Today’s blog post is written by Lauren Hudson, a recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College where she concentrated in studio art and political geography. She is currently a NYC Civic Corps Member serving at the NY Writers Coalition and a studio monitor at the Gowanus Print Lab. She lives in Brooklyn.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard made headlines on Tuesday after footage of her ripping opposition leader Tony Abbott went viral. The fifteen minute video, in which Gillard reprimands Abbott’s history of misogyny, was the climax to an already tense day in Australian government after Speaker Peter Slipper resigned earlier. Slipper, who was appointed by the Prime Minister, was called to resign after his derogatory remarks regarding female genitalia went public. Abbott saw the scandal as a chance to cry hypocrisy against Gillard and her party. Gillard, however was not having any of it.
What ensued on Tuesday was series of finger-pointing that ended with Gillard railing against Abbott. In short, the Prime Minister accused the opposition leader of what is colloquially referred to as ‘mansplaining’ or, when a man feels the need to ‘teach’ or reprimand a woman assuming she has little to no knowledge of the subject. To this, Gillard suggested Abbott look no further than a mirror for the traces of misogyny in modern Australia. The Prime Minister supported her critique by recounting instances where Abbott had asserted abortion to be an ‘easy way out’ for women, was photographed standing next to signs that referred to Gillard as a ‘witch’, and claimed her recently deceased father had ‘died of shame’. In an interview with NPR, Gillard explained her ‘outburst’ as nothing more than what every woman has often wished she said to a man instead of remaining silent.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Australian government has been in the news because of misogyny. Last summer, Senator Penny Wong garnered national attention after a male representative ‘meowed‘ at her during a speech. The underlying implication being that Wong had been acting ‘catty’ or ‘temperamental’. Disappointing still, is the realization that these are not historically or even geographically isolated incidents. It’s no secret that the U.S. government has been candid about its own misogyny, from the stonewalling of ‘Hillarycare’ in the 90s that lead to burning effigies of the former first lady, to Michigan Rep. Lisa Brown getting removed from the state floor for saying ‘vagina’. Alas, Australia is not the only place with a ‘woman’ problem.
Both cases in Australia not only shed light on how deeply entrenched misogyny has become in our institutions, but how much we as allies and viewers have internalized it. The media traction Gillard has gained throughout the week is evidence as to how ‘novel’ we find it when a woman raises her voice, a reaction that is paternalistic in and of itself. The source of Gillard’s anger was obvious and as she notes in her speech, the kind of treatment she has received would simply not be tolerated had she been a man. The media storm her assertion has caused is directly related to the fact that she spoke out against a powerful man and in doing so fulfilled another popular trope of the ‘loud sassy powerful woman’ that we love to watch and identify with.
Perhaps this label is not as disempowering as it may seem. Women watching the video of Gillard can readily identify with her argument as she essentially preaches to the choir. One can only hope that those on the oppositional side of the aisle, be it Tony Abbott or anyone else, can get the message.