Have you seen the Prime Minister in person? If you have then you know this – Prime Minister Gillard is quite slender. She’s also quite pretty. Her looks would be irrelevant except that everything about her, including her appearance, has been represented in the media in such an incredibly hostile manner that you’ll be genuinely taken aback when you meet her. And it’s depressing, as a woman, to see this for yourself – the contrast between the Prime Minister as she appears, in person, and how you think she looks based on her appearance in the media. Because, as a woman watching the first female Prime Minister in this country, you can’t help but think about how your own physical imperfections would be seen and magnified were you ever to dare contemplate a public position of power. All politicians get the unflattering caricature treatment and we’re routinely suspicious of politicians, sure, but what we’ve seen with Gillard is truly something else - refresh your memory with Anne Summers’ Her Rights At Work (the R rated version), if you need to. Seeing this woman being picked on mercilessly for her appearance sends a message to you.
The significance of the Prime Minister’s misogyny speech was about this for women. It was about watching the most powerful woman in the country endure a type of sexism that you, yourself, have experienced. And seeing her summon the courage and the outrage to finally confront it was a powerful moment because you wanted to see that it is possible to confront sexism and survive it. So now, watching the Prime Minister be continually ridiculed and disrespected, and on such a scale, you have to wonder, is she surviving?
As Summers says in her latest article, “PM’s critics make a mockery of political debate”:
Such is the confidence of the journalists and shock-jocks and others who peddle these opinions, that they see no need to wait for history to happen. Why bother waiting for the actual voters to actually vote when these pundits have persuaded themselves that already it’s all over? As a result, they feel no obligation to respect the person, let along the office of prime minister, since in their minds she is already gone.
So they feel free to mock her in ways that would have been inconceivable with other leaders and, as recently as a year ago, even with her.
Gillard has always had to put up with intense, often unfair and sometimes cruel commentary about her clothes, her voice, even her body shape. As I have documented, since she became Prime Minister Gillard has been subjected to vile sexual and at times pornographic vilification of a kind that is new to our political vocabulary (and which still continues).
But now there is a new element. The pundits are scoffing and mocking her every action, from her new glasses to every policy or political step she takes, as if to say: why bother, lady, it’s all over anyway.
A colleague who is proudly conservative told me the other day that he knows he’s biased but this Prime Minister is not representing my gender well. Before you say anything, he said, you’re biased too. How about how your gender is being represented, I said. Alright, I’ve got my issues with some of this government’s policies (although I still think they’re quite an effective government), but for crying out loud, I said, I’m half the fricking gender of this country and it is 2013 and this is the first time, the very first time, I’ve had a woman to represent my gender, at all, as Prime Minister. So yes, I take it personally when she is treated with such disdain and, yes, I’m a little biased, but can you fricking blame me?
Relentlessly mocking the country’s first female Prime Minister in such a dubious fashion is damaging to us as a nation. If you are participating in the mockery you need to take a moment to reflect. Maybe you’ll decide that your mockery is no less than you would give any other politician you disliked, maybe you’ll decide it’s completely absent of any sexism – fine, but in this climate of extreme hatred towards a woman in power you need to at least think about it.