Julia Gillard

Twirling towards freedom

Shades of grey

On Wednesday night a freshly deposed prime minister offered more insight into the problems that plagued her term in office than 3 years of opinion pieces and editorials combined. “The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my time in the prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership,” Julia Gillard said, before imploring the nation to “think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.”

Just two days later it seems that Gillard was asking too much and, I suspect, knew this at the time. The same media that bayed for her blood are now dancing a delighted jig on her grave, making snide remarks about “the lucrative life” Gillard is set to enjoy now that she’s lost the support of her party and walked away from the career she loved. Gillard said that she hoped that politics would be “easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that” but will it, really? Not if the media’s early coverage of Gillard’s departure is anything to go by. Anne Summers felt it necessary to write yesterday for Daily Life that, “Those ministers who honourably resigned last night did not include a single woman. Not one of the nine women ministers showed any sisterly solidarity. Do those women seriously think that it was OK for our first woman prime minister to be hounded out of office by bullying, duplicity and an outrageous trashing of her reputation?” Of course they don’t, but how on earth would the unanimous departure of all female ministers possibly help the culture of misogyny that has taken over not only the Labor Party, but Australian politics as a whole? I hope that Summers wasn’t suggesting that all remaining female ministers follow suit and fall on their swords, but if this wasn’t her point, why bother mentioning it at all? Talking about Gillard’s prime ministership in these terms and reducing her cabinet to the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants hardly helps the cause.

Senator Penny Wong spoke beautifully with the ABC’s Fran Kelly about “the most difficult decision of my political life” and the careful weighing of her personal loyalty against her personal principles: her loyalty to Gillard against her loyalty to feminism. “I do not believe the feminist principles which I hold dear would be served by Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister,” Wong concluded, citing “the views that he has expressed on women and women’s capacity (and) the ways in which he has implicitly allowed the sexism in this country that we have seen on display. I do not believe a leopard changes his spots.” We can only assume that the remaining female ministers went through a similar thought process.

Senator Wong isn’t the only strong female role model to have already shone through all the bullshit of the past week. The ABC’s Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales covered Wednesday night’s unfolding events with remarkable insight and wisdom, offering engaging and intelligent commentary after almost four hours of live reporting; their own personal filibuster.

The manner in which Gillard was treated throughout her prime ministership and ultimately deposed doesn’t detract from the fact that a whole generation of girls have already grown up knowing it is possible for them to hold the highest office in the country. This generation has seen how they may well be treated and, if we’re lucky, will do all they can to prevent it from happening again. We don’t yet know if, as Gillard suggested, things will be easier for subsequent female politicians, but with women like Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and Kate Ellis already in office, and journalists like Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales reporting on their achievements and failures, we can only hope it may be. Gillard may be gone, but she’s left a swag of intelligent, gutsy female politicians behind her to get on with the job. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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