Hallmark History

A Total BettieHere in Australia, hospital for the very first time, our head of state is female.

Her name is Julia Gillard.

On Thursday morning, I watched this event unfold on television. A meringue-lite breakfast broadcaster called Lisa Wilkinson was charged with the task of delivering the news. I watched as Wilkinson entered her seventh hour of broadcast. Given this endurance and the fact that her remit rarely extends to a matter more taxing than diets, I guess she could be permitted a moment of folly

Or several. She made three references to our new Prime Minister’s idle womb. The second of which realised the difficult task of making one of her guests wince. The third of which doused most of my feminist fire. “Are we going to reference the Prime Minister’s reproductive organs all day?”, I asked the electronic media.

Apparently. This is the Oprah-fied reflex that greets nearly all public female achievement.

Giddy either from lack of sleep or the imagined promise of a feminist tomorrow, the internet and the television is still squealing, “You Go, Girl™.”

Awash with a uniquely Hallmark conceit, journalist Caroline Overington implored us gals to call our mothers and, “Say thank you”.

Fresh from a stint at the marathon Today show where she had been speaking for the female blogosphere, Mia Freedman gently pressed Gillard into the service of the sisterhood. On social media site, a rash of girl-positive comments flared like dermatitis on Boadicea’s chest.

“This is a proud day,” wrote one young woman.

And, of course, it was. I could not help but feel a little gynaecological bloat as Her Majesty’s female representative swore in the female representative of the people. The exchange was, as Wilkinson reminded me throughout the morning, “historic”. And momentarily gratifying in a nation where female labour continues to be undervalued; where women’s participation in public life is often treated with all the esteem of a pajama party.

Scholar and feminist Shakira Hussein beat me in unleashing that “inner party-pooper” seeking to underplay Gillard’s gender. Although both feminist and Australian, neither of us were wearing our pajamas.

Actually, the new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, beat both of us when reminded, perhaps a little needlessly, by local press that she was the nation’s first female PM. “Maybe first redhead,” she joked.

That redhead, she said, was never pointed toward the detonation of any glass ceilings.

She set out, she said, to “keep my feet on the floor”. And there her feet remained throughout the 90s as she was knocked back as a representative for her party three timess. That they have now elevated her to the country’s top job is, of course, testament not only to her tenacity but to feminism’s gains. But, this doesn’t give us ladies license to bang on like the epilogue to Sex and the City

First, it’s just unseemly. Second, as any sensible woman should know, it’s perilous to declare one’s self satisfied. As my friend Hussein writes , Gillard’s ascension may be easily seen as evidence that women have, “no further reason to complain”.

I plan to whine for several decades yet. And I plan to assess my new leader’s feminism in the terms of her policy; not of her reproductive parts. Her ascent to the top is not the end of the feminist paragraph. The struggle will continue to be punctuated by the fight for equal pay and equal representation; the battle against domestic violence and the strange prison we have made of women’s bodies.

I’m terribly wary of celebrating appointments like this as “victories” for women and feminism. First, this diminishes the real victory which, in my view, is of a civic-minded politician over her incompetent forebear.. Second, and more generally, it reduces the aims of feminism to that of amassing trophies.

You can name all the CEOs, presidents and Prime Ministers you want. You can even revel in these appointments momentarily. It does us ladies good to remember, though: feminism is in the details; it cannot be located solely in the executive.

Australia is a colony founded in masculinity. Like the US, it can still feel like the land that feminism forgot. On this “historic” day, perhaps Overington, Wilkinson and co can be excused their greeting card gush.

Just as long as they stem the flow by the weekend.

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