Women, including Gillard, should be judged like men
Here I was, thinking that in this history-making era when we have our first female Governor General and our first woman Prime Minister, the genders may finally have laid down their arms.
But as the First Bloke himself highlighted yesterday, sadly it looks like business as usual. All of us guests at the national barbecue that is Aussie public life are still divided along traditional lines - men huddled together, stubby in hand poking at the snags, women at the other end of the yard, fussing with the salads.
Whether he was put up to it or not by Julia Gillard’s popularity paramedics, First Bloke Tim Mathieson made it seem that, unlike more enlightened nations, Australia is stuck in Jurassic Park when it comes to gender relations.
In what is probably a vain attempt to defend his defacto against a terminal decline in public opinion, Mathieson played “the woman card”. You know, that old one about everybody being so mean to (insert name of powerful woman having a professional crisis here) because she is a woman?
Never mind the fact his girlfriend spectacularly broke her carbon tax promise, allowed hideous cruelty to continue in the live export trade after her government was made well and truly aware, and produced a dropped-pizza of a border protection plan in the last 12 months; Mathieson would seriously have us believe the real issue is that poor little females in prominent posts are still more harshly judged.
I don’t buy this vintage argument for one second - and I am surprised our proudly feminist, fiercely intelligent PM would allow her man to wheel this antique idea out. It could be a case of desperate times, desperate measures - sorry, still not good enough.
What surprises me most about this cobwebby defence/sympathy ploy, is that Ms Gillard witnessed, only weeks ago, the outrage among men and women alike over Christine Nixon’s similar use of “the woman card”.
When Nixon suggested in her book that her spectacular downfall was fuelled by gender-hate and “fattism”, she did herself, and her groundbreaking generation of feminist activists a serious disservice. And, like the Prime Minister (via Mathieson), she contradicted the glaring evidence that she had, in fact, blown down the gender barrier with her authentic skills, merit and determination.
And the public, especially women who still call themselves feminists, didn’t buy it. Nixon attempted to garner support from other powerful women by meeting groups of them before the book’s launch, and, according to reports, suggesting they would understand that she had been savaged because she was a powerful woman in a man’s world. She offended her audience “to a woman”.
No doubt they could see, like the rest of us, that forward thinking Australians, from business chiefs to firemen, accept we have moved on from the idea of the “little woman” and “her indoors”; that whole cliched mindset about what women can, and can’t be expected and achieve (from separating conjoined twins with a fellow female neurosurgeon, to chairing the board of Telstra).
If the nation’s most powerful businessmen, including ASX chairman David Gonski, can make it their mission to attract more women to the country’s top boards - because the slow-to-change board gender-imbalance is “not a good business model” - then how can high powered women themselves even consider playing the “poor little women don’t get taken seriously, and are criticised more readily” card, when things do not go their way.
As esteemed women such as Heather Ridout, head of the Australian Industry Group, and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh have demonstrated, a woman at the top can, and should expect to be judged (like men), on their actions and their merits, and to be respected for those attributes - or not.
All that remains is for prominent women who have survived on their ability to thrive on our ever-more-level playing field to start talking like they believe that, even during a career meltdown. Oh, and while they’re at it, they need to tell their boyfriends…
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