Considering the kind of lives many women are living on planet Earth at this time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s is up there in the very top level of privilege.
So it comes as something of a shock to read leading feminist Anne Summer’s piece today, in which she frames Ms Gillard as a victim. Victim of bastardry and misogyny, cruelly mocked, scoffed at, subjected to vile commentary including pornographic representation; criticised whichever way she turns, frequently on the basis of her sex, and shown “not the slightest drop of mercy or respect.”
Not only is Ms Gillard deprived of respect, Summers writes, but as a consequence of personal disdain for her, the office of Prime Minister is also inevitably disrespected.
It’s a bit rich to expect the public to respect the office of Prime Minister given the complete contempt the ALP itself showed towards this office when it was inhabited by Kevin Rudd. This disrespect was compounded when the ALP gave us no warning of their intention to topple the man who had so triumphantly defeated John Howard, and instead acted as if they were governing a nation of mushrooms.
Be that as it may…
While there is much truth in Summer’s assessment of the situation, one has to wonder if it is wise to paint the Prime Minister in such catastrophically underdog terms at this time. There will be plenty of opportunity to dissect the sexism Ms Gillard has endured after the election. If she leads her party to victory she can be portrayed as a glorious survivor of vile misogyny. If she leads them to failure, books can be written about the cruel and unfair treatment of our first female Prime Minister. But right now, nobody wants a victim in charge of a government that is already hurtling down the road to ignominy.
No matter what your opinion of Ms Gillard, I don’t think you could deny that she is a woman of extraordinary strength and tenacity, and a damn good fighter. Indeed some, perhaps all of her best speeches have been made when she’s been on the back foot, and defending herself against personal attacks. Think the globally acclaimed misogyny speech, for example, as well as the press conference she gave to settle the matter of her alleged involvement in dodgy dealings whilst working at Slater and Gordon. These are not the actions of a woman with a victim mentality. They are the actions of a survivor.
What Ms Gillard endures is sadly no different from what many women endure on a daily basis. That any of us have to put up with misogyny is an outrage, and there are many among us who live with a great deal more of it than Ms Gillard, without any of the compensations she enjoys. In view of this, while it is appropriate to point out misogyny when it so publicly manifests against a high-profile woman, it isn’t appropriate to cast that woman as a helpless victim. In the hierarchy of female suffering at the hands of the patriarchy, Ms Gillard is luckily on a low level.
I find it difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister herself would appreciate the gender card being played in this way at this time. I see no indication that she considers herself in any way an underdog, and her reaction to sexism and misogyny has been anything but that of a woman looking for mercy.
“Is mockery the new misogyny?” Summers asks.
Mockery may well be yet another form of expressing misogyny in this situation. But the sad fact is that we can’t afford to focus on that right now. Gillard is facing the fight of her political life. Far more importantly, the ALP is facing the same. Do we really want to offer the nation the picture of a victimised, bullied, vilely mocked woman as our next PM? Or should we be wise enough to keep our peace on the misogyny angle, and leave the pity party for another time?