Thursday, 27 June 2013

Weep, My Beloved Country

 Last night as I was stuck in the mud, fending off wave after wave of small parcels, sweating like a pig, bending my back and working harder than I have done for many years, word came through that the Prime Ministership of Australia had changed hands. Julia Gillard had been defeated in a ballot for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had once again taken the reigns. Thus, Mr Rudd of course would resume the Prime Ministership and he has been sworn in this morning at Government House.

 The news of the resolution of this leadership tussle was fed to me by one of our resident light duties staff who was glued, literally, to his radio, earpieces dug deep into his earlobes, hanging on every word of the ABC's coverage of this titanic event in Australian history. He scurried across the floor to inform me that Bill Shorten, a Labor Party numbers man and a great supporter of Julia Gillard had flipped and gone with the Rudd camp and word being tweeted from inside the party room was bad for anyone such as myself who greatly admires the former Prime Minister. And then a funny thing happened on the workfloor.

 Last night I found myself to be the only native born Anglo-Saxon person on my shift, not that there is a problem for me in that. The rest of the shift to the last man and woman was made up of Vietnamese and Laotian people, immigrants all, resident in Australia for decades. Long enough to assimilate well as most of them have done. As the flood of information about the resolution of the leadership battle slowly crawled it's way through the workplace like a creeping flood after heavy rains, it became apparent that nearly all of these folk were very happy to see the end of our first female Prime Minister. In fact some of them were jubilant, arm waving and fist pumping the order of the day for some. How intriguing, thought I.

 These people weren't fearsome right-wingers, happy to see the end of socialist ideals as perpetrated in the form of Julia Gillard. They don't see an election of a Labor government as an assault on their sensibilities and a throwback to their youth when Communist hordes overran their homelands.No, they were happy to see Kevin Rudd, the populist, return. They were happy to see the end of Prime Minister Gillard for one reason. She is a woman!

 This got me thinking. Sexism and the gender wars have been a large theme in the reign of Julia Gillard and I never thought much of it although I could never understand how someone with such obvious skill could be so roundly disliked by so many people who could never exactly put a finger on why she was so reviled. Sexism, while not providing the whole answer, almost certainly had a large role to play in her unpopularity. And we should be ashamed as a nation for that. As the son of a woman with a very strong character I know I certainly am.

 It's not surprising therefore that Labor's vote in it's western Sydney heartland is languishing badly. These traditional Labor seats are predominantly populated by immigrants from South East Asia, Western Asia and Far Eastern Europe, people who have no time for female political leaders and believe, for the the most part, that leadership is a job for men only. I know it's true. I have seen these beliefs in action close at hand.

 When you combine this with the undercurrent of sexism which most definitely exists and is ingrained in the underbelly of Australian culture, occasionally subtlety displayed purposefully or not by those in positions of power or in the media, then you realise that as a nation we still have a long road to hoe before we mature.

 Julia Gillard has had more insults thrown at her and been metaphorically hit below the belt by political commentators and shock jocks and insulted more by the general public than any other Prime Minister in the history of this nation. Why is that? Sexism must have played a major role in this tawdry period.

 Miss Gillard has been disrespected, white-anted by colleagues, taken to task by media moguls and mining billionaires, been sworn at, called disgusting names and had horrid remarks made about her family by gutter-snipes who can only dream of being her better, and had sandwiches thrown at her by odious schoolchildren who should know a little more about respect than what is obviously being taught in schools. And the opposition party opposes more money for education?

 She is a self-made woman. The daughter of an immigrant family who dragged herself up through Australian society despite her working class background to become a partner in a legal firm and a trailblazing figure in politics. The first Australian female Prime Minister. And through all these travails she has maintained her dignity and good grace although she must be burnt deep down down inside. A woman to be admired, whether you think she was a good Prime Minister or not.

 I know we still have a long way to go in this battle with ingrained sexism. Even those men who are happy to see women in positions of power sometimes unthinkingly  toss off inappropriate remarks which would offend members of the opposite sex. I have inadvertently done so myself. I guess we are all still learning to change to an extent.

 But you know there is a long way to go when during a recent visit to western NSW an elderly woman who I know remarked to me that the Prime Ministership really was a job for a man! When will we grow up?

 The ignorance and conservative nature of Australian society will see us with a very unglamorous choice come the next election. We may have the egotistical narcissist in Rudd or the witless thug that is Abbott. I weep for my beloved country.

 Let us hope the next time we have a capable woman take charge that we can put our bias away and judge her solely on the job she does, not which toilet she uses. The country will be the better for it and Miss Gillard has made it easier for those who may follow. But it still won't be easy.

 Have a nice day.

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