Australia, You Weren’t Ready For A Female Prime Minister

imgresNow that Gillard’s term is done and dusted in duly spectacular fashion, I think it’s fair to say it was a term dominated by her gender. Up until this point I have been reluctant to admit that. Ever hopeful that the commentary on her Prime Ministership would turn the corner and be about something other than her femaleness. Had she been allowed to stick it out maybe her legacy might even have gone beyond that of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

I wasn’t one that thought her losing the election was a fait accompli, though the more the media touted that it was the more it became so. And now, of course we are where we are.

What a shame that Gillard came to power in the way that she did – because something as historic as Australia’s first female Prime Minister was overshadowed by the drama of her taking of office.

And although she went on to make some admirable achievements after forming minority government her image never recovered. The tenuous mandate she received was in large part due to a backlash from the dumping of Kevin Rudd – both public ill ease and white-anting from within.

And this backlash pierces the heart of the issue. No doubt the ousting of a sitting Prime Minister is a dramatic event, but I think the media and the public had a greater issue with that event because it was enacted by a woman. A woman being ambitious, decisive, divisive and cut-throat. A woman perhaps performing like a man?

We were not ready for it, and that points to a sexist undercurrent in this country that I was previously unaware of.

So I am disappointed that Gillards term was defined by gender. But I am also grateful that it was. Because now I know. Women are still held in a different esteem than men, still expected to occupy certain roles and not others, still defined by feminine characteristics.

And now I know. If ever there was confirmation needed that feminism was still relevant in Australia, here is that confirmation served to us on a platter.

I look forward to the day that a woman leads a supportive party to the polls and wins decisively so that the legitimacy of her Prime Ministership is irrefutable. (And if that person were to be Penny Wong, all the better.) After the treatment that Julia Gillard has received I doubt that day will be anytime soon – though I hope that it is.

I don’t believe Gillard “played the gender card”. The game of gender politics was played out around her, not by her. Although that misogyny speech was pretty damn fantastic.

The whole thing has been way more revealing than it has been inspiring. And it has been inspiring. But revealing more so, of this countries innate and unacknowledged sexism.

I always scoffed at people who said Australia wasn’t a racist country. How naive I thought. They think that because we have great Vietnamese restaurants we aren’t racist. Bless.

But now I am in those naive shoes. The one who believed them when they told me that girls can do anything boys can do. But it’s a fallacy isn’t it? A fairy tale. Or at least a tale of omission. Because of course girls can do anything that boys can do.

But what they don’t tell you is that to be able to use your skills and show off your talents and be acknowledged for them in meaningful ways, you will have to hone those skills and nurture those talents with multitudes more tenacity and ferocity than the boys.

You will have to be prepared to work harder, be braver and more assured than the boys and all the while weathering criticisms and doubts from those around you, and from within.

And make sure you look good while you’re doing it, because it doesn’t count if you are not pretty.

As they say, “Fred Astaire was great but Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels.”

So it’s wonderful to be able to tell my daughter she can be Prime Minister one day. But it’s sobering to know that I will also have to tell her she’ll have to do extra to get there. And how will she be treated when she does?

Julia Gillard has done me a great service by opening my eyes to something I hadn’t noticed before. That Australia is more sexist than it would ever care to admit.

She was Australia’s first female Prime Minister, but she will not be the last. I do hope the years between are not too great. And I hope that Gillard is right when she says it will be easier for the one after her, and the one after that.

And I hope also that in my lifetime, and that of my daughter Australia will finally grow up and be ready for a female Prime Minister.

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