Women in politics: “Taking the remarkable and rendering it unremarkable”

Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – the nation’s first woman PM – addressed EMILY’s List Australia at Parliament House in Canberra.

Gillard has her critics, and I’d be lying if I said I was inspired and entirely satisfied by the job she’s doing as PM. It would be delusional to imagine that sexism in Australia died the day Gillard was made head of the Labor Party.

But by the same token, it would be foolish to pretend that her elevation to the PM isn’t enormous progress in a country where gender equality is still far from a reality. And, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t tear up a bit reading certain parts of her speech, like the part where she said that she’s often approached by “high-achieving blokes” who want her autograph to give to their daughters, because they know “that know the future has to be different for their daughters’ generation than it was for their mothers’ generation.”

Here’s an excerpt from the speech:

The 20th century was a century of big political movements and ideologies such as fascism, socialism and modernism. And yet the movement that outlasted them all, and surpassed them all in what it has achieved for humanity, is feminism – the struggle for women’s emancipation and equality.

Pioneer Australian feminist Rose Scott observed that the vote itself was only a “piece of machinery” in “battling for the liberty, for the freedom of women”.

It was the key that unlocked the door to everything else: The right to learn, to work and demand a fair day’s pay; To choose our partners and our family structures, and manage our own health; To strive to live free of coercion and violence; And to shape the destiny of the nations in which we live.

Friends, it was not enough for women to have the right to vote. Our system of government must reflect the community it serves.

A political system without adequate representation of women is profoundly incomplete, and it is surprising that Australia, with our robust history of pragmatic social reform, and our early heritage of women’s rights, didn’t get there earlier.

Many countries – including places more traditional than our own – had a woman serve as prime minister long before we did, like India in 1966, Israel in 1969 and Britain in 1979. But we’ve done it now, and I’m not so much proud that it was me as I am proud that it finally happened. Proud that decades of waiting came to an end. Proud that having a second, third and fourth female Prime Minister will not have to be anything unusual.

Taking the remarkable and rendering it unremarkable.

Like I said, she’s far from perfect on a number of issues – in policy and in practice. But when it comes to gender in politics and in our culture more broadly, the lady gets it.

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 chloesangyal.com

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

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