Tuesday, October 1, 2013
JULIA GILLARD - LESSONS
She was calm and serene and walked onto the stage at the Sydney Opera House amidst the upbeat sounds of Aretha Franklin’s 1965 song ‘Respect’ and the resounding applause from an audience of about 2,600 people who had come to hear a woman they held in high esteem, even though or in spite of the fact that she been insulted and ridiculed by the media, politicians and the public prior to and during her three year and three day reign as our first female Prime Minister. Anne Sommer’s interview with Julia Gillard was intended as homage and opportunity for those present and the thousands watching the ABC TV program to pay their respect, indeed reflect upon their reverence for this woman who had made, contrary to what some sectors of our community would believe, a significant contribution to the lives of Australian people. As I watched and listened to Julia Gillard speak it remained firmly fixed in my mind that the way she was treated will stand as an indictment on the Australian people for many years to come and is symptomatic of a country that is not yet mature, not yet capable of perceiving women as equal to men. We thought that we had grown up through those turbulent years of women’s liberation and various feminisms supported by both genders in our society, but lurking underneath all that supposed end of gender discord was an insecurity and latent fear that reared its ugly head about superiority and who was going to rule the roost at home. After all, haven’t men just accepted all this feminism(s) because although women choose paid work outside the home they better bloody well still bear children, raise them and keep the house clean and tidy? In other words, fulfill their biological function? It wasn’t only men (though it was mostly men) who found it difficult to deal with a strong, determined woman; it was other women as well who sought to undermine Julia Gilliard whenever they got the opportunity, displaying their own feelings of inadequacy. I know that we don’t want to say it, but when we’re talking about women and leadership opportunities we need to acknowledge that it IS difficult to fulfill the requirements of motherhood as well as commitments associated with paid work outside the home. It’s challenging juggling the responsibility of parenthood alongside work demands even if you can afford to pay for good quality childcare and when women looked at Julia Gillard what they saw was a woman who had somehow managed to escape the trap that they had fallen into through family and societal pressures and unlike them she had risen to the top of the ladder. Her success and the success of other women like Gillard was underscoring their failure to rise to increasing demands upon them to be wife and mother as well as paid worker. And this is understandable because it is hard, but disheartenment of successful women (and I’m not saying that I define success purely on status, finance or celebrity, but it is the way that our society defines it) doesn’t achieve anything except to tell other women who aspire to leadership that their hopes, desires and hard work may be in vain. For some women Julia Gilliard appeared to have it all. She had the audacity to stand against HIS law that stipulated that a woman should marry the man she is living with and she chose not to have children in order to further and fulfill her career in politics. Unlike most women she could withstand the virtual abuse and snide comments about her clothing, body and sexuality and she dealt out verbally as much as she received in Parliament question time - formidable person who took no nonsense and refused to submit to the utter barrage. What can young women learn from this dark period in Australian history? Are they going to retreat back into what can only be described as 1950s Australia in which women donned their apron, stayed home and looked after the kids, knowing that their place in society was simply to be a good wife and mother, or will they take up the gauntlet and understand that women have different needs and make different life choices and we should support those women who choose leadership roles as difficult as that role may be.