The topic of gender equality in politics, and more precisely in the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is at the forefront of Australian politics, because our first female Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been ousted from the highest ranking role in Australia’s political system. Many reasons for her departure have been bandied about, yet none more so than the question of gender. Surely, if there was genuine gender equality pervading the Australian way of life, gender should not have been an issue in her downfall. Gender equality is like chasing rainbows, always beyond one’s grasp, and something that all women strive to embrace and uphold.
All things being equal, a level playing field would be taken for granted, but not so in Australian politics. Female politicians have competently held their portfolios over many years, nevertheless, it appears to be an unspoken code of conduct that this has been only acceptable, provided females do not get ideas ‘above their station’. As in Gillard’s case, her position as Prime Minister has seen an avalanche of unprecedented personal abuse never witnessed before in Australian politics. From statements such as ‘stuff her in a chaff bag, and drown her at sea’, ‘her father died of shame’, ‘why won’t she just lie down and die?’ to ‘being kicked to death’ have all been relentless ad hominem attacks, completely unwarranted, and to all decent, polite members of society, ‘beyond the pale’. The latest insult mocking Gillard’s genitalia on a printed menu, as well as the questioning of her partner’s sexuality, demonstrated that standards had plummeted to an all time low, in an attempt to humiliate and denigrate the Prime Minister, even further.
The Prime Ministerial role should command respect and be valued, in our society irrespective of the gender of its occupant. Yet, over the previous three years our first female Prime Minister has been the target of ridicule, rumour and innuendo from shock jock radio presenters, an illustrator’s depictions of pornographic images circulating as a ‘free for all’ on the internet, and personal abuse instigated by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, the like of which has never been witnessed before in Australian politics. No male Prime Minister would have been the recipient of the gutter style rhetoric emanating from some of the ‘great unwashed’, during parliamentary sittings, or to have been on the receiving end of such a biased and right-wing media and last, but not least, the shock jocks whose intentions merely reflected their own spitefulness, biases and hatred of Gillard.