After a row over harassment allegations against the speaker, Australia's prime minister let rip at opposition leader Tony Abbott
This morning I woke up to an email that said: "Wow, looks like your prime minister fired her anger translator," with a link to this video of Australian PM Julia Gillard's masterful, righteous take-down of opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Abbott had called for the resignation of the embattled speaker of the house, Peter Slipper, who several months ago was accused of sexually harassing a staffer. Abbott called Slipper unfit for office, saying that the language in the sexually explicit text messages Slipper sent to the staffer were offensive. At that point, Gillard decided that she neither wanted nor needed an "anger translator": she was going to handle this one herself. And handle it she did.
"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the house of representatives, he needs a mirror."
Gillard went on to list a series of sexist and misogynistic remarks made by Abbott himself – from questioning whether it's a bad thing that men have more power than women to explaining a new carbon pricing scheme with the words "what the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing …". Gillard remarked sarcastically: "Thank you for that painting of women's roles in modern Australia."
It's particularly satisfying that Gillard's take-down comes after Abbott's wife, Margie, spent last week telling multiple media outlets that her husband, despite suggestions that he is a sexist, is nothing of the sort. Margie Abbott, who rarely speaks to the press, did a media blitz last week, telling one news programme that "Tony Abbott gets women and … the women in Tony Abbott's life certainly get him." And the experience of having three daughters, she insisted, had made him a feminist.
Gillard, evidently, was not won over by Margie Abbott's argument. Gillard, who was deputy to the last prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is the first woman to serve as prime minister of Australia. She has long been the target of sexist attacks, especially since she seized office from Rudd in early 2010. As I wrote just before the 2010 election:
"Since she has become prime minister, the national conversation about this trailblazing woman has focused not just on Gillard's policies, but on her ring-less left hand, what on earth the function of a 'first bloke' might be, and her childlessness. Most appallingly, critics have even implied that the relationship between Gillard and Rudd has sexual undertones."
And recently, Gillard was assailed by the influential conservative radio broadcast Alan Jones, who was angered by the her announcement of a large foreign aid package to the south Pacific nations, much of which will be spent promoting the inclusion of women in politics. "She said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating. Women are destroying the joint," Jones said on air. That is far from the worst thing that Jones has said about her. A few weeks ago, he said that Gillard's recently deceased father "died of shame" because "he has a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament".
Jones's remarks sparked fury and a call for advertisers to boycott his show. He offered his apologies to Gillard, who refused to take his phone call. Abbott has come under pressure to denounce Jones, but has refused to do so, saying Jones is an old friend. "Yes I get on well with Alan, he's a friend of mine … I've known him for 30 years now," Abbott said, "but he's his own man." Abbott acknowledged that Jones had said the wrong thing (you think?), but urged people to move on.
On the matter of the text messages in question, Gillard agreed that yes, they were offensive. But, she said, Abbott is in a glass house throwing stones when he accuses Slipper of being a misogynist:
"I am offended by their content because I am always offended by sexism … I am offended by those things in the same way that I am offended by things that the leader of the opposition has said and no doubt will continue to say in the future."
Gillard usually sidesteps discussions of gender politics, a modus operandi for many women in power in traditionally masculine environments. This was some long overdue brazenness on her part, no doubt prompted in part by last week's portrayal of Abbott as a "feminist". And yes, it's quite something to see the most powerful woman in the country say what so many of us have been thinking, pulling no punches as she does so. But Gillard, for all her fiery anti-sexism rhetoric, isn't quite the stuff of feminist fantasies. She has, for example, repeatedly refused to advance the cause of marriage equality in Australia. If only she could see that misogyny, which she finds so abhorrent in Abbott, also lies at the heart of homophobia. Perhaps then she'd realise that her accusations of hypocrisy are a little, well, hypocritical.