Feminism at the festival

The sexism experienced by Julia Gillard isn’t anything unusual for women in Australia said Maxine McKew.

Maxine McKew talks about feminism at Byron Bay Writers' Festival

Maxine McKew talks about feminism at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival


“It’s no secret that women have a tough time of it in Australian life. Whether they are in politics, or academia or the corporate sector,” said McKew.

Despite recognising the misogynistic nature of some of the commentary surrounding Australia’s first female Prime Minister, McKew said that Gillard should have kept quiet.

“It seems to me Julia had a choice. Outrageous things were said about her, but I think she could have taken the moral high ground.”
If Gillard wanted a debate about gender she shouldn’t have made it about herself, said Mc Kew.

The idea that women should ‘be nice’ is a hugely limiting concept. Catherine Deveny pointed out that girls would be described as bossy, where the same behaviour in a boy would just be considered good leadership skills.

“And then women are opinionated where men just have opinions, women are mouthy but men just talk,” said Deveny.

Promotions and pay rises are awarded to men more often then women. Research into these phenomena always seems to come to the same conclusion- that women need to be more assertive and demand recognition at work.

Entrenched sexism is another barrier faced at work and certainly explains some of the barriers to the continuation of Gillard’s political career. Gillard was right to call it out.

The most baffling thing about McKew’s stance is that she isn’t blind to sexism. She wasn’t parroting Kevin Rudd’s recent assertions that the Labor party is a gender-blind meritocracy.

Silence on sexism and a kind of sisterhood of women in power, lifting one another through the ranks, is the way to achieve equality said McKew.

The sisterhood culture exists amongst the women of the Labor party according to McKew, but Gillard was never a part of it. McKew spoke about Gillard coming from a family where gender didn’t matter.

“She didn’t see the need the network with other women. She associated more with the cardigan-wearing men of the party,” said McKew.

Smugly, McKew went on to suggest that Gillard learned the meaning of sexism by the end of her prime ministership.

Lifting up those women coming behind you is important, but it can never result in equality. If we perpetuate that culture there will always be more men lifting others up behind them. After all doesn’t that account for the parliament filled with old white blokes that we have now?

McKew was hardly taking her own advice in her lambasting of Gillard. It reminded my of a comment Deveny made earlier in the festival.

“If every nation has an emotion then Australia’s is envy. Envy and the tall poppy syndrome,” said Deveny.

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts student.

1 Comment

Filed under Byron Bay Writers' Festival, Feminism, Gender, Politics

One response to “Feminism at the festival

  1. Totally agree with Maxine that Gillard made the mysogyny debate all about her personally, a huge mistake, and because of that the debate never gained ground. Her flirtatious attitude to men she came in contact with, including Abbott in the early days, and Obama, destroyed any credibility she may have had.in elevating Australian women in politics.
    Women instinctively didn’t trust her, nor should they have.
    Gillard was all about Gillard.

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