2013/11: Is Australian politics prejudiced against women?
What they said...
'Being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership nor does it explain nothing ... it explains some things...'
Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, speaking on the night of June 26, 2013, after her party deposed her as leader
'Gillard being a "whore" - dressed up and presenting herself to attract votes....
For every vote she wins she gets $2.51 from the AEC for her party ... the "whore" tag is appropriate and truthful...'
Harry's Growl by Harry Hound-dog, published on the anonymous political commentary site, The Eye-Ball Opinion, on June 25, 2013
The issue at a glance
On June 26, 2013, the Caucus of the Australian Labor Party replaced Julia Gillard as the Party's leader. Gillard thus lost the prime ministership to her successor, Kevin Rudd. This ended the tenure of Australia's first female prime minister.
Many of the events that occurred during Julia Gillard's time as prime minister have focussed debate on how women are treated within Australian politics and on the extent to which they are accepted as leaders by the electorate.
There are those who maintain that there is nothing remarkable about Gillard's treatment - that her unpopularity was a consequence of her unsuccessful policies and that the criticism she received was no different in kind from that endured by other political leaders. Those holding this view argue that the very fact Julia Gillard became prime minister is proof that Australian politics is not prejudiced against women.
Others argue that the personal abuse directed at Julia Gillard was unprecedented, substantially based on gender and is reflective of the Australian political system's rejection of women as leaders and of its prejudiced treatment of women more generally.
(The information reprinted below is an abbreviation of that contained in the Wikipedia entry titled 'Women and government in Australia'. The full text of the entry can be accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_government_in_Australia)
Women and government in Australia
From the turn of the 20th century, women have participated in government in Australia.
Following federation, the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 allowing most women to both vote and stand in the federal election of 1903. South Australia and Western Australia granted women the vote before federation, and the states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria also passed legislation allowing women to participate in government at the state and local levels following federation. Indigenous Australian women did not achieve suffrage at all levels of government and in all states and territories until 1962.
Australia was the first country to allow women to stand in elections; however, the country has been slow to have women become members of its parliaments. In most countries, women entered parliament soon after gaining the right to stand. In Australia, no woman was successful at a federal election until 1943.
The major Australian political parties did not support any female candidates until the Second World War; until this time every female candidate had been independent or backed by one of the minor political parties. In 1943 and with major party backing, Dame Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives as the member for the Division of Darwin, which was located in Tasmania, and Dorothy Tangney was elected to the Senate representing Western Australia. In 1949 Enid Lyons became the first female cabinet member; however her appointment as Vice-President of the Executive Council did not involve the administration of any department. In 1966 Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin became the first woman with a federal portfolio when she became Minister for Housing. In 1975 Senator Margaret Guilfoyle was the first female cabinet minister with a portfolio, Education.
In general, women have been slow to enter all levels of politics in Australia. The first female Premier was Carmen Lawrence, leading Western Australia for three years until 1993. Currently, a female Premier leads the state of Tasmania (Lara Giddings), and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher leads the Australian Capital Territory.
In 1983 Ros Kelly was the first woman to give birth while an MP. In 1986 there were two firsts, Joan Child became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives and Janine Haines became the first woman to lead a parliamentary party when she became head of the Australian Democrats. Margaret Reid became the first female President of the Senate in 1996.
On June 24, 2010, Julia Gillard became the first woman to lead one of the major political parties at the federal level as Leader of the Australian Labor Party, as well as the first female Prime Minister of Australia. However, as it became clear that her minority government was headed for an unprecedented landslide defeat, she was deposed by her own party on June 26, 2013, in favour of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whom she had replaced in a similar coup.
On July 4, 2013, the ABC's opinion site The Drum published a comment by Jonathan Green titled 'A strange sense of normalcy returns to politics'. In this Green argues that two male contestants for Australia's political leadership is a scenario with which the electorate is more comfortable.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-04/green-a-strange-sense-of-normalcy-returns-to-politics/4797728
On June 30, 2013, The Irish Independent published an opinion piece by Eilis O'Hanlon titled 'Julia not a victim of gender politics'.
The comment argues that Gillard was removed from the leadership of her party because the party was facing electoral defeat, not because of sexual prejudice.
The full text of this text can be found at http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/eilis-ohanlon-julia-not-a-victim-of-gender-politics-29383405.html
On June 29, 2013, Kathy Marks, writing in The Irish Independent, gave an overview of the factors she believes contributed to Julia Gillard's political demise. The text includes a brief discussion of sexism in Australia from an historical perspective.
The full text of this comment can be accessed at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/what-sank-julia-gillard-the-truth-about-sexism-in-australia-8679285.html
On June 27, 2013, the ABC's opinion site The Drum published a comment by former Victorian MHR, Mary Delahunty, titled 'Is Australia really serious about women in power?'
The opinion piece is critical of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott for supposedly recklessly undermining the office of Prime Minister. Delahunty suggests that this episode in Australian politics may lead women to believe it holds no place for them.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4784122.html
On June 25, 2013, the anonymous political opinion site, Eye-Ball Opinion, published a piece by commentator, 'Harry Hound-dog', titled 'Gillard's "Mrs Doubtfire" Moment'. The piece is critical of Prime Minister Gillard for the way in which she was presented in a Woman's Weekly coverage. This piece can be seen as an example of one of the misogynous attacks on Gillard of which some commentators have complained.
The full article can be accessed at http://bleyzie.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/eye-balls-harrys-growl-on-election-2013-growl-no-48-gillards-mrs-doubtfire-moment/
On June 25, 2013, Caroline Overington interviewed Prime Minister Gillard for The Women's Weekly. Part of that interview included Ms Gillard's reaction to Germaine Greer's comments on Gillard's 'big arse' made while Dr Greer was appearing on Channel 2's Q & A.
The full text of this segment of the interview can be found at http://aww.ninemsn.com.au/news/inthemag/8679763/julia-gillard-greer-slurs-catty-and-stupid
The full interview, which includes photographs of Gillard knitting a toy kangaroo for Kate and William's baby, can be accessed at http://aww.ninemsn.com.au/news/inthemag/8679511/julia-gillard-why-shes-knitting-for-the-royal-baby
On June 21, 2013, The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Gay Alcorn titled 'Misogyny aside, Gillard is her own worst enemy'. The comment argues that if Julia Gillard is voted out by her party's caucus it will be because of her own political errors.
The full text of this article can be accessed at http://www.smh.com.au/comment/misogyny-aside-gillard-is-her-own-worst-enemy-20130620-2olib.html#ixzz2YAgZgZrs
On June 19, 2013, the ABC's opinion site The Drum published a comment by Greg Jericho titled, 'Gender politics is a reflection of reality'
The piece argues that the sexism evident in politics is only a microcosm of the sexism evident in the broader community. It examines evidence of discrimination in employment patterns.
The full text of the comment can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4762700.html
On June 18, 2013, newmatilda.com published an analysis and comment by Catriona Menzies-Pike titled 'The Sexism the Polls Don't Show'. The piece gives an overview of Gillard's prime ministership and considers the operation of sexism in Australia. The full text of this piece can be found at http://newmatilda.com/2013/06/18/sexism-polls-dont-show
On June 15, 2013, SBS published a comment by Saman Shad titled, 'The sexist stain on our country'. The opinion piece considers the implications of Prime Minister Gillard being asked questions about her male partner's sexuality and also considers the most recent evidence of sexism in Australia's Defence Forces.
The full text of this opinion can be found at http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1778247/Comment-The-sexist-stain-on-our-country
On June 14, 2013, The Citizen published an opinion piece by Georgia Galbraith titled 'Is Australia inherently sexist? The evidence speaks volumes'. The comment argues that the recent treatment received by Julia Gillard suggests a society in which only women in traditional roles are fully accepted. The full article can be read at http://www.thecitizen.org.au/news/australia-inherently-sexist-evidence-speaks-volumes#sthash.1r5EBqfd.dpuf
On October 17, 2012, The Sydney Morning Herald published a report titled 'Australian women most empowered globally'. The article gives details of an international survey which suggests Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world. The results are based on access to education and paid family leave.
The full text of this article can be found at http://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-women-most-empowered-globally-20121016-27p34.html
On October 10, 2012, Crikey published a comment by Susan Mitchell titled 'Gillard's words changed politics forever'. The piece argues that Julia Gillard's in-parliament condemnation of Opposition leader, Tony Abbott's supposed misogyny will have a permanent impact on Australian politics.
The article can be found at http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/10/10/susan-mitchell-gillards-words-changed-politics-forever/
On August 31, 2012, feminist academic Dr Anne Summers delivered the 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture at the University of Newcastle.
The speech treats 'The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister'. Dr Summers gives a wide range of examples of personal and sexist abuse directed at Prime Minister Gillard in a wide range of contexts. (Please note this speech contains links to some of the cruder and more offensive material produced about Ms Gillard.)
The text of this speech can be found at http://annesummers.com.au/speeches/her-rights-at-work-vanilla/
On August 24, 2012, The Sydney Morning Herald published a report on cartoonist Larry Pickering and his pledge to continue exposing what he sees as Prime Minister Julia Gillard's shortcomings on his blog, The Pickering Post.
The full text of this article can be found at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/defiant-pickering-says-hes-not-finished-with-pm-yet-20120823-24p11.html
Larry Pickering's blog, 'The Pickering Post', has a cartoon section which includes many cartoons depicting Julia Gillard. Please be aware that some of these cartoons include material which may be considered sexually offensive.
This blog can be accessed at http://pickeringpost.com/
On March 7, 2012, a federal parliament background paper titled 'Representation of women in Australian parliaments'. The paper was written by Dr Joy McCann and Janet Wilson of the Politics and Public Administration Section. It gives an historical overview of women's political participation in Australia and a detailed analysis of their current participation in Australian parliaments.
The full text of the document can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/Womeninparliament
On September 18, 2011, The Punch published an opinion piece by David Penberthy in which he argued that much of the media commentary on Julia Gillard's appearance was little different from that directed at male politicians.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/is-gillard-a-victim-of-sexism/
On April 4, 2011, former Labor leader Mark Latham gave an interview on Radio National in which he criticised Julia Gillard's wooden appearance during the Queensland floods and suggested she lacked empathy. Mr Latham then proposed that it was Ms Gillard's decision not to have children which accounted for her lack of 'loving experience'.
A full transcript of this interview can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/mark-latham-greens-and-the-childless-prime-minister/3008020#transcript
In April 2007, the New South Wales Parliament released a briefing paper titled 'Women, Parliament and the Media'. The paper discusses the extent of female representation in Australian parliaments and also considers the manner in which female parliamentarians are presented in the media. There is a section describing how Julia Gillard was presented as deputy Opposition leader.
The full text of this article can be found at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/publications.nsf/0/8e817c955283f747ca2572d100087573/$FILE/WomenParliamentMediaFinal.pdf
Arguments suggesting Australian politics is prejudiced against women
1. The number of female parliamentarians is far smaller than the number of male politicians
In March 2012, a parliamentary background note was produced outlining the extent of the representation of women in all Australian parliaments at that time. It found women comprise less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia and occupy less than one-quarter of all Cabinet positions. It also stated that the number of women in the Senate reached its highest point after the 2010 Commonwealth election, but that the number of women in the House of Representatives declined.
When comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments internationally, the background note observed that Australia's ranking has slipped from 21 to 38 over the past decade.
In an article published a year later on June 27, 2013, former member of the Victorian House of Representatives, Mary Delahunty, noted that the situation had become slightly worse, 'What is alarming is how we have slipped down the international rankings. Comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments, Australia has slipped down from 23rd to 46th in the past decade, behind Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Rwanda.'
The international rankings from which Delahunty drew her data indicate that Australia is nine places behind Afghanistan, a country within which women have previously been excluded from education and from any place in public life.
Critics of these numbers argue that it is unacceptable that when women constitute a little over half of the Australian population, they should constitute less than a third of Australia's political representatives. (At 30 June 2010, the sex ratio of the total population for Australia was 99.2 males per 100 females.)
2. Female parliamentarians occupy far fewer leadership positions
It has been noted that women occupy far fewer leadership positions in politics than do men.
Referring to women's under-representation in political leadership roles a parliamentary background note published in April 2013 stated, 'In the federal government, seven ministers including the Prime Minister were women, compared with 23 ministers who were men.'
The situation is more even dramatic within the Opposition. Writing on June 13, 2013, political and social commentator, Dr Anne Summers, noted, 'If Tony Abbott is elected prime minister on September 14 the number of women at the Cabinet table will drop by 50 per cent...
All up, women are just 19 per cent of the Abbott team, whereas the Gillard government comprises 33 per cent women.
There are four women now in the Cabinet (Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin, Tanya Plibersek and Gillard herself). Abbott's will have just two: Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella.
The figures for the rest of Abbott's leadership are equally abysmal. Just four of his 12-strong shadow ministry are women, as are a mere three of his 15 parliamentary secretaries. By contrast, apart from 20 per cent of Gillard's cabinet being female, an impressive 60 per cent of the 10 outer ministers are women, as are 33 per cent of the 12 parliamentary secretaries.'
It has also been noted that the under-representation of women in positions of political leadership gives them few models from which to develop their leadership style.
Dr Madeleine Gray of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne has stated, 'Political leadership in Australia has historically been male dominated in structure, culture and style. Women's underrepresentation in the political legislatures has meant they have struggled to find a leadership style that is neither 'maternal' nor 'quasi-male'.
3. When female parliamentarians do occupy leadership positions this tends to be in a stop-gap capacity
It has been noted that many women who have taken over the leadership of their parties have done so when electoral defeat is anticipated and thus are often short-term leaders. The further claim has been made that such female leaders are sacrifices to the political ambitions of their male colleagues, taking over the leadership at a time when defeat was immanent and thus when the political career of the leader was likely to be either damaged or destroyed.
In an opinion piece published in The Australian on February 18, 2013, Cassandra Wilkinson stated, 'Labor used to draft women to take the wheel just as the cliff came into view. Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner and Kristina Keneally were all called on to sacrifice their substantial talents and bright futures to lost-cause governments.'
On March 24, 2012, Zoe Arnold had similarly written on Mamamia, 'Why do women in state politics only seem to get the top job in a government's dying days?
Every state except South Australia has now had a woman as Premier or Chief Minister; all of them have got the gig before facing expected electoral annihilation.'
Referring to then Queensland Prime Minister Anna Bligh, Arnold wrote, 'She joins Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner and Kristina Keneally in the political graveyard of women who were picked as an interim measure in the face of electoral defeat.'
Arnold then argues, '[I]t's high time both sides of politics stopped using women as sacrificial lambs.'
4. Female parliamentarians are subjected to sexist and other forms of abuse
It has been claimed that female politicians suffer a disproportionate amount of sexist and personal abuse. In a 2007 background briefing for the New South Wales Parliament titled 'Women, Parliament and the Media' it was noted 'some commentators are concerned that media coverage of women politicians still differs to that of male politicians. Various reports demonstrate that there has not been a total shift from the traditional focus on their appearance and style, as well as details of their personal lives - marital status, childcare arrangements...'
Throughout Julia Gillard's prime ministership, concern was expressed that she attracted negative comments in the media, from the opposition, within the electorate and even from some within her own party that were more personal and sustained than those typically directed at male political leaders. Some commentators argued that the unusual degree of hostility displayed was an indication of the electorate's and the political establishment's inability to accept a woman as a political leader.
Such intensely personal abuse was demonstrated by radio commentator Alan Jones on September 23, 2012, when addressing a group of Young Liberals at Sydney University. Jones referred to Julia Gillard's recently deceased father as 'the old man' and claimed that he had 'died a few weeks ago of shame' because of his daughter's dishonesty. As a further instance, in June, 2013, Gillard was interviewed by West Australian radio host, Howard Sattler, and asked if her partner, Tim Matheson, were homosexual. Comments such as these have been condemned as deeply disrespectful of the office of prime minister and as personally offensive and/or hurtful.
It has further been noted that much of the criticism directed at Julia Gillard was explicitly sexist, that is, it used gender as a form of abuse. This point was made by social commentator, Anne Summers, in a speech given in August, 2012. Dr Summers noted 'There are countless examples ... where the prime minister is attacked, vilified or demeaned in ways that do specifically relate to her sex.' Summers then went on to catalogue a variety of such abuse, including Bill Heffernan's 2007 criticism of Gillard as 'deliberately ... barren' and Tony Abbott's 2011 remark that through an election on the carbon tax she could 'make an honest woman of herself'. Summers also referred to cartoonist Larry Pickering's widely circulated images of a naked Prime Minister Gillard either wearing or carrying a dildo.
Other examples were highlighted by Prime Minister Gillard herself in her October, 2012, misogyny speech in which she referred to Tony Abbott positioning himself in front of posters which read 'Ditch the witch' and referred to her as 'Juliar - Bob Brown's bitch'.
Toward the end of Julia Gillard's prime ministership, a mock menu was produced for a Liberal fund-raising dinner which referred to Julia Gillard's 'small breasts, huge thighs and big red box.' Anne Summers' speech of August, 2012, indicated that such descriptions of the prime minister had been circulating on the Internet for over a year. There has been a proliferation of abusive and generally sexist attacks against Julia Gillard on the web. These include Facebook pages, blogs and memes, one of which invites readers to caption a photograph of Julia Gillard. The 'big red box' abuse appeared on this meme before surfacing on the mock menu.
Many commentators have noted the misogyny inherent in such attacks. Political philosopher and former Labor speechwriter, Tim Soutphommasane, has stated, 'We have been reminded...of the breathtaking sexist hostility that exists towards Gillard. It is hard to conceive of a male PM ever being subjected to something like it. Can you imagine demeaning menus featuring frankfurters or chorizos named after them? Or radio hosts questioning them about their spouse's sexuality?'
5. Australian parliaments do not adequately address the concerns of women
It has been claimed that one of the reasons why Australian parliaments need greater female representation is that this will help to ensure that governments adopt policies and enact laws that address the particular needs of women.
Feminist critics of the Australian political process argue that the particular needs of women are not adequately addressed.
An example of this claimed neglect of women's issues is the state of paid maternity leave. Maternity leave, other than for government employees, was introduced into Australia in 2011. Critics have argued that the scheme was adopted late relative to other comparable cultures and economies and that the 18 weeks allowed should be extended.
In January 2013 it was reported that The Human Rights Commission was demanding the Federal Government extend the paid maternity leave scheme by eight weeks to bring it in line with international standards of 26 weeks.
Australian Breastfeeding Association spokeswoman, Meredith Laverty, has claimed that the below-standard parental leave scheme was forcing mothers back to work early when they should be spending bonding time with their babies.
Ms Laverty has stated, 'Mothers should have access to a minimum of six months paid maternity leave regardless of their employment status and income.'
In addition Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has stated that more needed to be done to compensate unpaid carers. Ms Broderick has stated, 'Women undertake the largest share of unpaid caring work.'
It has also been claimed that even the current government, under the leadership of a woman, has introduced policy changes that disadvantage women. Key among these is the decision to remove sole supporting parents, with children over eight, from the supporting parent allowance and place them onto the unemployment benefit, Newstart, which significantly reduces the payment they receive.
A cross-party parliamentary committee found that the changes could breach single parents' human right to social security. Given that most single parents are women, critics have claimed that the government's action directly acts against women and their dependent children.
Arguments suggesting Australian politics is not prejudiced against women
1. There are significant numbers of women in Australian parliaments, including in leadership positions
In March 2012, a parliamentary background note was produced outlining the state of the representation of women in Australian parliaments. It found every state and territory except South Australia has had a woman premier or chief minister. As at 1 January 2012, three of the eight state and territory leaders were women-Anna Bligh in Queensland, Lara Giddings in Tasmania, and Katy Gallagher in the Australian Capital Territory. The Northern Territory had a female Deputy Chief Minister (Delia Lawrie). Of the state and territory parliaments the Australian Capital Territory has had the highest number of female leaders of all the states and territories, with Rosemary Follett (1989, 1991-1995), Kate Carnell (1995-2000), and Katy Gallagher (2011-).
Three women have served in the role of Deputy Opposition Leader in the Commonwealth Parliament. Jenny Macklin (ALP) was elected unopposed as deputy leader in 2001 and held the position until 2006. She was succeeded by Julia Gillard (ALP) who held the position until 2007 when she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Following the 2007 election, Julie Bishop (LIB) became the third female Deputy Opposition Leader. At the end of 2011, South Australia was the only state/territory to have a woman Opposition Leader (Isobel Redmond), while New South Wales and the Northern Territory each had a woman in the position of Deputy Opposition Leader.
Six of the eight state and territory parliaments have had at least one female presiding officer including the current incumbents the Hon Shelley Hancock (Speaker, NSW Legislative Assembly), the Hon Lynette Breuer (Speaker, SA House of Assembly), the Hon Sue Smith (President, Tasmanian Legislative Council), and the Hon Jane Aagaard (Speaker, Northern Territory Legislative Assembly).
As at 1 January 2012, women comprised 23.3 per cent of the Commonwealth ministry. This included 22.7 per cent in the Cabinet (or inner ministry) and 25 per cent in the outer ministry. In the Commonwealth Opposition shadow ministry, women comprised 18.8 per cent of the overall ministry, with 10 per cent in the 'shadow' Cabinet and 33.3 per cent (or one-third) in the outer ministry.
2. Many women are pre-selected to contest elections and some parties have policies in place to increase the number of women in parliament
An analysis of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data for Senate candidates between the 1983 and 2010 Commonwealth elections indicates that the proportion of nominations by female candidates generally increased at each election from 19.2 per cent in 1983 to a high of 36.8 per cent in 2007, with a slight fall to 35.5 per cent in 2010. The major parties (ALP and Liberal/Nationals Coalition) showed a generally upward trend in female candidates. The highest proportions were attained in 2007 with more than half (55.5 per cent) of the ALP's candidates, and 40 per cent of the Liberal Party's candidates being women. The use of proportional representation for Senate elections has been more favourable to minor parties than the majoritarian system used for the House of Representatives.
Both of the larger minor parties (Australian Democrats and Australian Greens) have consistently had a high proportion of women candidates in those elections contested. The Democrats had the highest number of female candidates for that party in 2004 with 63.6 per cent or nearly two-thirds of their candidates being women, whilst the Greens reached a record high for any party in 2010, with women comprising 71.4 per cent or more than two-thirds of their total candidates.
The Labor Party has an affirmative action policy, which aims to preselect women as candidates for a minimum of 40% of 'winnable' seats. The aim of this policy is to increase female representation by ensuring that women are not disproportionately preselected for seats they are unlikely to win. The Greens state in their official charter that they will 'provide affirmative action to eliminate discrimination based on gender'. By this they mean that they will seek to have equal numbers of male and female candidates.
3. Women in politics receive no more abuse than men and both are judged on their performance
It has been argued that although much of the attention directed at Julia Gillard as prime minister has been crude and offensive, it was no worse than the type of attention given male political leaders.
David Penberthy in an opinion piece published in The Punch on September 18, 2011, noted, 'Julia Gillard has been the subject of much public debate and media scrutiny over her appearance, her voice, her de facto relationship, her lack of children, her disinterest in domestic affairs.
Some of this debate has been quite rugged and quite insulting... It is often cruel but I would dispute whether it is any more cruel than the type of scrutiny and indeed ridicule which past prime ministers have faced over their appearance.'
Penberthy then went on to refer to the way in which former prime minister John Howard was described, 'John Howard was often depicted as Little Johnny Howard, as a four-eyed Thunderbird with his dated glasses. He was also teased over the whininess of his voice. When he underwent a full makeover ahead of the 1996 election campaign, switching his old Dave Clarke Five specs for some lighter steel-rimmed bifocals, plenty of column inches were devoted to his new look.'
A similar point was made by Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt, on June 19, 2013. Andrew Bolt wrote, 'The Age writer Stephanie Peatling ...asked whether any male leader had suffered the intrusive questioning Ms Gillard got last week from the clown radio broadcaster who asked if her partner was gay.
"Was (former prime minister John) Howard ever asked about the intimate details of his marriage?" she fumed.
Er, yes. Mr Howard in 1998 had to deny rumours he'd had an affair with the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner - rumours which former Labor leader Mark Latham again referred to in 2005.
Worse, Labor speech writer Bob Ellis published defamatory claims about the sex lives of Mr Abbott and former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello, for which he was successfully sued.'
Critics have also argued that Julia Gillard's poor poll ratings were more the fault of her mixed political performance and her failure to communicate than they were of her gender.
On June 30, 2013, Eilis O'Hanlon argued in The Irish Independent, 'The feminist attitude seems to be that electing a female leader isn't enough. Voters then have to suspend normal critical judgement and apply a different set of criteria when judging her performance, or else be accused of more sexism.'
O'Hanlon went on to explain, 'Gillard's problem was that she couldn't sustain that boost because voters were still worried about the economy and annoyed about broken promises...
Gillard's ultimate failing seems to have been a failure to communicate. When she managed it, in attacking Abbott, she was popular. When she didn't, by failing to make a strong case for her government's achievements, she stumbled.'
This view was also put by Andrew Bolt in an opinion piece published in The Herald Sun on June 27, 2013.
Andrew Bolt stated, '[E]veryone in politics gets abused. Only two days ago your Ministers abused the Opposition Leader as a "drunk" who "didn't care" when boat people drowned.
You lost your job not for what you are but what you've done: your broken promises, your blown budgets, your open borders, your politics of division.
Please now consider the young women who dream to be leaders, too. Don't preach defeat. Don't tell them a lie - that sexist men will drag down even a good woman. Even a Prime Minister.
Sexism did not stop you becoming Prime Minister, and sexism did not now take that job from you. Your failure is your own. You were given a chance and you blew it.'
4. Australian political parties adopt policies and Australian parliaments enact legislation that address the particular needs of women
It is argued that Australian legislatures have acted on issues that are of particular concern to women and that as a consequence of this Australian women have a better standard of living than their sisters in many other countries.
In October 2013 a global survey reported that Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world
Helen Conway, director of the federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, said the report reflected that Australian women were among the best educated in the world and had access to a national paid parental leave scheme.
The report ranked Australia ahead of three Scandinavian countries - Norway, Sweden and Finland. New Zealand was fifth. At the bottom of the list were Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Chad.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the report showed Australia was doing 'more than most' to maximise the full potential of women.
The 2011 passing of paid parental leave legislation has been seen as an example the Australian parliament responding to the needs of women.
Another recent example of legislation that has been of particular advantage to women has been the establishment of a national disability insurance scheme. Given that a majority of carers for those with disabilities are women, this scheme gives increased peace of mind and security to this group.
5. Women in Australian parliaments have co-operated across party lines to implement policies that advantage women
It has also been noted that female politicians in Australia have begun to develop a gender consciousness to the point where they will act across party lines to advance policies that benefit other women.
Senator Kate Lundy has observed, 'More than ever before, the ability of women in parliament to influence the agenda is now being demonstrated whenever there are conscience votes on matters affecting particularly women or only women. One example was the repeal of the ministerial responsibility for the approval of RU486 [an abortion-inducing drug] in 2005.
Women senators representing the Australian Democrats and the Liberal, National and Labor parties-Senators Moore, Allison, Troeth and Nash-jointly sponsored the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005 , removing what in my opinion was an incredibly undemocratic power wielded until then by the insensitive Mr Tony Abbott.'
The private members bill was passed and responsibility for approving the drug was taken from the hands of one minister.
Lundy concluded, 'As we have already seen in Federal Parliament we can achieve an across-party unity of women promoting and voting on issues important to women.'
The circumstances surrounding the removal of Julia Gillard from the leadership of her party and thus from the Australian prime ministership will be debated for a long time. It is clearly arguable that Ms Gillard's unpopularity with voters was in large part a reaction to a combination of policy failures and her inadequate communication skills. It is also clear that there has been continuing instability within her own party, focused on her leadership, that she was unable to overcome. However, even given this, objective evidence exists of a wide range of highly offensive and often sexist material directed at the former prime minister. Much of this has circulated on the Internet in blogs and on Facebook .
Attempts to quantify this abuse and to compare it with that directed at male political figures will form the stuff of theses and other academic studies for years to come. What is immediately apparent, however, is that a lot of the abuse directed at Prime Minister Gillard was gendered. Here we are not speaking merely of a tendency to criticise women on the grounds of their appearance. A large amount of the abuse Julia Gillard received appears to have been more extreme than this. The 'bitch' and 'witch' references are already well-documented. The crude references to genitalia only surfaced in the print and electronic news media toward the end of her prime ministership; however, they had been circulating on the Internet for much longer than this. There too can be found critical references to Ms Gillard's sexual behaviour.
What is also remarkable are the number of references to Julia Gillard's marital status and her lack of children. The 'deliberately...barren' tag was first applied by an opponent from the other side of politics, Bill Heffernan, and later expanded upon by a former political ally, Mark Latham, to include the accusation that her childlessness suggested a limited capacity to love. These are highly personal observations of doubtful validity and questionable political relevance and so not the sort of comments that would normally receive wide circulation in the media; yet, in Gillard's case, these accusations were reported on and have persisted. In regard to Mark Latham's claims, they were actually re-raised with him in a Radio National interview, which itself was then reported on in the wider media. Therefore, even before exhaustive study of Julia Gillard's reception by the electorate, her political contemporaries and the media has been undertaken, it can be recognised that her gender has repeatedly been used as a weapon against her.
It is disturbing that in the twenty-first century sexism and misogyny are still sufficiently alive to allow being female to be used as the material for abuse. However, it is notable that the capacity to post anonymously on the Internet has created an environment where abuse of all kinds can flourish. It is also notable that such subterranean abuse has leached into mainstream media, in particular onto radio. There, via the shock jocks and other supposedly more moderate presenters, it has been used to fuel a ratings-driven hunger for sensation. It is regrettable that Australia's first female prime minister became fodder for this feeding frenzy.
There are many lessons about gender equality to be taken from this episode in Australia's political history. There are also lessons to be learnt about civil society and civil political discourse.
Newspaper items used in the compilation of this issue outline
The Australian: January 12, 2013, page 13, comment (photo of Tony Abbott with wife and daughters) by Christine Jackman, `Dangers of an artificial gender war'.
The Australian: January 23, 2013, page 10, comment by Janet Albrechtsen, `PM's fake feminism is man made'.
The Australian: February 18, 2013, page 13, editorial, `Misogyny attack misses mark'.
The Australian: March 30, 2013, page 14, comment by Angela Shanahan, `For the new feisty Gillard, misogyny is just so yesterday'.
The Age: April 16, 2013, page 29, comment (ref in part to media treatment of Gillard) by Sally Young, `PM eyed through the sexist lens of our time'.
Herald-Sun: June 13, 2013, page 30, editorial, `Give policy not poison'.
Herald-Sun: June 13, 2013, page 13, comment by Andrew Bolt, `Deceit, conceit of Julia's latest blue'.
The Australian: June 13, 2013, page 13, editorial (with cartoon), `Julia Gillard's clumsy and manipulative gender war'.
The Age: June 13, 2013, page 22, comment (photo of Tony Abbott) by Anne Summers, `Women should beware Abbott's blue-tie brigade'.
The Age: June 13, 2013, page 4, comment by Tony Wright, `Gillard joins the dots and tries to control message'.
Herald-Sun: June 20, 2013, page 13, comment by Andrew Bolt, `You can't hide behind a skirt, Julia'.
The Age: June 18, 2013, page 29, comment by Tim Colebatch, `Labor needs new policies, not just a new leader'.
The Age: June 18, 2013, page 20, comment by Lindy Edwards, `Twisted ideas about sex and power still rule'.
The Age: June 18, 2013, page 18, letters (with cartoon) incl, `Stuff of hatred, and not just of Gillard'.
Herald-Sun: June 17, 2013, page 21, comment by Rita Panahi, `Arnie's not a good look for a feminist PM'.
The Australian: June 17, 2013, page 11, letters, incl, `Gillard's woes have nothing to do with being female'.
The Age: June 17, 2013, page 20, comment by Amanda Vanstone, `Gillard bought voters' contempt upon herself'.
The Age: June 16, 2013, page 17, comment by Chris Johnson, `Sexist abuse served up to the Prime Minister finally reaches its nadir'.
The Australian: June 15, 2013, page 18, comment by Angela Shanahan, `Mr Abbott, don't let those gender-obsessed, post-60s feminists distract you from your goal' (see also page 21 cartoon).
The Age: June 15, 2013, page 20, editorial, `Show due respect, please'. (Online version: scroll down to second editorial)
The Age: June 15, 2013, page 18, analysis / background (photo of PM and partner) by Damien Murphy, `Sexism dogs women in power'.
The Age: June 15, 2013, page 6, news item (ref to Howard Sattler interview) by H Aston, `Radio DJ's attack on PM's partner ends in sacking'.
The Australian: June 14, 2013, page 11, editorial (with cartoon), `Facts are off the menu in this twitstorm of smear'.
The Australian: June 14, 2013, page 10, comment by Graham Richardson, `The PM misses the mark yet again'.
The Australian: June 14, 2013, page 4, news item / background by Mark Schliebs, `Bad-taste Julia joke is as old as the internet'.
Herald-Sun: June 26, 2013, page 25, comment by Jeff Kennett, `Gender war just another Gillard flop'.
The Age: June 25, 2013, page 28, comment by Marilyn Lake, `How the PM's gender took over the agenda'.
The Age: June 24, 2013, page 21, comment by Kaye Darveniza, `Make a graceful exit, PM, while you still can'.
The Age: June 22, 2013, page 16, comment by Anna Goldsworthy, `Missing Messiah: "getting stuff done" helped Gillard dodge the Golden Girl trap but became her un-doing'.
The Age: June 21, 2013, page 18, comment by Gay Alcorn, `Misogyny aside, Gillard is her own worst enemy'.
Herald-Sun: June 3, 2013, page 24, comment by Beverley O'Connor, `Gillard's fall stands as warning to women'.
The Australian: June 29, 2013, page 17, comment by Kate Legge, `Gillard eases the way for the next female Prime Minister'.