Feminism in the spotlight

Our contributor breaks down the Australian PM’s viral speech against misogyny in parliament

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Nikolas Lopez, ArtSci ’14

On Oct. 9, the first female Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, made an impassioned speech within the Australian House of Representatives regarding comments made by opposition leader Tony Abbott.

This moment brought together global issues of sexism and misogyny that are often neglected by the media. Her 15-minute retort speech soon went viral and began dominating headlines across the world.

It had recently come to light that then-Speaker Peter Slipper — a former member of Gillard’s government — had sent a series of sexist text messages to a former staff member. Abbott, who himself had a history of making misogynist comments, told Gillard that if she didn’t denounce Slipper’s actions, she would be equally guilty of misogyny and sexism — views that Abbott claimed, couldn’t be held by those in high office. Gillard rightly fought back by stating, “I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the house, he needs a mirror.”

Critics of Gillard’s speech highlight that it was strategically crafted. Rather than accepting the political controversy that would have surrounded Gillard and members of her caucus, her speech shifted the topic onto something much wider than the initial reaction to Slipper’s text messages. Gillard’s speech brought focus back to the issues of severe gender inequality within Australia and worldwide.

One in five Australian women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to Australia’s Human Rights Commission.

Female representation is poor in the private sector, where only 8 per cent of board members in Australia’s top 200 companies are female. Comparatively, in Canada, women constitute 47 per cent of board members within Canadian corporations.

Sadly, Canada and Australia both rank 46th in the world in terms of female representation in federal legislatures, with women comprising 24.7 per cent of Parliamentarians according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

These statistics highlight the abhorrent position of women within Australia and other countries such as Canada, both within the private and public spheres.

The inability to be equally represented in society has inhibited women’s capability to be free from discrimination and achieve success.

As a historically marginalized group, women across the globe have faced injustices based on their gender for far too long.

Gillard’s speech is amongst a handful of high profile political speeches that have been delivered to combat patriarchal societal norms and misogyny in today’s modern world. However, the ability to challenge archaic viewpoints shouldn’t be limited to the role of politicians.

Last week, the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society hosted the Who Needs Feminism campaign which sought to raise awareness about gender equality through photos of individuals holding up signs that described why they need feminism The realization of an equal society, regardless of identity, is a goal that still has yet to be achieved. Community events such as the Who Needs Feminism? campaign can have a significant impact in altering the opinions and negative perceptions surrounding gender equality in light of Julia Gillard’s speech.

In a truly watershed moment, Gillard’s speech has the potential to be the catalyst Australia and the rest of the world needs to become a more equal and progressive society. Rather than following the traditional practice of ignoring these issues, Gillard is taking an active role in being the political voice women both within the Australian body politic and the rest of the world need for greater equality.

Nikolas Lopez is the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society equity officer.

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