Australia's first female prime minister keeps her job, for now
Some analysts believe that sexism is at least partly to blame for the difficulties Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, has had to battle while in office.
(Page 2 of 2)
Perhaps most damaging, though, is the way she came to power, staging a coup against Rudd. Again, some analysts believe the public reaction has been harsher because of her gender. Christopher Pyne, an opposition politician, likened her to Lady Macbeth.
“The way she got to her position has made her more susceptible to being called things like [expletive] and ‘deceitful,’ which play into stereotypes of women,” says Lauren Rosewarne, a social scientist at the University of Melbourne. “These gender attributes have haunted her from day one.”
But Dr. Rosewarne does not believe that misogyny necessarily lies behind such attacks. “With attacks on politicians, people grasp for the easiest angle, and being a woman makes Gillard an easy target,” she says.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Gililard herself has avoided playing the sexism card. But in a television interview two weeks ago, she said Australians were “taking a bit of time” to get used to a female leader. Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, was more blunt. “Quite a bit of the criticism is sexist and unfair and unrelenting, and the prime minister needs a bit of a break from that,” he said recently.
And Simon Benson, chief political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid, wrote in a blog that underlying the criticism was “a belief that the harder and more personal the attack, the more likely she is to break – because she is a woman.”
He went on: “With Gillard … there is a misogynistic tone which is driving the debasement of the political debate even further into the gutter.”
During the debates that preceded the election in 2010 one TV network gauged reactions by the public and there was clear negativity toward Gillard by men.
One other indicator of attitudes toward women is Australia's ongoing gender pay gap. Between 1990 and 2009, the gap stayed between 15 and 17 percent, according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. In August 2010, the Australian gender pay gap was 16.9 percent, according to the Australian government. Compared with Britain's pay gap, which was 9.1 percent in April 2010.
Rudd, who was elected in 2007, resigned as foreign minister last week in order to challenge Gillard. Although he is better liked by voters, most analysts doubted he could sway enough Labor MPs to win Monday’s ballot. Still, with Gillard highly unlikely to win the next election, due by late 2013, her days in the job are nonetheless numbered, analysts say.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.