Julia Gillard’s Historic Speech

Yesterday the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, gave a stirring, passionate and inspiring speech about misogyny and sexism in the Australian parliament and in particular the misogyny and sexism of the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott:

It is the best speech I have ever seen her give. I was moved and thrilled and proud that she is my prime minister.

The video quickly went viral. It was given a serious boost by places like Jezebel and the New Yorker.

Meanwhile in Australia the coverage was oh-so-very different. Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, for example, labelled it a disappointment. The wonderful Failed Estate blog sums up the local mainstream media coverage:

In this case, a passionate and thrilling speech by a prime minister about sexism and the low-level tactics of a political opposition leader beyond cynicism attracted world attention. But our gallery are too clever to see that.

They instead took the bait fed to them by the spin doctors on the other side of politics, that there was some moral equivalence between the private text messages sent by the speaker (when he was still a member of the opposition BTW) and the overwhelming climate of personal denigration and misogyny created by the Opposition leader and the tabloid flying monkeys that cheer him on.

The public can see this, obviously the global media can see it. But a press gallery that spends more time getting “briefed” by spinners and reading each other’s copy completely misses the story. Again.

This is a perfect description of Michelle Grattan’s discussion of the speech on Radio National this morning. Almost none of the mainstream pundits seem to have noticed how historic and important this speech is. Well done.

A few have also dismissed this incredibly important speech because on the same day Gillard’s government introduced a bill that will lower payments to single parents. And because Gillard does not support marriage equality.

Seriously? Because you don’t like some of Gillard’s government’s policies nothing she says is of value? Wow.

For the record I’m 100% in favour of marriage equality and I think it’s outrageous that the Labor party is moving to lower the single parent benefit rather than raising it.1

But neither those issues, nor the disgusting behaviour of Peter Slipper, nor any other local political issues can tarnish Gillard’s speech. It is historic and has gone global because Julia Gillard shone a light on just how disgusting the treatment of women in public life is. Just how gross the double standard. People who have barely heard of Australia, let alone our prime minister, have stood up and cheered.

Why? Because what she’s addressing is universal. Women in public life all over the world have suffered exactly the same misogynistic, sexist crap that she has. You don’t have to know any of the particular details that led to this speech to recognise exactly what she’s talking about.

It is a speech that could have been given by any woman in public life. No matter what her politics. Amanda Vanstone could have given that speech. Margaret Thatcher could have given it. Gina Rinehart. Hillary Clinton. They are all women who’ve been pilloried, insulted, and subject to absolutely vile slurs solely because they are women.

But are they allowed to discuss the sexism and misogyny levelled at them throughout their careers? Not unless they want to cop even more of it. Today Gillard is being called “shrill” and “hysterical” for that speech.2 Despite the fact that she was neither. Despite the fact that what she said is absolutely true.

Note: Yes, I’ve been blogging a bit less. Sorry. Acquired a new injury. Joy. And rewrite of book not finished yet. And like that.

  1. I’m also pissed with Labor about the carbon tax: it does not go far enough and probably won’t lower our carbon emissions; not spending enough money on green technologies; continuing to subsidise the coal industry; the intervention in the Northern Territory; their disgusting asylum seeker policies etc. etc. []
  2. And of playing the “gender card”. Whatever that is. []


  1. Kat Kennedy on #

    Bravo. There is something significantly wrong with the pundits and the Australian media. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Abbott? That his very public comments in his very public role have been called into question? Considering the gross, sexist and debasing things he has said about Gillard?

    Give me a break!

    It was a powerful, amazing, historic speech. It kicked ASS.

  2. Andrea on #

    It’s amazing the power local media has. When every outlook is shrieking negativity and never reporting on the failures, people who don’t vary their reading sources are quickly convinced, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, that we’re suffering under a bad government.

    And frankly, I wish every article on the “carbon tax” was required to replace the phrase with “method to SAVE THE PLANET recommended by the vast majority of economists and scientists”.

  3. Justine on #

    Kat Kennedy: YES, IT DID!

    I’m both shocked at the response of our local media and also not surprised at all. I have no idea now what will ever wake them up. It’s beyond depressing. But the speech was not.

    Andrea: I know. The coverage of the Gillard government has just been jaw dropping. You’d never know that our economy is one of the best in the world.

    Though, I am less than enamoured with our version of the carbon tax, but that’s because the amount of breaks for the coal industry etc render it useless from the get go. A proper carbon tax without all those breaks? That would be just fine.

  4. yy on #

    It was a truly awesome speech. I loved the way she came across as strong and kickass but still classy–way classier than other politicians get when they ‘go negative’. I can’t believe the Aussie press is being so negative about it!

    It is nothing new but all the same, hugely depressing every time it happens again–when a man does it, he’s ‘forceful’, ‘powerful’ etc, and when a woman does it she’s ‘hysterical’, ’emotional’, ‘shrill’. What really makes it more galling is that there is just no way to fight it, because any defense, however reasoned or calm, will just be seen as ‘more hysterical arguing’

  5. Justine on #

    yy: All so true and so depressing.

    Sexism, we live in it.

  6. Jonathan Shaw on #

    Well said, Justine. I was surprised at the ABC’s failure to report the speech adequately last night, and then amazed at the weird versi0on given by the Herald this morning. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s letters page, and not just in the hope of seeing my own letter.

  7. Justine on #

    Jonathan Shaw: I know! The coverage here has been utterly surreal. It’s like the Canberra journos are living on a different planet.

    This article by Anne Summers and this one by Tim Dunlop, both on The Drum, have some interesting theories on the crazy disconnect between what we all saw in that speech and how the mainstream media here reported it.

  8. Jonathon Side on #

    I always thought the cards thing was about people trying to turn a situation into a discrimination issue when it’s not.

    Doesn’t sound like what Gillard did. I thought she objected to being lectured on moral behaviour by Abbott.

  9. Dot Hutchison on #

    Any girl or woman who’s ever been in a position of authority over males- whethere in a political sense, or in a business arena, or even just a school project- sat up and watched that speech yesterday and knew it for a Universal Truth. We don’t have to accept the double standard being pushed on us. Women all over the world took notice of that. And yet, watching the video, as you see the intent focus being given by the other women in the room, you also see the men looking bored and baffled, and that’s heartbreaking.

  10. Sean the Bookonaut on #

    The mainstream media’s response to that speech is why I don’t actually watch TV news nor read newspapers.

  11. leah laurenson on #

    I was overjoyed to hear her speech. What a fantastic speaker. Why is the Australian media so biased against her! I lived in Australia 15 yrs and was always amazed at the outright sexism in the media there. Women have put up with crap afraid to speak up but maybe now things can change? I know sexism exists in Canada but not the outright hateful variety in Australia that not even the PM can escape.

  12. Nigel on #

    Unfortunately, sexism (and racism) are so ingrained in Australia that most people don’t even realise that they are sexist/racist. They just think its normal.

    The simple reality is that, of guys I know who have expressed an opinion, the overwhelming reason stated for why they don’t like Julia Gillard is simply that she is a woman, and they don’t think a woman is up to running anything, let alone the government.

    But I don’t expect sense from local commentators. It’s not so much an issue of bias, IMO, but simply that there’s too much focus on the political performance and not enough on policy and governance.

  13. Nigel on #

    For the record, I think Julia has been a very good PM, who unfortunately hasn’t been so successful at the politicking. I shudder at the thought of Kevin Rudd being PM or leader of the opposition. I don’t know why he’s so popular. He’s all talk and no substance/action. An absolute gasbag.

    As to Tony Abbott, the prospect of him being PM makes me shudder. By contrast, I wouldn’t mind too much if Malcolm Turnbull was the next PM. But I think that’s probably quite unlikely.

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