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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.

9 Responses to “Hallmark History”

  1. Ang says:

    2 words. Sarah Palin. while it remains to be seen in the case of Gillard, I think it is just as dangerous for people to rally ’round the “You Go Girl!” chant to blindly support a woman merely because she sports a pair of ovaries. The very idea that women (really? women????) here in the US are giddily toasting to Palin’s bizarre version of success (which includes a beauty pageant, a stint on TV news, mayor of a tiny village, failing at a run for VP and QUITTING a job as governor) while ignoring the fact that she does nothing for- sets back, even- women’s rights is appalling.

    And now she’s credited with leading a womens movement within the conservative/Christian right? This hi-jack of “feminism” is staggering…..I’m torn as to whether I should laugh or cry at the nonsense of it all. If it wasn’t a direct threat to womens rights and issues, it would indeed be laughable. But in some cases these women are running and winning on the You Go Girl strategy. All while selling out womens independence!

    When we achieve a place in politics where it literally is a non-issue what gender/skin color a candidate is and they run and win (or lose) on how they will LEAD……then we’re somewhere. But I think these cheerleaders who can’t see past what is between someone’s legs (or isn’t, rather) and vote based solely on their misguided idea of estrogen laden chick power are doing a serious disservice to our gender. And on a side note…..they’re insufferably embarrasing.

    With respect to the historic achievement…..I’ll reserve judgement until I see what she can do.

  2. Girl Clumsy says:

    I’m happy to have the moment, and mark the “first”. There are many women much, much older than me who would never have thought of this; and women long dead who fought for it in their own way, and who I think on at this time.

    But yes, the gears should now change, and it be “business as usual”, as much as you can apply that description to politics!

  3. jon says:

    Actually the head of state (the Governor General) has been female for some time now.

  4. jon says:

    (and if you want to be even more pedantic, the real head of state has been female since 1952)

  5. Tom HB says:

    My favourite recent comment about the nature of the glass ceiling was from Heather Ridout, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, who said (and I’ll have to paraphrase) that “No woman who is in HR or middle management should sit back and congratulate themselves as a feminist, for they have taken the consolation prize from men and been tricked into thinking it’s much more significant and grand an achievement.”

    I think the point she is trying to make is that many women can be quite complacent and may be being duped into thinking they’re “doing it for the sisters” by putting on a pants suit and being the hard headed bitch who does the dirty work for executive management. In some male dominated corporations, whacking on the title ‘Manager’ to a female staffers title ends up being a hollow gesture to redress the truth of the matter, which is that women are not in positions of executive power–they don’t make the decisions, they simply “manage” the implementation of those decisions which are made.

  6. Nick Purtle says:

    I get strange looks when i don a dress and make some effort with the makeup then walk down the street, indeed, feel oppressed. Spare a thought girls.

  7. reality raver says:

    I agree in a lot of what you say, it is getting tedious in the media that alot of the articles that started out her PMship were related to her genitalia. In fact the Daily Tele did a hair style time line.

    I would have loved your take on the Bettina Ardnt article in the SMH yesterday. It was probably the worst example of writing I have seen in a long time. Her theory being that Julia was setting a bad example to women because she was in a defacto relationship. Shame on the SMH for printing it.

    Tom HB – I agree with your comment alot.

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  9. hughesy says:

    History – Hersterical

    Same as it ever was. I do try hard to by cynical, but it is difficult to keep up these days.

    I imagine that Gillard is in the same position as the Premiers of QLD and NSW. Anytime it looks like the shit might hit the fan and the leaking ship of state appears to be all but sinking, the blokes whack a woman in charge to clean up the mess and soak up the fall out.

    Housekeeping on a rather large scale.

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