Sexism in Australia over forever

You might have already heard that yesterday in Australia, where I was born and raised, a woman ousted a man for control of the Australian Labour Party, making her the first ever woman Prime Minister in the country’s history. She was sworn in by Quentin Bryce, Australia’s first ever woman Governor General.

Just as racism ended forever with the election of Barack Obama, sexism in my homeland is now OVER FOREVER. Australia will now become a matriarchal society, like bonobo colonies, or a feminist utopia where birth control and Ani di Franco CDs are subsidized by the government.

Except, not. The rise of one woman to the top spot (it’s not an election, because in Australia you vote for the party, and once in power that party is free to reshuffle its leadership as much as it wants) is a big freaking deal, and I’m really proud to be an Australian today. Julia Gillard, our new WOMAN PM – sorry, I can’t stop writing that in delighted caps – is a very impressive woman, and I have high hopes that this ouster will get voters’ approval in the upcoming Federal election. But one woman leader does not an egalitarian society make.

Gillard has faced her fair share of sexist media coverage (she’s 48, unmarried, has short hair and access to power, so I’ll give you three guesses as to what people assume about her), and it’s no coincidence that an ABC News headline referred to yesterday’s events as a “bitter divorce” between Gillard and now-former PM Kevin Rudd. Get it? Because they’re of opposite genders, and they had a falling out! Something tells me that if Obama and Biden had a disagreement, no one would call it a “lover’s quarrel.”

And of course, Australia is still a pretty sexist society, in many of the same ways that the US is – a 17% wage gap, under-representation of women in positions of corporate and government power and all the pop culture and advertising crap we deal with here. And the installation of a woman in Kirribilli House (that’s where the PM lives when s/he’s in Sydney – see, you learn something new every day) isn’t going to change that overnight.

But this is a start. Hell, yes, is it a start.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • yvonne

    Go Gillard! Go!

  • Comrade Kevin

    It all has to begin somewhere.

  • Michelle J

    Oh to live in a “feminist utopia where birth control and Ani di Franco CDs are subsidized by the government.”
    Love it!! (But um, it’s Difranco!)

  • Steph

    I am so thrilled I am shivering. I could’t believe it when I heard last night. And thanks to the wonderful internet, I could watch her speech live from my couch in NYC!!

  • Not Guilty

    I was living in Oz when Rudd was elected. I quite liked him. I also knew that Gillard was the Deputy PM and quite liked her. I’m a little surprised as to the turn of events (been out of Oz for 18 months now), but it’s great. Can’t say I blame her for not wanting to marry a typical Aussie bloke though…

  • sashaeatsfood

    Not just a woman, but an atheist, unmarried, childless, working-class, immigrant, red-headed woman!

  • Broggly

    Hopefully she’ll feel less beholden to the Australian Christian Lobby than Rudd was, given that people who listen to them are probably unlikely to vote for an unmarried “barren” woman anyway. The ACL were the ones pushing Rudd to bring in internet censorship and oppose same sex marriage, so the less influence they have on government the better in my view.

  • daveNYC

    You ever hear the phrase ‘Penny wise, pound foolish.”? Sure they have a woman PM now, but the reason they do is because the prior PM (Rudd) had to step down due to falling poll numbers for his party. Not to mention that Rudd had signed Kyoto, instituted maternal leave, and appologized to the Aboriginals.
    So on the one hand, yeah, a woman PM, great. On the other hand, a good liberal progressive PM is out on his ear, and the (not so) Liberal party might end up winning the upcoming elections.

  • Sass

    Uggh and one of the first things I saw after the announcement was a “Julia’s hairstyle evolution” slide show via a trashy “woman’s” magazine. I’m not even going to link to it, it’s so pathetic. She has been attacked in the past for her “childless by choice” stance and handled it very gracefully. Though she is delaying moving into the official “Lodge” because the former PM has a family that she doesn’t want to uproot so she will stay in her house in Canberra. Also, as the OP said she has been in a long term relationship with a hairdresser so she has endured some snide whisperings about that as well.
    I really liked Rudd (for the reasons daveNYC mentioned) and think he was ousted before his time but I think Gillard is a strong politician and will be a good leader.
    She will go up for election against the ultra-conservative opposition leader who, when he was health minister, tried to get a policy put through where he would have to personally approve any prescription for RU-846 (he is a strong Catholic who trained at seminary school and has spoken out about a woman’s virginity being “a gift” so you can imagine how many he would have approved- you can also imagine his position on homosexuality). Oh that is just the start, I can’t start talking about Abbott or I will start screaming and not stop!
    So go Gillard! We are finally catching up with our more progressive neighbours NZ who have had 2 female PM’s in the last 15 years.

  • alessandra

    Unfortunately it comes at a time when the labor government is continuing a racist ‘intervention’ into indigenous communities which was initiated by the previous conservative government, in which the army has been sent in to stop sexual abuse (a report released on the issue stated that a significant amount of the sexual abuse was perpetrated by white men), and is locking up people who are coming from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and Iraq who are trying to seek refuge in australia in refugee camps. these camps, while being operated under auspices of the previous conservative government, were criticised as breaching the UN convention on the rights of the child. apparently without these policies the australian people would not vote for the labor party, so racist is the australian public.
    the conservative party’s leader, tony abbott, is strongly christian and does not support abortion.
    australian politics is in a complete, shameful mess (mess is perhaps a gentle word for it), and this greatly overshadows any joy i feel for the symbolic win for privileged, university educated white women.