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Gillard's win a loss for feminists

  • 25 June 2010

Feminists 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But does Gillard's succession represent a win for all Australian women, or are feminists hijacking a tired and outdated bandwagon in an era when women are already well-represented in politics?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,