Like most other young Australian feminists, I have been celebrating the rise to power of our new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Putting the somewhat-painful circumstances in which she came to lead the Labor Party aside for the moment, I am positively beaming with happiness and pride that Australia finally has its first female Prime Minister.
While I recognise that her being a woman does not a feminist make, I believe that her Prime Ministership will still do wonders for young women and girls. The simple fact that our PM is a woman - and a childless, unmarried, athiest one at that - says that, yes, women too can lead in Australia. Naturally, I hope she will actively strive to improve the situation of Australia’s females, but the fact that she actually reached such a position of power is extremely significant in itself.
Despite this, we have usually progressive folks such as Peter Hartcher writing in usually progessive papers such as the Sydney Morning Herald, making eyebrow-raising statements like:
[Gillard]’s a first-class political talent, as smart as any man, as tough as any man, as able as any man.
I’m sorry: what? “As smart as any man”? How about, smarter than many men? Or how about not making a comparison at all? Why not just say that Julia Gillard is “a first-class political talent - smart, tough, and able.” Why did Hartcher feel the need to compare her to a man to make his point?
What I think makes Hartcher’s comments even worse is the fact that he’s actually attempting to compliment Gillard. He recognises that she’s bright, politically-savvy, and more than capable of leading the country.
Does comparing Gillard to a man make Hartcher’s ‘praises’ stronger? No. Do they make his claims easier to understand or to digest? No. Then why did he do it? In fact, I’d like to probe even further than that - why did those phrases even occur to him? What ideas are hanging around in the back of his head that led him to even think of comparing Gillard to a man in the first place?
The fact that someone like Peter Hartcher made such a backwards, misogynistic comment demonstrates how much we still need feminism in 21st Century Australia. A female Prime Minister is one thing; backhanded compliments based on sexism is altogether another.