Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Julia Gillard: Global Feminist Icon

Julia Gillard may have just become a global feminist icom. She has attracted an international fan club for her slamming criticism this week of opposition leader Tony Abbott.

In an incisive, passionate moment of truth telling the Prime Minister used Abott's own comments to expose his anti-feminism and hypocrisy. The UK media are all over the story and the New Yorker says Obama should be taking notes. Commentators on Twitter have suggested Meryl Streep is in Hollywood practising her Gillard accent.

Gillard's clever politicking shifted the debate from its focus on the inappropriate private phone messages of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper to a broader feminist debate. Abbott's reputation was left in tatters and the misogynist attacks that have plagued the Prime Minister's term in office are finally in the spotlight.

Historically it has always been harder for women to achieve high profile careers. One hundred years ago composer Margaret Sutherland was married to a misogynist who, jelaous of her success, taunted her publicly and privately until she restricted her composition to music for children.

Fortunately she divorced him and went on to write pioneering music that paved the way for modernism in Australia. But for decades she endured the insults of a husband who likened a woman composing musica as a sign of insanity, and who arrived at one of her concert premieres with a beautiful woman on his arm, to the composer's immense shame.

The insults directed at Gillard over the past few years sound too similar. Feminism has been alive and active for over a century and it's a shame to think not much has changed. Does it really need to become a gender battle field in order for women to get a fair go?

Of course it is not only women that get harrassed. Work-place bullying and the peer pressure men impose on other men can be horrific. And women abusing other women only perpetuates the struggle for inter-gender understanding.

Is the only way to eradicate peer pressure by removing the peers?

An alternative is to come in Gillard-style with guns blazing, as did composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. The Australian/American composer rose to international acclaim with her operas and held her own among the New York avantegarde with her biting wit.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would have been eaiser had I been a boy," she once reflected. "But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was."

Another Option: Activist and cultural critic Jarrod McKenna tweeted "I'm not as misogynistic as... is not as transformative as confessing how patriarchy has formed us & then work 4 humanizing justice."

Working for justice sounds harder but perhaps the only way forward?

Does anyone else have another alternative?


  1. Margaret Sutherland and Norman Arthur Albiston were married at the Presbyterian Church in Camberwell in Melbourne on 30th July 1927. That is not a hundred years ago. Your claim that she restricted herself to composing music for children during the last period of her marriage is not true. And if, as you claim, her husband was jealous of her success then the clear implication is that her works were being performed and appreciated. Please do not let feminist hivno get in the way of empirical evidence.

  2. Hello Anonymous, thankyou for your correction; you are right about the date of Margaret Sutherland's wedding. But it was about 100 years ago that she started writing music and grappling with the issues Julie Gillard was publicly denouncing.
    In a letter to colleague Don Banks (dated October 21, no year given) Margaret described how Albiston appreciated Margaret's music "as long as I wrote for children... but when I wrote the Purcell Suite he bashed - battered - me."
    Yes Margaret's works were being performed and appreciated - but what a cost!
    Forgive me for getting a little over-zealous about my topic, but I think most women were leaping for joy that day because Julia Gillard was articulating their story.