Politics Analysis

Ten years on from the Misogyny Speech, not much has changed

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Julia Gillard delivered a powerful speech against misogyny in 2012 in reaction to Tony Abbott accusing her of sexism (Screenshot via YouTube - edited)

Ten years on from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech, has media representation of women really improved? Dr Victoria Fielding examines why not much has changed.

AS WE MEET this historic occasion, an occasion the Press Gallery at the time wrote off as merely politics, failing to understand its significance, failing to understand why women like me cried the first time we watched it, it sure doesn’t feel like much has changed.

This week, misogynist Steve Price decided to spew out his sexist opinion of AFLW, calling it ‘substandard’  and that ‘even high school boys are better to watch’. Price and the Herald Sun who published his filth don’t care about the damage this “opinion” does to the AFL Women players, the women and men who admire them and the young girls aspiring to be equal to their male peers. All he cares about is his knee-jerk opposition to anything that looks like change and generating outrage for clicks.

In an even more disappointing display of misogyny, mixed in with some anti-Labor class shaming, Samantha-should-know-better-Maiden shamed Jodie Haydon for wearing expensive clothes. The price of Haydon’s clothes is no one’s business. This was yet another sorry example of the misogynistic way women are treated in politics, whether politicians or the partners of the Prime Minister.

As a young feminist when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, I felt a great sense of optimism about what it meant for progress towards gender equality in Australia. This hope was beaten to a pulp as I watched Gillard being torn down by rampant, systemic sexism in Parliament, amongst the public and in the media.

A few months ago, I gained a horrific insight into the reasons why the media failed to hold anyone to account for their sexist treatment of Gillard and an understanding of why not much has changed since.

At a journalism research conference, I attended a presentation by some well-known members of the Press Gallery talking about the news media’s representation of women in politics. This topic had currency at the time because of discussions about the treatment of Brittany Higgins and the role journalists play in telling the story of gendered abuse, harassment and inequity in wider society. I won’t name the journalists because it’s not about them — it’s about the whole institution.

They started talking about the sexist treatment of Julia Gillard during her tenure as Prime Minister.

One of them said:

“We all knew that it was happening and we talked about how terrible it was. But we didn’t want to call it out in news reporting because we didn’t want to be seen as taking her side.”

The implication here is that by calling out the sexist mistreatment of our first female Prime Minister, journalists would be accused of taking the side of the Labor Prime Minister. That is, apparently, not allowed.

However, by not calling it out, the sexism continued without consequence. Indeed, by not calling it out, there was a bias towards those who were being sexist — members of the Liberal and National Opposition, members of the media and many high-profile Australians who contributed to the misogynist culture that defined Julia Gillard’s prime ministership.

Journalists failed to be watchdogs. They failed to hold powerful people to account for behaviour that society should deem unacceptable. By not calling it out, they allowed it to continue and indeed, normalised and even legitimised her treatment.

Kate Ellis, former Labor Member for Adelaide, wrote about the sexist treatment Julia Gillard experienced in her book, Sex, Lies and Question Time.

She wrote:

Julia faced fire from multiple fronts. Sexism in the Parliament, sexism in the community and sexism from the media. The task of tackling and overturning these attitudes in all three arenas seems mammoth. I recently asked Julia: if we could change just one of the three, which one would have the greatest impact? She didn’t hesitate in nominating the media. She was adamant that the media taking a hard line against this type of treatment would encourage enormous change.

 

“I actually think if we could fix the media, that would have the bigger impact. Partly because the community’s understanding of what’s happening in Parliament still tends to be moderated through the lens of the media. If they were better, I think the community understanding would be different.”

I thought about that as I listened to this journalist, seemingly not aware of the implications of what she was saying, explain how she and her colleagues purposely chose not to call out the sexism that they all saw, that they all agreed was terrible.

If they weren’t going to uphold standards of respect and inclusion for women and if they weren’t going to call out sexism and misogyny, what incentive is there for dinosaurs like Steve Price to do better? No wonder little has changed.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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