Historical essay
Gillard vs. Abbott

Gillard vs. Abbott

Julia Gillard (Australian’s current, and first female, Prime Minister) has made waves both at home (which for me is Australia) and overseas after her explosive speech calling out the leader of the opposition (currently Tony Abbott) for not only being sexist but fostering an environment of sexism and misogyny.

You can read about it everywhere. Seriously, everywhere: The BBC, The Australian (and again) The Conversation, Crikey, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, The New Yorker, The Vine.

No one gets a prize (sad, I know) for guessing that the issue is complicated. Gillard’s speech arose out of a motion, put forward by the opposition party, to fire the Speaker of the House. The Speaker, Mr. Slipper, has been embroiled in a sexual harassment suit after some particularly, let’s say distasteful, text messages were made public. The case was still ongoing, however, so Mr. Slipper had retained his position (he has since resigned). The implication, couched in the shocking language of shame (which has become offensive in a whole new fashion since Australian radio presenter, Alan Jones, declared that Gillard’s recently deceased father had ‘died of shame’), was that by defending Mr. Slipper the Government was defending his actions.

Gillard let him have it. It wasn’t just that the Opposition hurled an insult at the Prime Minister but that she, of all people, would be defending sexism? No. No, no, no.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I daresay you should. Politics aside, it’s one of the most compelling speeches I have seen in a long time. So compelling, in fact, that I, who has perhaps tweeted 20 times in my life, tweeted the clip. And then posted it to Facebook for good measure.

Despite this, I went back and forth about whether or not to write anything about this, and then whether or not to post it. It’s received tremendous airtime (so does it need to be posted again?). This is a history blog (do I have an historical angle? Do I need one?). I also wasn’t sure that my next post (by which I mean this second post) should also be about sexism again (do I want to be that guy?). In the end, however, I didn’t think it right to raise an issue not a week ago only to step away from it when it rears its head in a non-academic setting.

So I want to invite you to watch the clip below (fair warning though, it is 15 minutes long) and perhaps think about sexism? Perhaps how it has operated historically? How it operates today? Who it affects? And how all this has changed?

I certainly don’t have all, or even many, of the answers to such a big question, but if we can think about it, really consider it, then I have no doubt that we can move in the right direction.

Featured image caption: The Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister of Australia. (Australian Strategic Policy Institute/Flickr)

Sean Cosgrove's research areas lie at the intersection of histories of medicine, science and technology, gender, and popular culture primarily in the late nineteenth century, united by an interest in the experiences of, and ideas surrounding, the human body. He is also committed to public engagement and actively interested in fostering greater inclusivity in higher education. He has previously conducted research focusing on patients, hermaphroditism, and sexual violence and criminality in the nineteenth century, but has also worked on projects outside of academia.