Prime Minister Julia Gillard is interviewed for Daily Life in her Parliament House suite in Canberra on 30 November 2012. Photo: Andrew Meares
She had done a little bit of preparation. She is a former lawyer, after all, and knows the importance of briefings. She had compiled a dossier of key Tony Abbott quotes she thought were ‘‘objectionable’’. She had dashed them off as Abbott himself was speaking.
But the sense of righteous anger Julia Gillard brought to Parliament the day she delivered her now-famous tirade against misogyny - that was something she had been working up to for a while.
‘‘I could not, I could not take the hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition trying to talk about sexism,’’ the Prime Minister says. ‘‘I was not going to sit silent.’’
The Most Influential Female Voices
1. Julia Gillard: Our first female Prime Minister had kept silent on sexism directed at her and entrenched in Australian politics since her election but when she finally spoke it wasn’t just Australia, but the world, that stopped and listened. For many of the thousands of women who nominated her she is an inspiration . Throughout a difficult and turbulent year she has taught many of us an important lesson in how to stand up to sexism. It’s not an understatement to call her misogyny speech a watershed moment for women in this country. Photo: Andrew Meares
The result became the year’s most dramatic political moment and an inspiration to the overwhelming majority of Daily Life readers, who voted Gillard 2012’s Most Influential Australian Female Voice.
For many women, it wasn’t really about Abbott.
As Gillard drawled out those memorable words ‘‘I will not be lectured ...’’ the object of her anger faded away. He became a symbol, and the speech itself took on its own symbolism.
Speaking to Daily Life in her parliamentary office, Gillard is friendly and vital, despite the bruising year she has had. She looks fresh in a white jacket with black piping and simple pearl-drop earrings. The bling is her own but she does receive jewellery from women around Australia, as well as scarves, flowers and notes.
‘‘They want me to know they have been thinking about me and how supportive they are of me and of having a woman in this job,’’ she says.
Gillard had no sense of the impact of the speech after she gave it, she says. It was up to the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, to spot the zeitgeist.
‘‘I thought I had given a hard-hitting speech but I didn’t have any inkling of the effect of it.”
Afterwards, she swung her chair around to Wayne Swan for a chat.
‘‘I said to Wayne, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to sit here now and listen to all these bloody speeches in reply. I should get my chief of staff to bring some correspondence so at least I can be getting on with something.
‘‘And Wayne, with a slightly odd look on his face, and he is not someone known for the most demonstrative facial expressions, said, ‘Yeaaah, you can’t really give the ‘I accuse’ speech and settle back and do your correspondence.’ ’’
Swan was right.
‘‘I swung my chair back to face the Opposition and I thought about it and thought, ‘Yeah, that must have been harder hitting than I thought, to react that way.’ ’’
Her office was ‘‘abuzz’’ when she walked back after the parliamentary session. Her girlfriends texted ‘‘Way to go!’’ messages and the enormous social media response began almost immediately.
With every surge in support comes a backlash. Soon we heard that while Gillard may have touched a chord with women, she had a problem with men. She was accused of ‘‘playing the sexism card’’ and acting the victim, a charge Gillard dismisses as ‘‘absurd’’.
‘‘I give as good as I get. I am not precious about criticisms but I am also not going to pretend when those criticisms are sexist that they something other than sexist.’’
She also takes issue with the ‘‘intellectual slip’’ that a woman standing up for herself equates to playing the victim.
‘‘How do you get yourself there?’’ she asks.
‘‘Does that mean that people shouldn’t stand up for their rights and [instead] just ... be there silent?’’
The speech was historic, but Gillard knows it won’t be front of mind for most voters when they enter polling booths next year.
‘‘They’ll judge the policies. They’ll judge me.’’
Yes, they will. They’ve already spent much of the year doing that. They’ve judged her policies and her leadership, as they should. They’ve judged her on her often-robotic communication style; on her allegedly flexible relationship with the truth. But they’ve also judged her on what she wears and how she looks when she’s wearing it. They’ve judged her on the tumbles she has taken in her high heels, on the size of her earlobes and the size of, well, we all know what Germaine Greer said.
That’s a lot of judgment for one woman.
‘‘I am able to compartmentalise it,’’ Gillard says of the criticism.
‘‘I draw a very hard line in my mind between the public hurly-burly and my sense of myself and who I am and I don’t let that public hurly-burly affect my sense of self and who I am.
‘‘And also criticism most hurts when it comes from people you respect.’’
Her partner Tim Mathieson gives her a sense of ‘‘normality and distance’’, she says.
They don’t discuss the minutiae of every work day but Mathieson follows politics very closely, and feels the attacks on Gillard’s character more keenly than she feels them herself.
‘‘Sometimes we have a discussion about whether he’s watching it too closely, in the sense that he’s more at risk; that it emotionally affects him [more] than it emotionally affects me.
‘‘I think that’s partly because the people who care about you are more ferocious in your defence, more ferocious in their emotional reaction than you are for yourself.
‘‘Often he’ll feel more hurt or agitated than I will.’’
When asked about her inner toughness, Gillard says that since childhood she has been ‘‘calm’’ and ‘‘even tempered’’.
‘‘I have always had a very strong sense of myself and not had that easily pushed and pulled by the views of others,’’ she says.
‘‘And I suspect being able to get a sense of remove on [politics] is a bit like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets.’’
If the Prime Minister had a day off and was able to grab a group of girlfriends for lunch and a bottle of wine, she would head to a waterfront restaurant, she says, ‘‘on a balmy but not too hot day’’, on account of the peaches-and-cream Prime Ministerial complexion, so easily sunburnt.
Gillard would take her best ‘‘long-term mates’’, her sister Alison, Hillary Clinton (‘‘a fascinating person and a great discussion’’), Cate Blanchett for the Hollywood gossip she could supply, and some of the ‘‘wise ones’’, Labor women such as former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner and feminist Anne Summers.
Asked what advice she would give to a woman who wants to cultivate her own inner toughness, Gillard doesn’t pause.
‘‘What I’d say is it’s only that woman who truly knows who she is and she should keep very strongly that sense of self,’’ she says.
‘‘You don’t have to let others define you.’’
Read a full transcript of Jacqueline Maley's chat with the Prime Minister here.