Feministisk premiärminister får avgå i Australien
Fördelen med att arbeta för en internationell organisation är att du kan gå bortom medias rapportering och få tillgång till andra perspektiv och analyser. Ett sådant exempel är mina funderingar kring vad som pågår i Australien. För en tid sedan blev deras dåvarande premiärminister Juliar Gillard känd för hela världen över en natt efter hennes tal där hon kallade oppositionsledaren kvinnofientlig. Kommer du ihåg?
I onsdags nåddes vi istället av nyheten att Gillard förlorat en förtroendeomröstning och nu får avgå. Däremellan har jag följt frustrerade facebook-uppdateringar från medlemmar i vår systersektion i Australien. Jag mejlade en av dem, Sharna de Lacy, och bad henne förklara. Jag fick ett fyra sidor långt svar. Jag tyckte det var så väldigt intressant att jag publicerar det här för er andra att ta del av. Tack Sharna!
In electing a female Prime Minister (PM) for the first time in 2010, in the minds of many, Australia had joined the special ranks of vaguely progressive nations, forward thinking enough bury a millennium of sexism and misogyny, and chose a woman to represent the national interest. She then became an international feminist hero in 2012, when she delivered the now infamous “misogyny speech”, a scathing, and brilliant blow-by-blow account of the opposition leaders appalling public record on gender equality. Not many people follow the nuance of Australian politics (Australians included), and so it is in these broad strokes that our nation, and our female leader were understood.
So, when last week this accidental feminist icon was dramatically deposed by her own party, and Kevin Rudd mark 2 was re-installed as PM, many outside Australia are looking on bemused. What exactly has happened in Australia? Why did we roll our first female PM just before an election?
This is such a deeply complex question to answer, and one that for many Australian feminists (myself included) is thick with feelings of anger and exhaustion. Hopefully, I can go some ways to answering this question, without confounding trifle facts with absolute truths, as has become the tedious tendency of the Australian feminist media. I’m afraid it is a sordid tale that will take more than the standard 800 words.
First, it is important to know something about the context in which Julia Gillard came to occupy the top job inside the Labour party she represented, because it explains much of how she came to her end.
In 2007, Australia voters finally ousted 11 years of John Howard’s conservative government, and elected Labour (a traditionally center left party) lead by Kevin Rudd. It was the same year Barak Obama campaigned on a metaphysical platform of Hope and Change; and here in Australia, similar feelings of feverous positivity were abound. Those 11 years of conservative rule had been long, and oppressive for the Left in Australia, tied as it was to the brutal years of George Bush. It had taken us into two wars the Australian people had resolutely opposed. It had transformed asylum seeker policy from a human rights issue, into a xenophobic matter of “security” and an outrageously expensive political football. It had sent the military into Aboriginal communities to deal with what was (and still is) an issue of social, political and economic disadvantage, discrimination, and the historical legacy of brutal violence perpetrated by white colonists. If the mere act of sending uniforms into remote indigenous communities to “protect” their women and children was not perverse enough, the human rights instruments actually protecting them had to be overturned to do so. Needless to say, we were exhausted, and desperate for something to change.
Kevin Rudd is certainly no Barak Obama, but he inspired a new political positivity that had been smothered during those long Howard years. He was a brilliant campaigner, savvy with media, and deeply popular with the Australian people. He was on Twitter. This nerdish looking middle-aged white guy became a rock star among young people, and a savior to the world-weary political classes. We loved him, and we voted for K-Rudd (as he called, himself and we enthusiastically echoed) as much as we did for the Australian Labour party he lead. It was a new era for populist politics.
Apparently, he was not so popular within his party however.
Publically described by senior members of his own party as an egotistical, controlling, and by some as a sociopath, he was unable to negotiate or deliver difficult policy, and was ultimately abandoned by the right factions (of which he was member) who switched their allegiance, and the numbers to then deputy PM Julia Gillard (of the left faction). Rudd stood down, and Gillard took Labor to the 2010 election. And that was it. Our K-Rudd was gone.
Although in our Westminster system it is parties, not people who are elected, Australia would never forgive the “knifing” of a sitting Prime Minister, especially one so popular. That late into his term he was polling badly under the weight of an expensive ad campaign lead by big mining companies, and was failing to deliver on big new policy items, of course is long forgotten. He was now an under-dog, and this in Australia is a valuable currency, and polling as “preferred PM”, his numbers were miraculously restored. Australians are funny like that. We love a loser.
Kevin Rudd himself and his supporters would never forgive Gillard either, and for the duration of her tenure, they strategized in dark rooms, behind closed doors, for his rightful return.
Julia Gillard entered the 2010 election as mistrusted, and even hated by huge parts of the electorate following her unorthodox rise to power; but was ultimately able to secure government by winning the support of independents and the Greens party. She would for the next three years, preside over a minority government, and sit across from a conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott who tempestuously refused to accept the result of the
election (his arrogance, and overt power hungry attitude to governance is what the independents cite as their reason for siding with Gillard) and waged a campaign of destabilization, hoping to catalyze an early election.
A popular PM “knifed” on his throne. A minority government lead by Rudd’s assassin, hanging by a thread. Factional in fighting and power plays, by so-called “faceless men”, many of whom would refuse to accept the fall of Kevin Rudd. Over the preceding years, all this would see the Labor party cannibalize itself.
What does it have to do with gender (?), I suppose is the ultimate question on feminist’s minds, and the one question you really want answered. The truth is nothing. The absolute internal disorder of the Labor party allowed Kevin Rudd to white ant the PM for three years, supplementing the attacks of the conservative opposition, and utterly hostile (Murdoch dominated) press. Disastrous poll after another, unable to unite, and a few leadership spills later, and here we are. Back with Kevin Rudd, evidently a sociopath. A man who cannot lead, but who Australian’s apparently love.
There is much to be said about the dynamics of gender on this however. And I’ve no doubt, more words will be spilled than it is truly worth in the coming years. In her outgoing speech Gillard said: ”The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership, it is for the nation to think about the grey area in a sophisticated way”.
Sophistication has been sorely absent in these past three years, and I hope if I can add anything here, and can at least touch somewhat on the complexity.
She was a PM who happened to be a woman. And as a clear thinking feminist will tell you, a woman never has such privilege as to not being identified first by her gender. We cannot understand the anger at her “knifing” of Kevin Rudd, without understanding gendered bias powerful woman face as “manipulative”, and that power for a woman is negatively correlated with likeability. Which matters less for a CEO than it does for a PM dependent upon populist polling. We cannot understand her inability to win the support of the Australian public, without understanding that women are held to higher account, given higher huddles to jump, and must work twice as hard to win recognition and respect. Every error she made, every misstep, was
amplified three fold and reported enthusiastically by a media dominated by conservative corporate interests. Neither can we understand the relentless hounding she faced after calling out the sexism she was regularly dealt, without understanding that women who speak out against discrimination are commonly vilified with greater ferocity. These are subtle forms of discrimination and deep-seated gender bias that are difficult to unravel, a task surely more appropriate to be wrestled by academics, than under qualified op-ed journalists.
Neither can we understand how this all came to pass, without looking too, at the overt forms of sexism that entered the political discourse (although concentrated on the fringes). She was to some, a Bitch and a Witch. She was That Woman, and not Prime Minister Gillard, but JULIAR. The rough and tumble of politics leaves few cheap insults un-hurled, but for the first female PM, these had a uniquely gendered dimension. In the dark corners of the internet, sexualized violence became a fresh medium to express political dissatisfaction. That an opposition leader thought it fit, and acceptable to stand affront placards decrying the PM as Witch, is a pretty good indication of how awake this country is to its own masculinised culture. But much of this trash was proffered by lunatic Rush Limbar-esque shock jocks, and online misogynists, and was then dutifully dredged up, and reported to give it new life, and new audiences in the great echo chamber of political reporting.
This new cloud of subtle and overt sexism and gender bias became the rallying point for much new feminist media. New online publications emerged around the same time Gillard came to power, and lots of women were now full time employed in feminist dissection of the political culture. And most of this, from my vantage point, has been resolutely uninspiring.
Collecting small sexist grievances into a dossier of Look At All This Misogyny, and transforming this into bizarre forms of activism (including posting photos of cleavage all over the internet, for what purpose other than its own, is a question that seems to be irrelevant). Mainstream media sniffing a new angle, attempted to capitalize on the apparent resurgence of feminist thought, and ignorantly fumbled with complex concepts, producing irritating and reductive content that would befit only an early high school feminist introduction session. The political discourse sky rocketed into the meta dimensions, and became frankly unbearable. Something sexist was said. Is this actually sexist. Are we a sexist culture. Is the PM being hounded by sexism. Is the PM playing the “gender card”. Some will say: “at least we were talking about it”, and I would respond that a string of words does not a valuable conversation make.
I was left many sleepless nights remembering the words of WILPF’s Jane Adams, hoping her wisdom might filter across time and save us from ourselves: “We slowly learn that life consists of processes as well as results, and that failure may come quite as easily from ignoring the adequacy of one’s method as from selfish or ignoble aims.”
The adequacy of our methods is a lesson on which every (public) feminist in this country should now mediate. For Julia Gillard, much of this mindless chatter served nothing other than to make her Prime Ministership more identified with her gender than it already was. Sure, the decent into sexist diatribe should not have gone unremarked, the patriarchal social structures we endure, being so dependent on the silence of women as they are.
But matters of emphasis, and efficacy have been surely lost in these last three years, and I’m afraid genuine feminist objectives have been forgotten.
The second wave feminists were accused of being for privilege white women, and I do wonder if we are repeating this same mistake. On the same day of the now famous misogyny speech, single parents (whom are primarily women) were pushed onto a job seeking benefit, losing hundreds of dollars a fortnight in the process. A Gillard Labour policy. The feminization of poverty and caring work – here is a feminist objective worthy of our outrage surely. Or, a new report, which recently found that Aboriginal women in Australia are 80 times more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted than non-indigenous women. An opportunity to address the dearth of Aboriginal women in public leadership positions or in the mainstream media, to look at with earnest our dark colonial history, the violence perpetrated by white settlers, its gendered dimensions, and its historical legacy. To look at the Australian foreign policy dependence on the United States, and how the positioning of 2,500 US troops will effect the small communities which already have large military and fly-in-fly-out populations. Evidence shows us that this will have negative implications for women, and requires a feminist analysis. It is not one, we are apparently ready for. We are preoccupied with sexist menus, cleavage and all sundry of other misogynist proofs. Important yes, but The Most Important? No. The emphasis on the metaphysical, the Every Day Sexisms is a preoccupation for privileged middle and upper class white women, for whom the very real, and very physical forms of discrimination no longer exist. I regret that in
a first female PM, and a new rise of feminism in Australia, that we lost many opportunities to effect real, genuine change for women.
So Julia Gillard lead a minority government, and delivered many tough, socially progressive reforms (on climate change,
on disability insurance, on superannuation, education and on it goes). The consensus was that she was strong, effective and delivered all this in tough conditions on the quality of her leadership. She was not at every point of her tenure any better PM for Australian women than John Howard was. But for the last three years we have heard little substance on this, because we became preoccupied with her gender, with locating and discussing ad nauseum various sexist remarks, and whether or not K-Rudd would stage another coup. Would he have been able to successfully destabilize her government, and mount a come back if it were not for all of this deeply harmful background noise? Who knows, my guess is probably not.
I will leave it up to less interesting feminists to essentialise her leadership style, to call her The Woman’s PM, and to continue the process of documenting the sexist things said about her. Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd stands in Parliament today, and the media has suddenly regained its ability to talk about actual policy. What this has to do with gender…well, I’m not sure we have the ability to sensibly answer this question. At least now she is the underdog, and therefore, back in our good books, so we might look back on what she achieved with a little more clarity.
Sharna de Lacy