When women criticise Gillard

Date

Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

View more articles from Alecia Simmonds

Eva Cox has broken ranks with 'the sisterhood'. Last Thursday the Women’s Electoral Lobby veteran was reported in The Australian as having said that feminists were branded as ‘traitors to the movement’ when they criticised Julia Gillard. We are unable to speak out about the catastrophic effect that Gillard’s single parents policy is having on single mothers because 'the sisterhood' has gagged us. Cox claims that because Gillard is the first female PM and because she has suffered ‘lots of comments about the physical stuff, which are completely irrelevant’ feminists are rushing to her defence rather than critiquing her policies.

It’s not the first time Eva has spoken out against the despotic reign of feminists. In fact, last year she bewailed our inability to criticise Gillard for fear of being labelled sexist and lamented that no-one had noticed how detrimental some of Gillard’s policies are for women.

Eva must think that feminists have a coherent set of beliefs that they all agree upon and which, in their omnipotent power, they enforce upon a subject population. This is a world where any dissenting voices are sent to the gulags.

The problem with Eva’s opinions on ‘traitors’ and ‘movements’ is that she offers no evidence for it. Cox inflates the power that feminists are able to wield both politically and socially, paints feminism as a hulking monolith rather than a political kaleidoscope, and actually silences the feminists who have been abundantly critical of Gillard’s policies. From Adele Horin to Jessie Cole on Daily Life, feminists have been more than capable of slamming Gillard’s single parents’ policy. And why stop there? Feminists have also criticised Gillard’s inhumane policy towards refugees, her backward view on gay marriage and her servility to global mining interests.

Put simply, we’re not stupid. If we only supported Gillard because she was a woman then surely we would also be applauding Julie Bishop. It’s actually quite possible to rush to the defence of Gillard when she is subjected to misogynistic hectoring like the Ditch the Witch placards or nauseating jokes about her physical appearance at the same time as rationally evaluating her policies.

To think that ‘the comments about the physical stuff are completely irrelevant’ to her position as PM is naïve. Gillard is attacked on the basis of her appearance in a manner that no male politician would ever have to endure. Why? Because we live in a culture that normalises the relationship between masculinity and power and which casts any powerful woman as an abject figure of disgust. She is someone who has transgressed her appropriate sphere and needs to be put back in her place. This is the task of the misogynistic cartoons and shockjocks that attack Gillard and it is the duty and delight of every feminist to defend her from it.

At a time when Gillard is being pummelled in the polls and Abbott is loping towards Kirribilli like a maniacal Neanderthal who has only just learned to use cutlery, I say it’s time we remembered how great Gillard has been on a number of key issues.

Firstly, Gillard did an excellent job supporting the equal pay case for community workers, who tend to be mostly women, and she is responsible for the historic National Disability Insurance Scheme. She has helped to ease the financial burden children pose to many families through offering 50% childcare rebates and she enacted legislation increasing paid parental leave. She had the courage to bring in the Carbon Tax, which has been acclaimed around the world, and she is overseeing a review of our education system that aspires to make it more equitable. These are all concrete policies that will make a real difference to people’s lives.

Secondly, Gillard made one of the finest parliamentary speeches of this century. Her misogyny speech must be one of the first times, globally, that the most powerful person of any country stood up and said that sexism is not to be tolerated. Speeches like this are not just symbolic. Like Keating’s ‘Redfern Speech’ or Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, these words have real world effects. They empower groups that are subject to discrimination to resist. Women are constantly told that they’re killjoys, feminazis or humourless if they call out sexism. We’re culturally educated to grin and bear it. Gillard gave millions of women and feminist men around the world the courage to stand up and say no. She put gender on the agenda. I still weep when I watch that speech.

Which is not to say that I’ll vote Labor. I never budge from The Greens. It’s simply to say that feminists are clever enough to be able to criticise or give credit to our politicians when either is due. At a time when anti-Gillard sentiment has reached fever pitch, it’s time to calmly remember her extraordinary legacy. And Eva, if there is a group of feminists out there so powerful that they can silence criticism of Gillard then take me to them. I want to join up.

24 comments

  • Of course women are not gagged from speaking against Gillard. If you look at the actual policies, the Liberal party's policies will make it easier for working women; not means testing childcare and possibly offering rebates on nannies.

    Commenter
    Maree
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 9:05AM
    • Maree, the LNP are only interested in helping rich, privileged women, and even then, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. Remember Tony Abbott, during the Howard years, saying that paid maternity leave would happen "over this government's dead body"?

      Make no mistake, the LNP have ONLY introduced a maternity leave policy because they realised, too late, how popular the Labor policy was. They tried to trump it by offering ridiculously over-generous amounts at the highest earning candidates, but why should a high-income earning woman expect to net $75,000 from the government in 6 months, when a low-income earning woman would only be entitled to a tiny fraction of that amount? Why should we be subsidising private nannies for the rich?

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 9:39AM
    • I think you will find some of the PM's achievement aren't such just yet. Both Gonski and NDIS are only plans, no funding or structure for them to work. The Carbon Tax is always going to be tarnished by the fact she and her Treasurer promised not to introduce it

      "Gillard made one of the finest parliamentary speeches of this century" I think you will find it is tarnish by the fact she has been criticised for using it to defend Peter Slipper.....

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 9:44AM
    • @Red Pony"We are unable to speak out about the catastrophic effect that Gillard’s single parents policy is having on single mothers because 'the sisterhood' has gagged us"

      I think you will find Red Pony, the Gillard Government just cut the benefiits of Lots of Single mothers.....This isn't about the LNP, it is the ALP's doing....... to save some money. The lack of criticism on this, particularly as it fell the same time as the PM's" misogyny" speech, is appalling

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 9:56AM
    • @ Carstendog

      Firstly, Gillard defended Peter Slipper's right to due process, and quite rightly.

      Secondly, please tell me what policies the LNP have provided to assist single parents? Interesting that the LNP now wish to champion the rights of the very group that they were happy to demonise and scapegoat all these years. Labor governments have provided paid maternity leave, childcare subsidies and rebates for school students... what have the LNP done except strip funding from public health and education, and encourage stigmatising policies like "work for the dole"?

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 10:25AM
    • @Red Pony Wealthy/professional women sacrifice significantly more financially in order to have children, so it is fair that they are compensated more. That is why childcare/nannies should simply be tax deductible, rather than giving ridiculous rebates to people who earn <80,000

      Commenter
      Maree
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 10:53AM
    • @redpony - PM Gillard was not defending the Slipper "process', she was defending him and his vote. In fact I am surprised still he only resign after MPs Windsor and Oakeshott counselled him too......

      As for your critique of the LNP, I think you will find the past 6 years the ALP has stripped funding from public health, single mothers, employment services...... not a record to be proud of.

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 10:58AM
    • The LNP are not interested in equal rights for women. Look how many (or few) female ministers there are in Campbell Newman's government. Considering that over half of the population is female, their representation in that particular government is appalling.

      Commenter
      H
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 12:01PM
    • Maree,

      Social welfare is supposed to be predicated on the idea of "From each according to his means, to each according to his needs". So the idea that wealthy women should get MORE money than poorer women is totally anachronistic.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 1:17PM
  • Where to begin?

    Eva Cox rightly called Gillard on the misogyny speech because it was a ruse and a distraction from the real political mess she created when taking on Peter Slipper as Speaker.

    Every PM since I can remember has been lambasted about their physical appearance but because Gillard is a female she is supposedly exempt, what a juvenile and sexist attitude.

    And this reference to Tony Abbott "a maniacal Neanderthal who has only just learned to use cutlery," That sounds like something a 15 year old would think is clever.

    " We’re culturally educated to grin and bear it." Really?

    As a woman in her late 50's this is a complete nonsense, we have been calling out sexism since I can remember and my mother before me. This may explain why so many of us mature aged feminists are so disappointed with Gillard's performance as PM.

    If there is one Australian women responsible for bringing sexism to the fore it is Germaine Greer who said "your only young once, but you can be immature forever." Think about it.

    Commenter
    Mayday
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 9:08AM

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