She walked onstage to Aretha Franklin’s Respect and received a rock-star welcome as she joined author Anne Summers on the Opera House stage. More than 2,500 Australians flocked to hear our first, and former, female prime minister Julia Gillard open up last night. Gillard was candid, warm, eloquent and witty for the hour and a half that she answered questions on everything from the leadership spills, an average day in parliament, her misogyny speech, sexism and resilience. Tonight she will do the same in Melbourne.
If you missed it, it’s really worth trying to watch it. Whatever your political persuasion it is so refreshing to hear a politician speak without the constraints of spin. And seeing Gillard radiant, dignified and more relaxed than ever before, after what can only be described as a brutal battle in politics, is liberating. If you don’t have time to watch it here are some highlights.
On being the first female prime minister
“It let out this … spring of enthusiasm from women and from many men.
“But there was also this underside of sexism, really violent, ugly sexism that came forward… I had thought we were beyond that and it’s kind of depressing that we’re not… I think for whoever the next women is, there will be a bit of a pause, breathe, whatever else this female PM does, we don’t want it to be like that for her again.”
On using the ‘gender card’
“I thought ‘I don’t need to put my being a woman in the foreground’. Of course I wanted to speak for women and govern for women and do good things for women but I thought it didn’t need to be in the foreground because it was so obvious. It was going to define my prime ministership without me focusing on it.”
On her misogyny speech
“I must admit it was a crack point in my thinking. I thought after everything I have had to see on the internet, after all the gendered abuse I have seen in the newspapers, after everything that has been called across the despatch box, now of all things I have to listen to Tony Abbott lecture me on sexism? That gave the emotional start to the speech and once I started it took on a life of its own.”
On Tony Abbott being Prime Minister
“It’s a big step from criticising what you think is wrong to working out and implementing what you think is right. On current indications it seems Abbott is intending on taking that step slowly.”
On Tony Abbott being Minister for Women
“The advice I would have for prime minister Abbott is to reach across the partisan divide and ask Tanya Plibersek.”
“You just feel like saying, ‘well if it was your daughter and she was putting up with sexist abuse at work, what would you advise her to do?’ Because apparently if she complains, she is playing the victim, and playing gender wars, and if she doesn’t complain, then she really is a victim.”
“We’ve got to be able to say… strongly to women and girls, ‘You’ve got a right to an environment that treats you with respect, treats you as an equal and raising your voice about that isn’t starting a war, it isn’t playing the victim, it’s just asking for what simply is right.”
On sexually denigrating cartoons of herself
[I felt] “More like murderous rage”
On being motivated to continue despite sexist treatment
“In moments of stress and pressure – for example getting myself ready to give my final speech as PM – I certainly did say to myself that I wouldn’t give those people the satisfaction of seeing me shed a tear. I wouldn’t do that. If you can use some iteration of ‘don’t let them get you down’ that would be useful.”
On women entering politics
“I hope that we work our way to a better place for women in politics. If there was a woman standing before me, and with a crystal ball I could see that everything that had happened to me was going to happen to her, I would still say do it. The benefits are far superior to the burdens.”
On right-wing commentators
“One thing I’ve done since I left politics – and let me describe the liberation – is to not read them and stop listening. I find turning them off helps a great deal.”
On Hilary Clinton
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic to follow the first African-American president with the first woman president?”
On women and leadership
“I’d really like people to puzzle through this. As I said in my final speech as PM, there are shades of grey. We need to look at how much of the treatment is about gender and how much is about rigours of leadership. Being PM isn’t an easy job – not for me, not for Abbott, not for the next person – whether you’re a man or woman. What we have to do is get rid of the extra bit of difficulty about being a woman. I’d like to focus the discussion on that.”
This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.