Would You Ask a Man That?

An article of mine that was published on On Century Avenue the other day.


On Apr. 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for President of the United States for the second time. As is in line with the U.S. procedure, she would hold that position for one term, that is, four years. This would be just over double the amount of time that the Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was in the same position of power.

In 2010, Australia saw the inauguration of its first ever female Prime Minister, after the result of a hung parliament (no single party won the majority of the seats in parliament). It made history, in the same way that Hillary Clinton could make history as the first female President of the United States.

Former Prime Minister Gillard and Clinton have much more in common than just being female: both attended postgraduate law school and have spent years within the political sphere. Prior to her role as Prime Minister, Gillard had served as the first ever female Deputy Prime Minister. However, in this role, she avoided the burning, bright light of judgements that would follow throughout her time as Prime Minister. She was out of the spotlight. However, as 2010 rolled in, Gillard began to experience harsh criticism, judgemental comments, and general cruelty – but, why?

Because people did not like the way she dressed. She wore a suit and was, therefore, a lesbian. She also never married: lesbian. Would one ever call a man gay because he wore an unconventional tie? She sounded uneducated because she spoke with a thick Australian accent – the way our former Prime Ministers had. Everybody I knew started to call Gillard “Julia the ranga” (a derogatory term for a redhead). First off, I’ve never referred to Barack Obama as Barack. Second, did we ever comment on John Howard’s (an ex-Prime Minister) balding head, or comment on Kevin Rudd’s wispy toupee-looking hair?

In 2011, crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm called Gillard a “mangy dog”. Four years later, he’s still not apologetic about it. To him, the comment was mild and nothing in comparison to other comments made in regards to the former Prime Minister. For example, a sign was erected outside parliament saying “ditch the witch”. Even worse, in 2012, a radio host named Alan Jones referenced Gillard’s late father:

“The old man recently died a few weeks ago of shame. To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament”.

The comment is simply unprecedented. Julia Gillard’s father must have passed away with pride, due to the fact that his daughter was able to withstand the belligerent sexism she faced. And she confronted it boldly: as evidenced by her famous misogyny speech. Addressed to the Australian House of Representatives, Gillard says the following:

“[Tony Abbott] says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope [Abbott] has got a piece of paper and he 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 of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.”

Since Hillary Clinton has always been in the public eye, somewhat behind the shield of her of her husband, the former President of the United States, she has received similar sexist remarks. She gets called by her first name, and people comment on her clothing – forget the fact that she was Secretary of State, the whole world just wants to know who her favorite designers are. In 2010, Clinton was asked this question, and swiftly replied “Would you ever ask a man that question?”

Would Margaret Thatcher have been called the Iron Man if she was male? She would have been considered strong, not brutal and bossy – but it is highly unlikely she would have developed the name. In terms of misogynistic comments, that’s as much visible sexism as we can see: Thatcher was not living in an age of instant communication; an age where phrases “Julia the ranga” go viral and all comments can be publicized. But what about for Clinton? In seconds, people can see a live broadcast of her distressed facial expressions – and she’s automatically labelled emotional.

It’s impossible to predict if and how Hillary Clinton would run into further sexism if she wins the election. But the comments will come. It’s not a question of what is said, but how Clinton treats it on the other end. Perhaps, she could lean behind Bill: Americans trusted him, so therefore, they can trust her. But she should not have to. Hillary Clinton must be prepared to carry on what Julia Gillard could only take so far: acknowledge the sexism, and create backlash.

Having a female President of the United States would be life-changing. For everybody. But it should not have to be a struggle. These women of power and importance should not be diminished to a physical characteristic, whether it be hair color or their clothing choices. The name Julia Gillard does not remind one of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or of education reform. We remember the Alan Jones comment. But with the name Obama, associations are made with Obamacare, or the death of Osama bin Laden: aspects of his presidency. Unfortunately, their actions are diminished and will continue to be – unless more and more women step into power. Unless more and more people entrust their country into the hands of women.

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