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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Ladies, please: Julia Gillard

The day after Julia Gillard became Prime Minister of Australia, she was voted second sexiest woman in the country by Ralph Magazine. If I type her name into Google this is the order of what comes up: “Julia Gillard partner”, “Julia Gillard photos”, “Julia Gillard mp”, “Julia Gillard married”, “Julia Gillard husband”, “Julia Gillard tim mathieson”, and then finally “Julia Gillard prime minister”. While the words following Kevin Rudd’s name are “wealth”, “biography”, “speech”, “steps down”, “muslims”, “news”, “net worth”, “resigns” AND “wiki”. Hmmmmm.

Why is it that immediately after a woman moves into a position of power, the top stories are about her looks, her relationship and why she doesn’t have children? Of course, there’s gossip about any politician, whatever their gender, but as far as female leaders go, their general politics come second to discussion about how they fit into the gender categories we want them to. Women are supposed to be housewives and homemakers who make sure their husbands have their meals prepared for them and their shirts ironed so that they can go off and do the real work. This structure is threatened as soon as a woman takes one of these roles that we assume should belong to men. And so that this doesn’t upturn society, people have to make sure that we still know these gender roles are the norm, by making 179 different Facebook groups with the words “Julia Gillard” and “kitchen” in the title.

I think it’s awesome that Australia finally has a female Prime Minister and I don’t think we should ignore that fact. I think we should celebrate it, but I don’t think we should be distracted from her value as a leader by whether or not she has children, or what her hair looks like at a particular event. Society has come a long way in its attitude towards women, but still feels threatened when traditional gender roles are challenged.

In May 2007, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan said that Gillard was “unfit to be Prime Minister” because she is deliberately “barren”. He tried to reason this statement saying that “one of the great understandings in a community is family, and the relationship between mum, dads and a bucket of nappies”. Yes of course a leader has to relate to the society she is leading, but having children has never been considered compulsory for a male leader. Most women in “high-powered” jobs today who do have children will tell you that they would be much higher up had they chosen not to, because it’s simply very difficult to live the “double day” and have time for both. It’s a choice whether or not to have children, and in a two-parent family, which parent is going to stay home with them. Having children forces a parent to make sacrifices in his or her career, and in the vast majority of cases it falls to the woman to be the one who stays at home.

In any case, as a young woman thinking about career choices, I want to look to people like the first female Prime Minister of Australia as a role model, but the conflicting information I’m bombarded with is confusing. I was recently advised at a careers event, that if asked in a job interview if you are married, it is better for a male to say “yes” and a female to say “no”—the theory being that a married man shows some stability, but a married woman poses a threat of maternity leave. There’s also a strong undercurrent of power politics that an unmarried woman might be slightly more vulnerable, but that’s a whole other column. As a young woman choosing a career path it’s just very confusing. A woman is more likely to get a job if she is unmarried, but once she starts to rise up the ranks she is questioned for not being married, criticised for not having children and has to put up with every fashion and personal choice being scrutinised and publicised, undermining her work as a political leader. Yay for Julia Gillard. Let’s go read and write some articles about her political work.


About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

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