Julia Gillard, Personal Abuse and Australian Rules Politics

27 June 2013

The first Female Prime Minister of Australia is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia.

In an election contest for Labor Party leader that seems to have been conducted at lightning speed, Julia Gillard was deposed by the man she had displaced from the premiership three years ago, Kevin Rudd.

Labor is well and truly behind in the polls, facing defeat, but when the cry is “SoS!”  - Save our Seats – instantly-selected new leaders may guarantee personal survival at the ballot box.

Julia Gillard’s government had lost electoral support, and since assuming office, she engaged in the lively exchange of political debate, but with one crucial  difference.

Male political opponents meted out treatment to her that they would not think of dishing out to a man.

Julia Gillard has no children and has been insulted as “deliberately barren”.

 When her father died, an opponent weighed in claiming that he had “died of shame” as his daughter had “told lies every time she stood for parliament.”

 The macho leader of the opposition, Tony Abbot, held a rally outside the Australian Parliament surrounded by supporters displaying placards reading not only “Juliar,” but also “Bitch,” and “Ditch the Witch”.

He addressed his speech to “the housewives of Australia, as they do the ironing”.

The latest outpouring of invective came earlier this month when a menu written for a dinner for political opponents referred to Gillard’s body, using sexist, objectifying and degrading language -  “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail" with "small breasts, huge thighs, and a big red box".

On radio, Prime Minister Gillard was asked if her partner was gay since he is a hairdresser, while the head of the Australian Agriculture Company called her “an unproductive old cow”

The vilification of Gillard burgeoned still further on social media.

The Facebook page “Julia Gillard - Worst PM in Australian History” has  over 47,000 likes.

Its contents include a cartoon of Julia Gillard reviewing a Chinese guard of honour, with China’s head of state shown as thinking about her body, in language not only sexist and sizeist, but also racist.

Protests against her environmental carbon tax show a gas tank burning a huge plume of fire with the sexually threatening caption: “Get this up ya, Julia…Carbon Tax this, bitch”

A Facebook account called “Julia Gillard’s Freak Show” has been set up and shows spoof advertising for “Juliamite – Concentrated Cow Dung Extract”.

Also shown, with the strapline “ If you can swallow this, you can swallow anything” is a soft drink can displaying Julia Gillard’s face. The soft drink has been called “Red Cow”

Coarsening the political discourse still further are the shock jocks and vox pops on talkback radio as this short compendium on YouTube reveals


Since being elected Julia Gillard stood firm against never-ending, intimidating, misogynistic abuse from many male opponents who are unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being in a position of power that was once reserved exclusively for them.

 The unwritten rules of this kind of politics involves demeaning people rather than addressing their policies, egos to the fore, and shouting, pointing, and swaggering in debate.

 Of course many men in politics do not display these attributes, but there are enough of the others for many women to regard politics as “not for them” and so become discouraged from participating.

These rules also ensure that male politicians would not, for instance, be expected to comment on low gossip from the Internet that their wife or partner is a closet lesbian because of her job.

 Why should there be different rules for female politicians?

We want to encourage as many young women as possible to enter politics in a time when social media such as Facebook and Twitter play an increasing role in their lives and in daily politics. 

While the Internet is a magnificent tool for spreading information, it can also used as a malevolent tool of abuse.

Much material posted on the Internet about politics would never be considered fit for inclusion in the Letters to the Editor page in a newspaper, let alone considered worthy for publication as news.

The content of such messages on Facebook assumes no greater importance simply because it is online, nor are they representative of how most people think about politics and politicians.

This spreading of misogynistic messages and images about high-level female politicians, such as Julia Gillard, from the safety of anonymous cowardice cheapens politics.

It lowers the standard of an introduction to politics for young people whose abilities and talents we cannot afford to lose.

In the end, we must continue to accentuate positive message in politics, while holding our opponents to account, robustly, without plummeting to the levels of hateful abuse that Julia Gillard had to withstand, simply because she was a woman in a position of power.

More importantly, however, we must make sure that the perpetrators of such abuse are brought to account.

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