Following her recent appointment as Chair of Beyondblue, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard is back in the spotlight. In March 2017 she made an address to the South Australian public sector, hosted by the IPAA South Australia and the Office for the Public Sector. Reflecting on her time in political leadership, and in particular her misogyny speech, Gillard made a powerful statement:
“Calling out sexism is not playing the victim. I’ve done it and I know how it made me feel: strong. I’m no one’s victim. It is the only strategy that will also enable change.”
Her famous misogyny speech has continued to go viral and it’s still popping up in Facebook newsfeeds left, right and centre with thousands of comments of support from women and men around the world, invigorated by Gillard’s strength and composure as she lays out (with details and dates) the record of sexism and misogyny by then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
While the speech has become somewhat of a legend, back in 2012 the national conversation was starkly different. Gillard was widely accused of ‘playing the gender card’ and her speech failed to get positive media coverage even from ‘left wing’ publications. Writing for The Age, Michelle Grattan described the speech as sounding ‘more desperate than convincing’. Throughout her term as Prime Minister there was a widespread reluctance by both sides of the media to acknowledge her successes in a very difficult environment, while her mistakes were amplified. The lack of fair reporting on Gillard led the Victorian Women’s Trust to take action, speak out and set the record straight.
On July 5th 2013, days after Julia Gillard left office, we published full page advertisements in four major metropolitan newspapers – The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Herald Sun and The Australian, reaching an estimated readership of over three million people.
Entitled ‘Credit Where Credit is Due’, the advertorial paid tribute to the minority government led by Julia Gillard, arguing that this term of federal government was a productive and relatively successful period with close to 500 pieces of legislation passed, despite the destablisation campaign that had been mounted against her within the Labor Party and the vicious attacks by the Opposition which went unchallenged in the media.
The response to the ad was staggering. Our office was inundated with phone calls, emails and donations from everyday Australian men and women. People who had been feeling deeply uneasy about the state of political discourse and were relieved someone had finally put what they knew in their hearts onto paper: that Julia Gillard deserved a lot better than the sexist vitriol and lingering disrespect that shadowed her leadership.
People moved by Credit Where Credit’s Due donated what they could which meant that we were able to have the advertorial translated into Italian, Greek and Mandarin and published in four other papers – Il Globo, La Fiamma, Neos Kosmos and the Sing Tao Daily. The Trust also hosted a Melbourne Town Hall event on Sunday 10 November 2013 with Julia Gillard as keynote speaker, streamed live to venues nationally and overseas, providing an opportunity for women and men to pay tribute to her achievements in the face of extreme adversity.
Back in 2013 the Victorian Women’s Trust were unique in our fierce calling out of sexism in the mainstream media. These days the coverage of Julia Gillard is thankfully far less disrespectful than it was during her leadership. Yet as a nation, we still haven’t acknowledged the seedy sexism that was at the underbelly of Gillard’s time in politics. If we refuse to admit that the treatment of Gillard was largely interlinked with sexism, and we continue to shame and silence those who call sexism out as ‘whinging’ or ‘playing the gender card’ then we will never be able to dismantle the patriarchal structures that hold women and non-binary people back in politics and society.
As Gillard noted in her recent address while speaking about being accused of playing ‘the gender card:
“Someone who acts in a sexist manner who imposes sexist stereotypes is playing the gender card- it is that person who is misusing gender to dismiss, to confine, to humiliate, not the woman who calls it out for what it is.”
There were two important factors that allowed us to pull off the ground-breaking advocacy work of ‘Credit Where Credit is Due’. The first is our independence. Early in our history, the Victorian Women’s Trust was granted independence by the Kirner Government. It is what allows us to be free from partisanship, and gives us the ability to speak against discrimination. It is the same independence that allowed us to present #Breakthrough2016, described by The Age as ‘the biggest gender equality conference in the nation’s history’. No other organisation in Australia could have brought together such a gathering of people boldly calling out sexism during the two-day gender equality event.
The second crucial factor was that people were moved enough by the injustice of Gillard’s treatment to put their money where their mouth is and allow us to pay for these important advertisements through their donations. The advertorial was made possible thanks to the support of five women donors making non tax-deductible donations. People coming together, living their values and donating is what allows the Victorian Women’s Trust to do our circuit breaking work in violence prevention, advocacy and grant making.
If you value our important advocacy work for gender equality, please help us deliver it by donating. We will always use our bold, independent voice to call out sexism.
As Julia Gillard says, it’s the only strategy that will also enable change.
Grace Mountford is a Project Officer at the Victorian Women’s Trust, currently working on Club Respect, a violence prevention initiative that delivers strategic educational tools, helping sporting clubs to embed a culture of respect and harm prevention in all their practices. She has a Master of Public Policy and Management from the University of Melbourne. You can read her musings on feminism, politics, cats and Taylor Swift at www.twitter.com/GraceMountford1