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Julia Gillard Deserved Better

Julia Gillard was Australia’s first female Prime Minister. Meghan Richardson explores why she deserved better and how we failed her as a nation. 

Do you remember where you were when you found out that we had our first female Prime Minister? I do, I was thirteen at the time and on a train. Over the P.A the train driver announced that the former leader, Kevin Rudd, had been voted out and over the course of a single train trip the government had transformed and now Julia Gillard was the new Prime Minister of Australia (and head of the Labor Party).

This was a historic moment for Australia, but I  was completely unaware of the impact it would have. Nearly a decade later it is still too early to quantify the impact Julia Gillard had on politics and feminism, but personally, I can say it shaped the woman I grew into.

During her three years and exactly three days as Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced one of the mightiest avalanches of hatred and sexism that had ever been experienced in Australian politics. People from the opposition and members within her own party wanted her gone, the media wanted her out, and at times it felt like the public wanted her dead.

They complained about the pitch of her voice, the fit of her clothes, the size parts of her body, her red hair, her unmarried and childfree status, and anything else they felt like. People made signs that decreed ‘Ditch the Witch’ and called her a bitch, she was egged before it was cool, talk show hosts joked that she should be dropped into the sea, and a chew toy in her image was made for dogs.

In recent years the public’s perception and the media’s approach to Julia Gillard have softened and it may be hard to remember the challenges she had to overcome. Well, I’m here to bloody remind and tell you why Julia Gillard deserved more.

Miss Gillard achieved a lot during her unduly short run as PM, she successfully passed over 500 bills and on average passed more legislation than almost any other Prime Minister. A very quick summary of her achievements in office includes introducing the NBN, increasing the pension, addressing climate change, introducing paid parental leave, delivering the National Apology for Forced Adoptions, and passing numerous policies for health. She gained international acclaim in 2012 when her Parliamentary speech about misogyny went viral and media organisations around the world praised her.

It is doubtless there will be people reading this article who do not like Julia Gillard, and I do not blame you. She was not a perfect politician, or a perfect feminist, or a perfect human being. No one is, but she will always be the first woman to break the glass ceiling in Australian politics and she was the woman forced to fare a tougher storm than any of her male counterparts had ever encountered.

You might think I’m being hyperbolic, but it wasn’t just a string of isolated criticisms and opinions that accumulated in such a toxic environment for the first female PM. It was the ingrained sexism and misogyny that most of these opinions and assumptions stemmed from that made it so noxious. I think it was a hate that stemmed from a fear of a woman so modern and powerful. As an unmarried atheist, Julia Gillard challenged tradition.  She was bringing change into the government whether the old boys liked it or not.

I decided to write this article after I read an interview with the 27th PM where she notes that her mother passed a few years ago. I didn’t know, in fact, nobody knew this personal tragedy because she’d chosen to hide it from the public. She had to do this because of a notorious incident seven years ago when Alan Jones suggested then-Australian PM’s father had ‘died of shame’ over his daughter. She was forced to quietly mourn her mother in fear that her pain would be used as a punchline again.

Regardless of your opinion of Julia Gillard, I hope you can recognise that collectively as a country, we failed her and let undue sexism run rampant. In true Gillard style, she handled it all with grace and since then she has worked with UNICEF and Rhianna and has achieved a lot. As a young woman, I learnt a lot from her stoic determination in the face of national hate.

Feature Image: Kate Lundy via Wikimedia Commons, no changes made 

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