The Knot

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gillard Forces A Change To Our Reality

Above: Prime Minister Julia Gillard

If anyone doubts the significance of a female Prime Minister of Australia they should scan the news feed of a teenager's Facebook page.

Since Julia Gillard became our 27th Prime Minister on the morning of June 24, much of the traditional media reporting has focused on the fact that a woman has finally reached the country's highest office, 11 years after New Zealand. Even those who intensely dislike her politics have to admit that a female Governor-General swearing in a female Prime Minister represents a coming of age for our nation.

But it's in the social media that it becomes apparent the timing of this momentous occasion was long overdue. Teenage girls shared their elation almost unanimously in the news feed that I read on the evening of Gillard's rise to power, posting status updates that included: "A female PM! Yay!!!", "Go Julia" and "Can you believe it! Wow!" Most of the postings by teenage boys in the same news feed were less enthusiastic: "A female PM? That's just silly", "How gay", "A woman can't run Australia" and "Who does she think she is?"

A highly intelligent 16-year-old at my son's school, who has aspirations of reaching the top job himself one day, noted, "there are two things that a woman should never do: drive a bus and be Prime Minister". That comment apparently got a huge laugh from the boys traveling home on the bus, driven by a woman.

In the 21st century it's shocking to hear young, relatively well-informed men sharing such archaic views. However, we shouldn't be surprised given that until last Thursday they hadn't previously had to think about the idea of a woman as ultimate leader of this nation.

As most teenagers speak words that reveal the views of their parents before they've been out into the real world to formulate their own, it is clear that there is much work to be done if we are to become a nation that believes in the best person for the job - any job.

So as we force a change in the perception of many: young and old, male and female, Labor and Liberal, the irony is that we have our ousted PM Kevin Rudd to thank for reaching this important milestone. It was Rudd who gave us our first female Governor General and Rudd who chose the most capable person in his cabinet to be his Deputy, regardless of gender. Rudd nurtured Gillard. He talked her up and he entrusted her with key portfolios that would eventually position her as a likely future PM.

Rudd will always be remembered as the Prime Minister who apologised to the stolen generation, but he should also be remembered for his foresight and courage in choosing capability over gender. Hopefully our impressionable young men will one day understand the significance of his actions and begin to make gender neutral decisions too.



Ann said...

It's great to see a woman as PM but I wish that people would also focus on the fact that she got appointed to the job as she was seen by her colleagues as the best person for the role not because of her gender. I don't agree with the way the whole sorry deal was done especially to a sitting PM.It did leave a sour taste in the mouth. But I wonder if there would be as much talk about "backstabbing" etc if a man had done the same thing or would it be taken just for what it is...politics?


THE EDITOR said...


I couldn't agree with you more. In fact I am just about to blog about exactly that.