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Shafting Kevin – not such a great day for feminists

The ascendancy of Julia Gillard to the office of PM has feminists going gaga.

‘OMG! A female PM’, has been the uncritical response I’ve been hearing of Julia Gillard’s slaying of Kevin Rudd from feminists everywhere.

We’ve all heard reports of women rushing to screens to watch Julia’s first speech, feminist workplaces ringing with tears and cheers, and inboxes running hot with images of Julia emblazoned with the words: ‘Yes she can.’ And yes, she did.

At last, a woman in the top job. But although I hate to be a party-pooper, is this popping of champagne corks a little too early? Do we really want to celebrate a woman who has behaved in a way feminists have been complaining about for a century or more, or are we just as happy to say ‘game on’ and play dirty with the big boys?

If feminists hope for less aggression and chauvinism, not to mention fair play from women who smash through the glass ceiling, then Julia has failed on all counts. The execution of Kevin Rudd by hit-men in the night exposes the ugly pursuit of power at whatever cost. No matter the circumstances, no matter the polls or any other justification presented, Julia decided to fly with the birds of prey.

Sadly it seems that Julia will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. She has betrayed feminists and the Australian people in a quest for power that sees her sleeping with the enemy from the ALP Right, and now it seems she’s about to get into bed with the mining industry. Hardly an auspicious or encouraging start.

Much is being made of Julia’s commitment to the feminist cause yet the only cause she appears committed to is her own. Our new PM has been party to all the policies that have alienated the Australian public and already she’s ramping up the tough talk on refugees, many of whom are women and children. Her support of Israel suggests little sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, including Palestinian women whose children have died in alarming numbers. She’s been silent on welfare benefits that force people, a great proportion of them single mothers, to live below the poverty line, and loud on rhetoric about gutting Work Choices, yet the ALP keeps in place much of what Howard and Abbott held dear.

And don’t let the Kath and Kim accent and Altona address fool you into thinking Julia is in touch with the daily lives and struggles of working women. Yes, we now have paid parental leave but it hardly goes the distance when compared to what’s on offer in other OECD countries, and while Julia has said she supports equal pay for women, there’s been no push on her behalf beyond lapping up the publicity and kisses in a recent campaign, to make equal pay a reality.

Women are still over-represented in casualised, poorly paid jobs and there’s been no repeal of misogynist legislation that requires pregnant women to keep looking for employment up until 6 weeks prior to the baby’s birth if they want to continue to receive benefits. Another policy to which Julia has lent her support is the proposed roll-out of the Northern Territory income management to the rest of Australia – a policy that will have an enormous and deleterious impact on already marginalised women.

It is deeply disappointing that a number of women who rise to the top of politics, most famous among them Margaret Thatcher, appear to do so not just because they’re the smartest person in the room but because they are as ruthless and as hungry for power as a Bob Hawke or a John Howard. In Julia’s case, more ruthless than anyone could have imagined.

Kevin Rudd, whatever we thought of him, was voted in by the people and he had the right to govern. Indeed, the Australian people should have had the right to vote him out, too.

An Australian woman has become PM, but it seems a crying shame that overshadowing what would otherwise be an extraordinary achievement are the circumstances which made her rise possible, and the precedent she and her cronies have set for future prime ministers, including Julia herself.
Surely there’s much more to being a feminist than gender, and much more we should expect Australia’s first female prime minister to bring to the office than just biological difference.

Perhaps in the run up to the next election, feminists should calm down and examine the policies of the new PM and the government she now leads, and ask if we want women in power to mimic patriarchy – or challenge it.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Trish Bolton’s novel, Stuck, was the recipient of a 2018 Varuna PIP Fellowship and a 2015 Varuna Residential Fellowship. In 2017, Stuck was longlisted for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition (UK) and Flash 500 Novel Competition (UK), and in 2016, was the joint-winner of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Unpublished Manuscript Award.

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