Gillard's win a loss for feminists

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Julia GillardFeminists the length and breadth of Australia are celebrating the ascension of Julia Gillard to the country's highest state of office. The extraordinary recent events in the nation's capital have produced a result that constitutes 'the realisation of a feminist dream', says Caroline Overington, a columnist at The Australian.

'Plenty of women, married and single, with and without children, working or at home, sat in front of TV sets [on Thursday] morning, and watched this unfold with our daughters on our laps. We texted each other, saying: "Woo-Hoo!" and "Yee-ha!"' she writes.

The online feminist forum The Dawn Chorus said that, while it would be nice for Australia's first female PM to have been voted in by the public rather than a secretive party ballot, it is nonetheless 'thrilled and moved that our first female PM will be sworn in by our first female Governor General, no matter how it happened'.

And the new prime minister's biographer, Christine Wallace, said on Radio National that Gillard's willingness to unsheathe the sword and wrench the job into her own hands is a really positive development.

Indeed, there is an undeniably pleasant frisson that runs through the blood when one considers that Australia has finally caught up with countries like Pakistan, India, Chile, Liberia, New Zealand, Ireland and, of course, Britain, where Margaret Thatcher was elected to the top job more than 30 years ago.

But does Gillard's succession represent a win for all Australian women, or are feminists hijacking a tired and outdated bandwagon in an era when women are already well-represented in politics? Would feminists be as congratulatory if Kevin Rudd's public humiliation was caused by another man? If he was throttled at the polls by Tony Abbott?

In claiming the ousting of Kevin Rudd as a win for their cause, feminists have evinced an unfortunate kneejerk reaction, nailing their colours to a mast which smacks not of liberation and transparency — values beloved of feminists — but rather of intense faction fighting, union-led pressure and a whole lot of secrecy.

For those who had gone to bed early on Wednesday night, the news early on Thursday morning of Gillard's prime ministerial challenge would have come as a shock, not least when they reflected on her apparent loyalty and sincere assertion in the preceding months that she would not be seeking the top job in the near future.

The flippantly joyous response implies that all feminists — indeed, all women — should blindly support the incumbent, not because they agree with her political ideologies or believe she brings valuable skills to the job, but because she is a woman.

It's an attitude that is as mired in the past as the very notion that women can't lead their countries. It singles women out as a group deserving of special rather than equal treatment; to whom the rules don't apply because they haven't yet been given the chance to play the game.

And, perhaps most damningly, it fails to acknowledge the gains that Rudd's government brought about for women everywhere: the introduction of a paid parental leave scheme, the implementation of National Employment Standards which provide for flexible working arrangements for the parents of young children, the appointment of strong women to key positions.

Those same daughters who sat in their mothers' laps on Thursday morning as they texted 'whoo-hoo' and 'yee-haa' to their friends will in all likelihood still be the beneficiaries of Rudd's policies and actions way down the track, not least his swift arrest of the effect on Australia of the global economic meltdown. The daughters of Indigenous people will grow up with the word 'sorry' ringing in their ears, and little girls from war-torn countries will be grateful for the relatively compassionate treatment they received under Rudd's asylum policies.

If feminism is the incidental beneficiary of Kevin Rudd's downfall, then it is a hollow one indeed, besmirched by the ugly cut-and-thrust of politics and made all the more disheartening by the gaps that still remain. 'It would be wonderful if we didn't need to draw attention to the fact that Julia Gillard is a woman', said Dr Lauren Rosewarne, an expert in feminist politics at the University of Melbourne. 'The fact that we have to talk about her being the first female PM reminds us how far we have left to come.'

Rather than adding gloss to the cause of women, the sorry saga of Kevin Rudd's eviction should strike fear into the hearts of feminists everywhere. For this is how the Labor Government operates, unsheathing the swords, wrenching power, cutting down a leader before he has had time to really prove himself. Imagine what it will do when that leader is a woman.

More on the leadership takeover:
It's a girl!
Goodbye Kevin, hello Julia
Moving forward with Gillard
Remembering Rudd


Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a journalist working for Jesuit Communications. 


 

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My 36 year old non-political daughter, 19 year old grand daughters and 56 year old sister all said today that they are disgusted and any hope that the ALP will ever get their vote walked out the door.

I despise the woman because she is cold and calculating and my last encounter with her was when she refused to intervene with Ruddock (whom she adored) on behalf of a young homosexual man from Iran whom Ruddock was going to deport knowing full well that he faced being stoned to death for his sexual behaviour.

She told his lawyer that "he was not a refugee so she could not help".

Then she shafted all ALP states by sticking with detention and with Xmas Island.

I haven't voted for the ALP since 1983 and this has convinced me that it will be a long cold day in hell before I ever do again.

I am appalled.
Marilyn Shepherd | 24 June 2010


hmmm...Jesuit Communications hey? Not half obvious that this is the musing of a Mad Monk supporter. Only such a person would find fault in the wide spread celebrations of feminists across the country
Rebecca K | 24 June 2010


Nonsense! To say that we should let this moment pass as a non event is ludicrous. It's historic. I will continue to vote Labor. Julia Gillard is best suited to take Labor to the next election and continue the fine work of the Labor party. Rudd couldn't do that for although his policies content was good, he couldn't sell himself to the public any more.
Sharon | 24 June 2010


Sharon,

Arguing that Gillard is best equipped to handle the job because Rudd's popularity has slipped is laughable. If I recall correctly, the Labor Party wanted to base their 2007 election campaign around Rudd and Gillard, but had to dismantle it because the public never took to Gillard.

Labor's election victory was derived from Rudd's popularity. Ditching him for a person who has never been accepted by the public is the biggest mistake they could have made.

Rudd may not be popular at this moment, but he's probably more popular than Gillard! Channel Ten Queensland ran a poll this afternoon. Only 24% of the respondents said they'd vote for Gillard.

Please don't be narrow-minded enough to think that you MUST support Gillard because she's a woman.

Sorry, but Dr Lauren Rosewarne sounds like a crazed conspiracy theorist who lives in a fantasy world.
Bruce | 24 June 2010


If you are putting the view that women only deserve equality if we can get it by being virtuous angels - dream on. Equality is when Julia Gillard receives the same measure of respect as a leader as any other who has stepped up to the job when offered it. To suggest she is some kind of disgrace to feminists is ridiculous. Women and men in politics work in a system that involves power, numbers, public opinion and the reality that sometimes, no matter how hard you work or how much you achieve, it might not be enough. Julia Gillard is an intelligent, powerful, eloquent, professional and effective politician and I'd bet the fact that she is a woman is not at the top of her list of reasons to support her. In my book that spells feminism.
Kate | 24 June 2010


Any leader whatever the gender deserves to be sidelined if they wish to rule autocratically in a democracy.
philip | 25 June 2010


Julia Gillard's elevation to the top job is not deserving of any praise for the simple reason that she has not been elected by the people of this country, she has been installed by the powerbrokers of the Unions who realised that they would lose all the power that they have regained under Labor's rule since Rudd was elected. After what we saw happen last week in the Penrith by-election. although a state matter, the Union bosses realised that they did not have a chance in hell of being re-elected.
I would dearly love to celebrate that we have our first female PM, but certainly not under these circumstances.
Colleen Burriss | 25 June 2010


Bruce, firstly, Rudd's election victory was premised on a successful campaign against a unfair and punitive Work Choices campaign, not his personal popularity. To suggest that women may feel they MUST vote for Julia Gillard because she is a woman is alarmingly condescending. Julia, like any other leader, will need to prove herself through decent policy. What women may currently be celebrating is an historical event in which the shackles that have prevented women from achieving the ultimate political leadership in this country appear to have been severed. We will watch in great interest her path from here.

Catherine, your claim that Gillard's win is a loss for feminism is ludicrous. Would her continued Deputy status have been a win?
Bridie M | 25 June 2010


Bruce, firstly, Rudd's election victory was premised on a successful campaign against a unfair and punitive Work Choices campaign, not his personal popularity. To suggest that women may feel they MUST vote for Julia Gillard because she is a woman is alarmingly condescending. Julia, like any other leader, will need to prove herself through decent policy. What women may currently be celebrating is an historical event in which the shackles that have prevented women from achieving the ultimate political leadership in this country appear to have been severed. We will watch in great interest her path from here.

Catherine, your claim that Gillard's win is a loss for feminism is ludicrous. Would her continued Deputy status have been a win?
Bridie M | 25 June 2010


Marilyn,
Can you give us an update on the situation of the claimant from Iran you mentioned in your post?
Thanks
Tony
Tony Robertson | 25 June 2010


The point that is being missed in all the euphoria is that Ms Gillard, regardless of whatever other qualities she may possess, is a product of the cynical, mercenary "pramatic" party machine culture that has so corrupted the political narrative of this nation, and which long ago made a bad joke of the notion that the ALP was a genuinely "social democratic" party or anything other than a slightly less repugnant version of the rampant neoliberalism that dominates the Coalition.

Any suggestion that the gender of our new PM in any way indicates a "breakthrough" in Australian politics, or a maturing within Australian society in general, ignores the tawdry reality lurking not so far under the "historic" surface.
Brendan Byrne | 25 June 2010


The point that is being missed in all the euphoria is that Ms Gillard, regardless of whatever other qualities she may possess, is a product of the cynical, mercenary "pramatic" party machine culture that has so corrupted the political narrative of this nation, and which long ago made a bad joke of the notion that the ALP was a genuinely "social democratic" party or anything other than a slightly less repugnant version of the rampant neoliberalism that dominates the Coalition.

Any suggestion that the gender of our new PM in any way indicates a "breakthrough" in Australian politics, or a maturing within Australian society in general, ignores the tawdry reality lurking not so far under the "historic" surface.
Brendan Byrne | 25 June 2010


I think anyone who writes on the selection of Julia Gillard by the ALP Federal Parliamentary Caucus to replace Kevin Rudd as their parliamentary leader and hence Prime Minister should be required to state where they sit in the political spectrum on questions such as: "What constitutes a sound democratic electoral system? What is feminism? What does border security mean? What is a fair and reasonable profit for mining entrepreneurs?"

I can only guess what the answers to these questions would probably be by the writers in the Julia Gillard bumper issue but I can certainly see how their prejudices colour their musings on this historic moment in Australian federal politics.
It reminds me of another historic moment in Australian politics when Billy McMahon stepped into the self-declared empty prime ministerial slippers of John Gorton thus making the victory of Gough Whitlam in December 1972 almost certain.
I only hope that Julia Gillard doesn't play a similar role in facilitating the election of Tony Abbott.

PS.I will always prefer democratic socialism(no matter how poorly practised in ALP) over rural socialism (Nationals) and laissez-faire plutocracy (Liberals).
Uncle Pat | 25 June 2010


Feminists are not ignorant of the issues surrounding Gillard's appointment. Nor do they universally support her, nor do they universally like her, nor are they universally happy to see Rudd go.

The fact remains, to have a female Prime Minister is a historic moment. The first female Prime Minister in the history of this nation represents an achievement for feminists who have lobbied and struggled against gender bias in parliament since this nation was founded. To state that women are well-represented would suggest that there has been no historical gender bias in parliament - that the last one hundred years of almost complete male domination of parliamentary positions was just a statistical hiccup, a coincidence, and had nothing at all to do with gender.

When the Dawn Chorus raises similar concerns to those which you are raising, somehow this STILL means feminists are uncritically embracing Gillard!?!

Thank you for your concern though. Were you equally condemning of African-Americans happy to see Obama elected because it was nice to see a black person as president for a change?
Kristian | 25 June 2010


This is not the way the LABOUR government operates, Catherine, -(unsheathing the sword, wrenching power); this is the way ALL governments operate. You must stay in government if you are to make good changes to society. And you must stay in government, too, if you are desperate to have power. Look at the Liberal leaders tipped out; look at the Democrats of the past.

Feminists mired in the past? You sound, Catherine, like a woman from the 1950s.
Anna Summerfield | 25 June 2010


You've missed the point Catherine. Feminists are not suggesting that she should get the job because she is a woman, nor that she should be supported simply because she is a woman. We are celebrating because finally the best person for the job was not prevented by her sex. She overcame entrenched sex discrimination and succeeded.
Proud Kate | 25 June 2010


Thanks for articulating the unease that has been stirring as women around me celebrate what I thought was indeed typical labor infighting amongst which a woman might have brought something different instead of playing the same old political game ... I don't know what she might have done differently, but I agree that it's not the win for women people think it is
Sarah | 25 June 2010


Well, here are one woman and her two daughters who did not text woo-hoo or any such thing...Julia Gillard is merely being used by the right and by mining companies. She will last only as long as she is expedient. If she had hung around until the right time, instead of giving in to right wing power brokers, she may have had some kind of future... What a political shot-gun wedding!!!!
Philomena van Rijswijk | 25 June 2010


It is not clear to me how Ms Gillard’s change of heart was for the “national interest”. Mr. Rudd was still, according to polls, more popular than Mr Abbott and Ms Gillard, and the Resources Tax had quite broad approval other than from the mining people. The ETS deferral upset many, but we don’t know if Ms Gillard intends to bring it forward. If so, we might see another burst of opposition from mining and manufacturing moguls. So, the perceptible benefit of the change, at best, was to allay the uncertain fears of ALP politicians scared for their jobs.

We voters, who cherish our democracy, have been sidelined, losing the person we chose to lead the nation. Sure, the ALP selects the leader, but the ALP offered us Kevin Rudd at the election, we said “yes”, and now without consulting us, by election, they have not kept their word.
Boutros N | 25 June 2010


Thanks Uncle Pat, I've long struggled to encapsulate my voting preferences. Your conclusion says it for me. [I will always prefer democratic socialism (no matter how poorly practised in ALP) over rural socialism (Nationals) and laissez-faire plutocracy (Liberals)].

At the end of the day Labor is (perhaps marginally) more likely to enact a preferential option for the poor. It staggers me that many undeniably good people seem to favour a "preferential option for the rich." I trawl through scripture and can't find that passage.
Mark | 25 June 2010


I find that the ascendancy of Julia Gillard to the post of Prime Minister of Australia at the cost of the cruel annihilation of Kevin Rudd will do nothing but bring forth the demise of the Australian Labor Party which will be well deserved.
Pauline Ferguson | 25 June 2010


I consider myself a femininist, and I'm glad we have a woman PM.

It seems pretty obvious to me that we wouldn't be cheering in the same way if it was a man who was in now, instead of Kevin: the point is that she's a woman, the first woman.

Also women may be "well represented" in politics, but never yet have they been equally represented, and a fair share of the top job is a step toward that goal.

I don't think it is as big an achievement as some other femininsts do, however, and I'd prefer a feminist government, no matter what their genitalia looked like.

http://fitfeminist.blogspot.com/2010/06/im-feminist-and-im-not-rejoicing.html


keira | 25 June 2010


Why do people insist on stating that we 'chose' Kevin Rudd? We are not in the US! The only representaive we choose is our own MP. The governing party chooses the PM - just as they allocate all the Ministries.
molly | 25 June 2010


Am I the only person concerned about the fact that the new PM is, according to a recent broadcast of "Australian Story" openly in a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not married? Is this the message our society endorses for our children and grandchildren? And also, is it intended that she and her "partner" will be living at The Lodge, at taxpayers' expense? And why am I (apparently) the only person to raise this in a publication of Jesuit Communications? Is it just too "uncool" to stand up for Catholic teaching? I've never voted anything except Labour, but not any more. Our (State)local member supports abortion, and our new PM says she challenged Rudd because she was angry with him. Not a good reason, PM. You've lost me, and I suspect I am not alone.
Judith Taylor | 25 June 2010


Molly's point about the parliamentary system is important; we choose the party rather than the leader. In any case, I think that had gender not been a factor, Julia Gillard might have been Labor's candidate in 2007. Her ability was beyond question, but she was perceived as less likely than Kevin Rudd to gain public acceptance; being female, plus other factors like her accent counted against her.
Despite many excellent policies and achievements, Kevin Rudd has flaws that made him the focus of relentless criticism, especially once the Murdoch press turned against him. His poor communication with the public, his apparent intransigence, his exclusion of his Caucus, and even some ministers from important decisions, all contributed to his downfall.

If Julia Gillard’s performance at her first press conference and first Question Time as PM are any indication, she will justify her selection, albeit by a brutal process, to replace Rudd as leader, for the sake of the party and government of which they are both part. I think we can applaud her attainment.
Myrna Tonkinson | 25 June 2010


I'm a feminist and I lost a certain naivety about things a long time ago.

I'm perfectly happy to support Gillard solely because she is a woman in the same way that we have always accepted only male candidates for prime minister. I see an ethical discord there. Its pretentious. Can you live that status quo and then say you are above it for a woman?

I'm perfectly happy because I don't think 70% of the male political candidates got their job because 70% of the female population could possibly be inept or incapable or at the very least fail anymore monumentally than a man ever has at the job of politics. I'm tired of the fallacies that are accepted as universal truths that make this somehow acceptable. I'm tired of the 30% of female politicians labelled as getting their job because they are a woman or that they somehow represent a unique percentage of women as so many other women 'couldn't' or 'wouldn't' or 'shouldn't'. Economic vunerability is an ugly way to live and so is a lack of participation in social decisionmaking...and stagflation is the case for far too many.

I understand that Gillard is as capable of failing at the job as Rudd. It may be that she will do a great job. She may not be the very moral model of a modern major feminist or she may be just that. Others seem very concerned about her marital status, Welsh origins, childlessness, atheism, political strategies and so on....I don't have those issues. Its fine if you do, I understand the valuing of such ideals and voting with your conscience but I hold something dearer.

The reason why I don't care about it is I'm tired of hearing how women shouldn't get the job just because they are women when men get a job just because they are men often enough. I am tired of 'feminists' agreeing with the concept that women shouldn't get a job just because they are women. How very 'nice' of them. I wish they would just dismiss the idea that any woman gets a job because she is female. Seeing half the population, those that are female, as equally employable as a male is not something that I doubt. Percentage compliance is sad but will it happen any other way for those women in professions where they're constantly headbutting a glass ceiling and have been for decades? What makes that okay?

Its not millitancy just plain tired, too tired and impatient and frustrated with it, to consider a male prime minister that might even be be better at the job. I want a female prime minister. Just as there is no rhyme or reason to my decision, let's face it, there is no rhyme or reason in that we have not had one before now. I'm putting aside the issue of female worthiness.

When you put feminism on a pedestal you only end up putting it back on the shelf.

sue | 25 June 2010


I would have to agree with Judith Taylor that a Prime Minister in a defacto relationship is not appropriate. She is also pro choice in regard to abortion.
Ann | 25 June 2010


The Labor parties,both state and federal,have lost my votes for a long time into the future.A political assassination,nothing less.
John Tobin | 25 June 2010


...and were not Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner nominated Premier, so that it would be merely a woman steering the ship of State Government to failure in the next election?...
Margaret | 25 June 2010


KATE
Who said anything about “virtuous angels”? Am I missing something here? Is our only alternative to success being part of the boys club? What’s wrong with the feminine touch? We are women. We think and work differently. These qualities and attributes should hold equal leverage in the world for goodness sake. Women who would equate 'feminine" to "virtuous angel" have a lot to answer for because their misogynist feminist perspective is keeping us permanently blank and chained to the sinks - all of them.

‘Feminists” need to wake up and muster up some healthy nerve. My mum had it and so did her mum. Capable, direct and responsive women who encouraged their husbands to pull their heads in when they got out of line. That’s ‘feminine’ and Julia Gillard would have done well to pull into line the ‘hubbies’ responsible for one of the shadiest days in our political history, instead of sucking dick and doing her bit for the boys. Harsh but true. If that’s our bid for THE TOP, then we're not worthy of it. The notion “we deserve whatever we want because we're women and we’ll get it anyway we can” is ugly and deranged.
Rosanna Scarcella | 26 June 2010


Tony, records from Woomera show that he ended up being shackled to his bed during a psychotic attack after 4 years in detention.

After 7 years he was sprung by Senator Kirk's persistence and lived in a flat at the back of the home of the father of one of her staff members.

He is functionally insane I am led to believe after 7 years on jail and will never recover.

it's a shocking story and she could have cared less.
Marilyn | 27 June 2010


A further plea to the "Eureka Street" webmaster, especially when political issues are being canvassed. Our daily papers will not publish letters under pseudonyms, and nor should "Eureka Street". Respondents and authors must be required to provide their full names, and some indication of their residential address, as a token of their bona fides and AS A CONDITION of publication.

Secondly, I realise that in a democracy we allow everyone to have an equally influential vote, irrespective of how well informed each individual is: and so it is will the feed-back of "Eureka Street". Even so, the talk of "political assassination" and suchlike, is naive: every election has its "assassinations" and that's simply reality. nobody has any "right" to political position. Influential people in the ALP -- inside and outside parliament =-- finally came to a conclusion which has been blindingly obvious for at least two months -- the Kevin Rudd was in dire danger of leading the government to defest later this year. In the wider than individual interest, why should they not act? And this certainly is an important outcome for women -- talk of "swords" and executions" simply indicates a lack of political experience and understanding. Precedents have limited utility; reference to Joan Kirner are wrong; Carmen Lawrence wasn't a "last-ditch" move; Anna Bligh won an election in her own right.

Ms Gillard is, frankly, a better politician than Mr Rudd and seems well placed to manage a political circumstance which seemed beyond him.
Dr John CARMODY | 28 June 2010


I thought the same thing myself. I know an awful lot of women who won't be voting Labor next election because of the unceremonious dumping of the PM and gender is irrelevant to that decision.
Sue H. | 30 June 2010


My first reaction was not 'hooray' because Australia has a woman PM but shock that a first term Prime MInister was dumped by party factions.

I did not vote for factions, some of whom are responsible for the mess that is the NSW Government.

I am a Labor voter, who did not vote Labor when Kevin Beasley joined with Howard over Tampa, and will not again if Julia Gillard moves to the right at the behest of the factions.

She will get my vote if the policies I supported in the last election are focused upon, ie fair treatment for asylum seekers and attention back on addressing climate change.
Patricia Rayner | 01 July 2010


I endorse Dr John Carmody's "further plea to the Eureka Street webmaster".
Kerry Bergin | 01 July 2010


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