Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I heart Julia Gillard

So we have a female prime minister. And, with the exception of her hair colour, apparently that's the most significant thing about her. Nobody seems to mention her career as an IR lawyer, her place in the last guy's inner circle, her ability to stimulate the economy by building hundred thousand dollar schoolrooms for eight million bucks apiece. Nope, it's all about the boobs.
Seriously, what? We're asking whether she can run the country, not whether she can get away with wearing pearls and tan calf-high boots in a photo shoot (I dunno, is that cool?) Questions about kids, marriage, how she'd decorate the lodge: this is stuff for reality TV airheads, not the leader of the world's fourteenth largest economy. You can't advertise a job with "Men only need apply": why is the most important thing about our new PM something that you're not even allowed to mention in the employment pages?

Now, I think it's a fine thing that we've got a woman as a PM. But for one reason, and one reason only. Reasons that are NOT important are as follows:

1) We should let a girl have a turn

Bollocks. We should let the smartest, most capable, most visionary person have a go. If it's about being fair, then (in no particular order) we should vote for a fat guy (check it out: we haven't yet), a thin woman, someone with glasses, someone with a limp, a one-armed Albanian, a dyslexic albino and whatever other excluded group we can find. Maybe even a Tasmanian, though I don't think we're quite ready for that yet. Giving people a go because it's "their turn" is a beautiful thing, if we're talking about the junior school gym team. Letting the unco kid flail about on the trampoline until he hurts himself is great for his self-esteem and makes us all a bit teary at our own generosity. But I'm guessing Julia's pretty much right for self-esteem. And if not I don't really give a bugger; we're all giving her money and a nice house in return for running the country, so hopefully that'll make up for her being picked last for soccer in grade five.
To make it a little more personal, try this: if you went to hospital to have your appendix out, what would you say if the surgeon was a veteran of some thousand appendectomies? "Oh no, bring me the new guy with the thick glasses and the trembling hands. Let him have a turn." I wouldn't do it to my appendix, and I certainly wouldn't do it to my country.

2) She understands women's issues

Which issues are those? Defence? Given that most of the people we sent overseas to get shot at in our various wars were blokes, I don't know that women can get a much better deal. It's probably not parenting either, since Prime Minister Gillard has chosen career over family. I heartily applaud this choice, not because I oppose families (marvelous things; I belonged to one once), but because I support her right to choose. Women I speak to are as passionate about the political issues of the day as any man, but few of them show any signs of gender divisiveness. The issues women complain about that men don't are things like the difficulty of finding clothes that fit or a mechanic they feel they can trust. I don't think we have a Federal Ministry of Sizes, nor a Register Of Trustworthy Mechanics, so I'm not sure they're affecting voting patterns too strongly. Angela Merckl, the German chancellor (like a PM, but with a nicer car) isn't worrying about gender issues so much as she's dealing with economic security, health care and not getting her country pummelled in another war. Iceland's PM, Johanna Siguradottir (try saying that after a brace of Absolut shots), the first openly gay head of state of the modern era, is too busy building volcano fences and trying to stay warm to think about equal pay for women. And our Julia actually opposed the whole paid parental leave before she got the top job.

Like everyone else, I cringed a little each time I saw Tony Abbott on TV, surrounded by every female figure he could scrape up, plus Bronwyn Bishop. It was transparent, it was embarrassing and it shouldn't have been necessary, but he had to show some girl-cred to claw back a few votes from Julia's growing band of sistahs yo. Personally I think any bloke who's raised three daughters has about as much understanding as a man can have of women's issues without surgery but nonetheless, at the close of polls, he had one penis too many for some voters.

3) Women are better leaders because they are less confrontational
Two words: Margaret Thatcher. She crushed the unions, gave Argentina a damn good thrashing and did everything short of mooning the Soviet Union when the Cold War was at its peak. Yet she was the longest-serving British PM for a couple of hundred years. Her gender had nothing to do with it; invasions, cold wars and recessions are pretty horrible whether or not you stand up to pee, and she dealt with them as well as any man in the job since Churchill toddled off. She was confrontational from start to finish; it might have made her seem less feminine but, regardless of your opinion of her actions, she certainly got stuff done. Bob Hawke might have seemed confrontational, but he tried to be everyone's friend, and behind the scenes he worked towards consensus as hard as he could. All it got him was a recession we had to have and Paul Keating's letter-opener stuck in his back when the lights went out.
Having said that, I'm hoping Julia won't be flipping off the Russians or getting us into another war. But, should we get into a spot of bother, then if she's any good as a PM (and she just might be if we give her a chance) she'll be acting in Australia's interests, not just Australian women's interests.

So why, after all of that, is it a good thing to have a woman in the job?

Someone had to be the first.

Now that we've got it out of the way, people won't look at the next female candidate as "the first". It'll be less about Women's Weekly photo shoots and awkward questions about her committed life partner, and more about whether she supports the mining tax, paid parental leave or whether Peter Garrett should open Parliament by leading the front bench in an a cappella rendition of Beds are Burning. And we'll vote based on whether we like their stance on unions, on the emissions trading scheme and on promises to send Bob Katter back to his home planet as soon as possible.
By treating candidates on their merits rather than their gender, we've instantly doubled the prime ministerial talent pool. And given some of the choices we've been offered over the last few decades (cough) Keating (cough) that has to be A Very Good Thing.

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