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the female politician and testicular fortitude

The word misogyny has been thrown around a lot this week, and whether or not you’ve been following the issue in Parliament, it’s unlikely that you’ve been able to completely avoid seeing snippets of Julia Gillard’s lengthy dig at Tony Abbott.

Like any political outburst it has incited a raucous debate, and everyone seems to have their own opinion, whether it be in praise of our lady PM or in revolt of the hypocrisy of defending one misogynist and blasting another. Although it has to be said that Gillard’s composure during the speech was pretty admirable.

Steadily naming incident after incident of Tony Abbott’s sexist remarks without ever sparing a date, Gillard kept herself contained and collected throughout, and for many women she gave them cause to cheer.

But what does this incident and in turn the attitudes of the spectators, say about our society’s view of women in politics? It reminded me of Paul Gipson’s introduction of Hilary Clinton back in 2008 where he said (of political leaders) that ‘I truly believe that that’s going to take an individual that has testicular fortitude.’

Gipson was inherently saying that to be a successful female political leader one must have “balls”. One must think, talk and act like a man would in that same situation and Clinton couldn’t have been happier to hear it. Why is it that at a time when women are finally beginning to rank amongst the world’s most powerful, that they must adopt a masculine approach? Julia Gillard herself has come under fire many times for being either too feminine in her approach, or at other times too masculine and cold, and you can be pretty sure that someone out there has already begun to discredit her remarks purely on the basis that she’s an “emotional” woman.

Statements like Gipson’s do nothing to further the political agenda of helping women to achieve equal stance in politics. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about it is the fact that it goes widely unchallenged in our society. Even talking to my fellow classmates I was shocked by how little they thought the term mattered and how easily they dismissed the implications of masculinity. Many of them felt that saying a political leader needs balls was merely saying a political leader needs to be courageous. Our patriarchal society has normalised the term to the point where women no longer consider the connotations behind it.

Right now women make up only 24.7% of elected positions in the House of Representatives and 38.2% in the Senate. I don’t need to explain how these figures demonstrate the continual divide between men and women in politics. The Australian Human Rights Commission reported that Australia ranks a mere 38th in the Global Gender Gap index for political empowerment in 2011.

Now finally it seems we have a leader who will stand up for the women of Australia and do so without compromising her own values. International praise has been abundant with The Guardian, The New Yorker and Britain’s New Statesmen among many of the newspaper sites and blogs applauding the epic speech. It seems the consequences are increasingly positive, but whatever you do don’t say that Julia Gillard has balls; instead, how about recognising the courage, composure and passion evident in the delivery.

By Freya Jones

(This piece first appeared on Freya’s blog.)

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