can look back on it and say "Oh, that's right. There used to be a time when women weren't Prime Ministers. How odd. Much like there was an earlier time when women weren't even allowed to vote. How... quaint."

Commiserations to Kevin Rudd, and congratulations to Julia Gillard. This didn't happen in an ideal way, but then, that's so often true of life, isn't it?


  1. 'The last time my breath caught like that was when Barack Obama was elected US President.'

    Yeah I get that. Regardless of the politics they stand for it's a massive 'moment in time'. And she's definitely the more palatable prospect between the Kruddbot and Archbishop Dicktogs.

  2. I reiterate my Twitter/Facebook post - why is there such a fuss over having the first female PM when technically speaking it is meant to be an equal opportunity for male and female persons to run for and enter politics, and therefore equal chance of having a female leader when it is voted on by the party as the best person for the job.

    I agree that yes we (women) have a small victory but it is bittersweet. The role was handed to her (there was no actual vote as Rudd just stood aside) and the people certainly didn't ask for it so what have we actually gained.

  3. Hey Lil Miss :)

    You're absolutely right - things SHOULD be equal between men and women. But we're coming from a long history of politics being a heavily male-dominated profession in Australia (even though we were one of the first countries to give women the vote). So while the ideal of equality may be there, the reality remains different. Yes, Julia has had the role "handed" to her - but think also she must be the best person for the job if she had the partyroom behind her so emphatically.

    Why it's a fuss is that it's never happened before. And now it's happened. And now that invisible divide is gone, and it becomes MORE about being the best person for the job than it ever did before. I believe that is definitely something we have gained, even though it may not be tangible.

    Whether we've gained something tangible or not will be something to determine in a few months/years time. :)

  4. why is there such a fuss? because it finally proves that it's not just lip service being paid to say that women "could" and changes the playing field to women "are".

    i, for one, feel a sense of jingoistic swelling in my chest, as i hear her speak as our new, soon to be sworn in by the governor-general, leader.

    the fiend
    but, then again, i feel that way about meat pies, after i've been out of the country, for awhile...

  5. Just found this article on the New Matilda which looks at Gillard's rise from a party political perspective:


    I personally think it's a touch patronising - yes there are powerful factions in Labor but I think Gillard is clever enough to use them as much as they might want to use her. I hope that she will act as her own counsel, and I don't believe that being "handed" leadership will make her soft and malleable to the Labor Right.

  6. Also, I'm sure blokes have been "handed" leadership positions by factional rivals in the past - so if anything, it's equal rights even more. :)

  7. I know how that moment feels--when Obama was elected I bawled my eyes out--when you experience something you didn't really believe you would see in your lifetime, you have hope.

    Don't let anybody take that feeling away from you--they can argue all they want but she is the first female PM regardless and that's an historic moment.

    Enjoy it.

  8. I look forward to the way-in-the-future swearing in of our first indigenous Prime Minister... now THAT will be a major mile-stone for our country.

  9. Ok.. I just got all teary at the swearing in of Julia Gillard as our nation's Prime Minister. This has never happened to me before. And I'm not a Labor supporter. To my great surprise, I think it is due to the fact that she's a women. I don't usually sway in the breeze of feminism, but I feel proud.

  10. I heard the news in the car with my young daughter in the back seat. I did tell her we had our first female Prime Minister, and I smiled.

    I'm so glad for her, it will be something she can take for granted that a woman can lead this country.

  11. Have to agree with the Wah on his comment.

    As for Julia she is a skilled pollie and she is a better bet than any of the other front benchers. Just a shame Swan is Deputy PM...

    I'm just sitting smug as I always preferred Julia to Kevin, and said he'd never last past the first term.

  12. Personally it didn't phase me when Obama was elected, I knew the American people would prefer an afro-american leading them than a woman but that's just me.

    I can see it is a way forward, we have a female leader and therefore people may (or may not depending on how she goes) want to elect more female politicians in the future but the last time we had a gung ho female pollie they destroyed her (Natasha Stott-Despoya).

    One can only imagine since Abbott cannot face JulieG, if he will step aside and let Ms Bishop lead the Liberals for some girl-on-girl action...

  13. I've been a supporter of Gillard for a while and though we elect a party and not its leader it is likely going to be the most interesting debate - so forgive the brain dump that will ensure here.

    We rejected (an I use the *pun royal we, as I did not vote in the referendum) republicanism on the grounds we wanted to choose our leader.

    I think it is pre-emptive to think we have achieved equality in politics based on this appointment.

    Campaigns are run to vote for the prime-minister and campaigns are appropriated money for constituent members but the federal campaign, particularly the last, was on the election of kevin rudd as leader.

    However Gillard won the election in many ways in her outstanding performance in parliament and in the press a propos to the defeat of work choices - and I believe that people voted in that election as much for that policy as they did for the idea of kevin rudd as a prime minister. So it is unfair for critics to say she has been completely without election.

    It is interesting the contradictions of antifactionalism from Krudd when it was Gillard's dynamic relationship with the factions that overwhelmed and deposed Beazley - a huge victory over the AWU faction that they had not forgotten - that once again favoured Gillard due to the limitless antipathy of ALP machinists for Rudd.

    However, the victory is for factions today - and the factions did us the favour of an historical day - but I am so uneasy about factions and numbers counting - i think their ecision had very little to do with making social change -a and I think to be proud and reference history we have to look at the intent of the decision and the conduct of those who elected amongst themselves, julia gillard.

    I remember the outrage and the threatened resignations from rank and file members over kevin rudd's succession as opposition leader - he was and is one of the least liked figures from within the labor party and her ascendency has more to do with this, as far as their intent is to be estimated.

    So is this victory for women or for the factions - or both. Does one belittle the other?/ it will be the most debated question. AS the factions and party brokers are still men, and still rather divorced from their party's platforms of progressive policy change to a more progressive society which embrace women's issues.

    I think she has always been a pioneer for women in politics from her work with EMILY's list - and her election today will need to endure a test on whose victory it was today - and we'll have to wait to judge whether the country has changed with the momentous appointment

    It is unfortunate that her appointment comes from one of the most brutally savage days in politics. Kevin Rudd's speech was excruciating to witness - his demise by factionalism was not completely unexpected but in his first term at the first attempt - it does mar the appointment slightly.

    This comment is out of control. Please forgive my stream of consciousness.

  14. I felt exactly the same this morning. Last night, I was sure it would never happen, but then it did and my heart skipped a beat. Already, judging by comments I have been reading on forums and facebook, her harshest critics are proving to be mostly women. On the parenting forums they don't like her because she is not a mother and she is not married. In general, they don't like her because of the way she got the leadership and therefore the top job. There are others (interestingly, the older ones, ie. Gen X and earlier) who like myself are a little bit excited to see a female PM. I have always admired Julia Gillard and I especially admired the way she conducted herself at her press conference. I feel a renewed confidence in the labour party now.

  15. As always - thanks for your comments guys!

    I do think Julia Gillard has conducted herself in a very "statesman-like" manner in her first 24 or so hours in the job.

    Her interview with Kerry O'Brien on the 7:30 Report last night was confident, relaxed and even a touch cheeky. I didn't see her earlier ones one the commercial channels.

    She's held another strong media conference this morning - even though she did look a little on the tired side, I daresay that's excusable at this point. :)

    As for factions vs feminism - well. Perhaps we will have to wait and see if they try to strongarm her, or if she's able to capitalise quickly on public opinion and have both on her side.

  16. I couldn't give a hoot who our PM is. Every politician in this country is the same, whatever their gender/race/religion.

    I have read that less than half of our voting public ticked the Liberal/Labor boxes on their ballot papers. (The preference system is what keeps it a two horse race.) I am far too disillusioned by this fact to care which thieving, backstabbing liar managed to climb to the top of the steaming dung heap that is federal politics.

    Your vote counts, people. It counts for exactly nothing.

  17. I have mixed thoughts on this. It was definitely a very exciting 24 hours which I enjoyed watching evolve, particularly with the 3D effect Twitter gives these events. I'm not sure I like what happened. I'm not sure I like the fact that the power is really in the backroom behind the party we vote for. I'm not sure I liked seeing our Prime Minister treated so poorly. I'm certainly not a fan of Mr Rudd, but felt so very sad for him. I'm also not a fan of Mr Abbott and think the Ms Gillard is probably the best person for the job (out of the 3 we have to choose from). I am sure I liked that a woman was chosen - no the public did not vote for her - but the faction leaders (who incidentally are all men) chose her. That is a sign of the times, and a very good sign I say.

  18. While a part of me feels elation of having a female Prime-Minister a larger part of my elation is that we have an openly Atheistic Prime-Minister. both of these things used to be a sure fire way of being kept down in Australian politics. While it may be a small victory because she wasn't elected it is a victory nonetheless and one that we should revel in.

  19. Can someone point me to a reputable site that says Julia Gillard is an atheist? I can only find she is a lapsed Baptist and considers herself non-religious

  20. It would seem that the religious right is going to be sad that the Rudd Sunday morning, go to Church, doorstep press conferences have come to an end. It was just another example of doing what might be considered electorate pleasing
    We are now in day two of the Gillard era and, so far, she is going extremely well. The beauty of all this is, leaving aside the 4% improvement in the polls, the factions would be very wary of pulling another, to coin a recent coalition phrase "midnight assassination" in the next couple of years.
    To cap it all Julia has said that she will not move into the Lodge until she is popularly elected. If that doesn't give her another 1% I will be very surprised
    The Ancient Man