Julia Gillard breaks through

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Something amazing happened on Tuesday — a brave but grieving prime minister stood up for herself and for equality in a speech that rocked the world, says Victoria Rollison.

SOMETHING AMAZING happened on Tuesday. Julia Gillard finally snapped and produced the best speech of her career. She was passionate and composed, articulate and cutting. And what she said to Tony Abbott was long overdue. She spoke for herself, but she also spoke for all Australian women who have had to live with sexism and misogyny in their communities, workplaces and, no doubt, many of their homes.

There has been a rising tide of commentary about Abbott’s blatant hatred and fear of women in the blogosphere and on social media. But this topic has never reached the level of scrutiny it deserved in the mainstream media. When I watched the speech, I was elated. I believed, obviously naively, that the media could no longer ignore this gigantic elephant in the room. But, alas, Abbott’s misogyny is being swept under the carpet by mainstream journalists as another inconvenient truth that they don’t have the courage to investigate.

FACT: Abbott is a sexist and a misogynist — regardless of what his PR-primed wife might say. He always was and he always will be. The key point that seems to have been missed in reportage of Gillard’s speech is that it wasn’t just name calling. She documented this misogyny in all its horrible detail. Just as climate change scientists use evidence to prove the existence of climate change, Gillard rolled out Abbott’s history and proved her case.

So, how did Australian journalists and commentators react to this inspirational rejection of Abbott’s misogyny and the sexism that still exists throughout Australian society? They tried to strangle the life out it in the same way as vested interests have tried to sow doubt into scientific evidence of global warming. They tried to hide the inconvenient truth behind political spin and inelegant analysis. They tried to make the story merely about the resignation of the Speaker, Peter Slipper. And they failed. I’m certainly not condoning Slipper’s alleged behaviour, but this news is insignificant compared to the stand Gillard made about a huge issue in our society. Her speech was not just about Abbott’s misogyny. It was about a society that condones his behaviour and which makes his type of behaviour widespread.

Peter Hartcher was out of the blocks early, with the headline: We expected more of Gillard. Hartcher spectacularly missed the point of Gillard’s speech, and its importance to our political and feminist history. Hartcher wanted to paint Gillard’s speech as all about Peter Slipper, political point scoring and numbers. Was Hartcher even listening, or was his article written before Gillard stood up to speak? As Mr Denmore pointed out yesterday on his blog, The Failed Estate, Hartcher has got way too close to this political situation — so close he couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Just like an editor who claims that climate change coverage should be ‘balanced’, Hartcher needs to spend less time with politicians and more time in his community to understand just how badly wrong he is.

I regret to have to even mention his name after this pathetic display, but unsurprisingly, Paul Sheehan also got it terribly wrong. Managing to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist who thinks climate change is a left wing conspiracy, Sheehan’s article should be written off for the pathetic vested interest that it is. Like the good mate of Abbott that Sheehan is, he buried the inconvenient truth of Gillard’s speech by painting it as a Labor attack dog conspiracy, cooked up by men who gave Gillard the words she spoke. This is unbelievably offensive on many levels, given Sheehan is not a Tory hell bent on denying Abbott’s misogyny for political reasons.

Yes, no doubt it’s very inconvenient for Liberal supporters that their leader is such an utter, obvious and blatant misogynist — but facts are facts. Denial helps no one.

Next we have Annabel Crabb. Crabb likes to be funny. She likes to take important situations and turn them into pompous, embarrassing, meaningless, fairy floss. It’s hard to tell if she is dodgy political journalist or a third-rate comedian ― as she strives to be both and succeeds at neither. I would have thought, however, that Gillard’s speech offered something that Crabb could get her teeth into. Surely she, of all people, would have experienced the misogyny that Gillard exposed in her speech. Surely she would see this moment as a watershed for strong, opinionated women everywhere, who have been told not to be hysterical when we’re just being passionate. But, sadly, no. Crabb, instead, put Gillard’s principled stand against misogyny down to a political maneuver to avoid criticizing ‘her own Speaker’. Crabb limps sideways away.

Thankfully, in a day of Australian mainstream media fails, I found plenty of material in UK and US media yesterday that paints Gillard’s speech as the triumph that it was. There are also some gems in the Australian independent media, such as this beauty by Susan Mitchell in Crikey. I agree with Susan that “words can change the world”. I also agree with Tim Dunlop’s analysis, and I’m relived to be living in an age where Hartcher, Sheehan and Crabb’s words aren’t the only ones we get to read.

Update: If you read Paul Sheehan’s article and you’re wondering which words were removed by the editor after complaints, below is a screen print with the offending words highlighted:

(Credit: @mulgabob.)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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