Gillard Has Every Right to be Offended

Prime Minister Julia Gillard laid out Tony Abbott today in parliament.   She is known to be forthright and a sharp debate opponent, and in this instance she was at her finest.   While listening to her "I am offended . . ." statements, it felt good to witness an accomplished woman who has a huge platform speak for so many women who are told to "just take a joke" and "relax!" when faced with sexist innuendo, harassment and discrimination.

I have worked in an Australian office where males were drawing penises on a girl's back while she did her job and all she could manage was a meek protest between giggles as she squirmed in discomfort and asked them not to use permanent ink.  I have witnessed worse and experienced some first hand, and when I expressed my disgust, eyes were rolled and some even said I must be a lesbian. Sadly, speaking out against rotten treatment is made more difficult when women can be found participating in their own degradation. They may even dismiss fellow women who protest misogynistic jokes or sexual harassment as being too uptight, too feminist or opinionated.  Like the girl I mentioned who allowed the the penis graffiti, others may be addicted to the male gaze and compliant for the sake of not causing any trouble or losing favour with guys she might consider her friends.  It's difficult to face up to how traditional sexual biases are still profoundly undermining women's perspective of themselves.

In the case of women in positions of power outside of a traditional gender role, the first impression and easiest target is to sexually assess her value.  There are online commenters who'd like to turn the tables by pointing out that the success of men can also be affected by their height and physical appearance.  I would counter that male politicians get called out for lying, being stupid, awkward and occasionally for being overweight - but rarely is their ambition immediately associated with being gay, their taste in fashion brutally assessed, or are any comments made about how their temperament is affected by their genitalia.

So regardless of all other contexts that might apply to her flaying of Tony Abbott, all of my admiration goes to Gillard exclusively for laying out the ugly truths behind the comments she has been subjected to  that are so rarely admitted to in polite (and not so polite) conversation.  She demonstrated that women are sick to death of feeling obligated to take these types of abuse or downplay it's seriousness as part of some twisted notion that the poor treatment of women and the denial of their equality should be an acceptable cultural norm.  This is a headline that reaches across several different news cateories and I'm extremely glad to know it will enjoy a lot of online presence and open discussion for a significant period of time (well, a long time by internet news cycles anyway).

To anyone who thinks her remarks were entirely a political power play,  or that her stance on same sex marriage and the current government's policy changes to social assistance makes the power of her comments somehow completely null and void, I invite you to see some of what she's tolerated thus far:

The Nasty Top Ten
Facebook Chat
Alan Jones

I hope her actions will embolden female public figures and all women who are up against these kinds of demeaning attitudes and personal attacks in their workplaces and personal lives.   Not least of all (though I hate to say I doubt it will change them) to wake up women who refuse to fight for themselves.  I'm not talking about those who are economically disadvantaged and may not speak up because they feel intimidated and risk losing jobs that support their kids.   It's the women who believe they have plenty of freedom, who consider themselves clever and liberated, who have convinced themselves that being complicit or silent about their subjugation makes them savvy or laid back.  Though the likely truth is they might have actually come to believe in their hearts they deserve less than being respected, less than decent treatment and less than equal pay.     

So regardless of personal political disagreements I might have with her party,  I have to thank Ms. Gillard for her words today.  May other women across the world be inspired by her strength of character.

No comments:

Post a Comment