Julia Gillard is a divisive figure. Some believe she is a hopelessly incompetent moron; others believe she’s a pathologically dishonest harpy. The breadth of views is startling, and through the fog of our modern political and media landscapes, it is almost impossible to discern just which assessment of our national leader is accurate. It goes to show how tough it is to make an exact assessment of a public figure, to separate fact from fiction, to determine whether the problem is a complete lack of moral fibre, or just an ordinary everyday mental disability.
We must, nevertheless, address the issue. Is the picture we see of Gillard in the papers and on TV, and in libellous ‘chain’ emails, really a truthful one? Should we accept the mass media’s superficial skating over the ice-thin veneer of reality, or should we dig deeper into the freezing water of policy substance to get a decent grip on the leopard seal of truth? Rather than trust the shallow assessments of the ravenous media beast, perhaps we should form our own, based on our values, on our own deep-seated prejudices, as our fathers did and their fathers before them. Or should we instead outsource all decisions about political matters to a clever computer program that rates politicians on the number of times they use certain keywords, or do something unflattering with their hair? I doubt we even have the technology for that.
It will always be easier to read the papers or watch TV. And it’s even easier to develop unreasonable prejudices based on ignorance. Which is why hating the prime minister is the path of least resistance, and science tells us that path is definitely the way to go. But then, if we believed scientists, we probably wouldn’t hate Gillard so much in the first place. This is what is known as a paradox.
Julia Gillard is hated even more than your average prime minister, and your average prime minister – John Gorton – was hated quite a lot. It is the way of things for prime ministers to be detested by most people. Even those of us who vote for prime ministers hate them deep down – in fact, we hate them even more for making us vote for them. I remember well when Kevin Rudd was elected; my feelings of almost homicidal rage that this nasty little ferret of a man had been so repellently self-interested as to canvass for my vote and, even worse, had been so calculating as to get it. ‘BASTARD!’ I screamed to the heavens.
Nevertheless, it came from the heart. I had similar feelings towards John Howard. Not that there weren’t objectively rational reasons to hate him, I just didn’t know any of them at the time. I hated Howard simply because he was prime minister, and the very act of becoming PM is an attempt to lord it over ordinary people.
But there’s something different about Gillard, isn’t there? It’s like the difference between hating the snake that lives in your backyard and hating the evil clown who killed your parents.
What has Julia Gillard done that is so bad, so worthy of hatred?
First of all, she is a woman. This is not necessarily a sin in and of itself, although it does naturally arouse suspicion in the minds of the right-thinking person. Women can, and often are, quite delightful people. It’s just a shame that so many of them, when entering public life, develop a tendency towards what I call ‘mouthiness’ – that is, the tendency to talk and talk and talk and not let anyone else get a word in edgewise, and eventually neglect certain aspects of personal grooming. As I said, I do under normal circumstances quite like women – when they’re well turned out and don’t make too much fuss about things.
But Gillard does make a fuss. That is the problem. It seems she’s always complaining about something – the glass ceiling, the leader of the opposition, terrorism – and, frankly, it’s unattractive. As famed etiquettress Emily Post once wrote: ‘Yo girl, quit your bitching and get waxin’.’ If Gillard could be a little more demure, a little more coquettish, a little more feminine, maybe the media wouldn’t be constantly on her case.
Some may claim this is sexism, but that really doesn’t pass the credibility test. Rebecca Gibney is a woman, and she doesn’t get such a pillorying. Why? Because she has class. Also, Gibney has a husband and kids, and without wanting to sound too harsh, Gillard’s failure to have either makes her come across as a bit of a sociopathic monster. (As my mum always said to me, ‘Never trust an unmarried non-mother – she will slit your throat as soon as look at you.’) There’s no doubt that most of us pause when we meet a woman with neither husband nor kids. We think: ‘What’s wrong with her then? Does she hate men? Does she hate children? Does she want to suck our blood? Does she have petrified wood in her ovaries?’
Secondly, there is the manner of her ascent to power. Gillard became prime minister by assassinating Kevin Rudd. Not literally, of course – although she might as well have. She was perhaps motivated by the belief that, since we hated Rudd – our duty as Australian citizens – we would love it if someone knocked him off. But nothing could be further from the truth. If there’s one thing we Australians hate more than a prime minister, it’s someone who tries to fix things. Of course, it drove the media into a frenzy – her action in removing Rudd robbed them of the chance to keep writing stories about how he needed to be removed. It was a lose–lose situation, and nobody was happy. (Except for those snotty know-it-all types who got to make a lot of pompous comments about the Westminster system and how ‘we don’t elect our prime minister’. Wankers.)
And so, in ruthlessly dispatching our beloved Rudd, Gillard made an enemy for life of the Australian people. Probably the only way she can be rehabilitated in the public consciousness is by getting deposed herself, at which point the newspapers will be full of outraged columnists ranting about the public being denied the right to express their democratic will.
But really, the big problem with Gillard is what she’s done, or, more to the point, what she hasn’t done. For example, she hasn’t been honest with us. Remember before the election, when she stood up in public and declared, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead, cross my heart and hope to die’? And then remember five minutes after the election, when she lit up a cigar in parliament and screeched, ‘Suck the pain, bitches!’?
She also hasn’t respected democracy. Given that opinion polls clearly show that nobody wants a carbon tax, why does she persist in pushing it through? Why is she so dismissive of the will of the people? It’s hard to explain without extensive reference to the doctrine of Original Sin, but essentially it’s about lack of respect. She doesn’t respect the tradition of liberal Western democracy of slavishly following opinion polls – no wonder this angers people. Additionally, she doesn’t respect herself. She reads the papers, too.
The bottom line is that Gillard’s prime ministership has been nothing but misstep after catastrophic misstep. As social commentator and proud penis-owner Bob Ellis has noted:
She could have gotten married at Christmas. She could have worn a nice frock. She could have made Simon Crean Minister for Arts Festivals. She could have stopped talking like that. She could have grown some testicles. She could have dressed up as Kim Beazley. She could have killed herself. She could have made Simon Crean Minister for Cleverness. She could have gone to Afghanistan and had stern words with people. She could have shut her stupid face. She could have made Liberals illegal. She could have worn a push-up bra. She could have made Simon Crean Minister for Hypotheticals. She could have called an election the same day she became prime minister. She could have made rape legal for smart guys.
Now, you may disagree with Ellis, but he’s a very clever man with a lovely turn of phrase. He makes an excellent point: Gillard could have done a lot of things, but she didn’t, and now she’s unpopular. The obvious, logical corollary is if she had done all these things, she would be popular. Of course, everyone has their own theory on what Gillard could have done differently, so we must wonder why she hasn’t done any of these things. You have to wonder why she persists in being stubborn, stupid and immoral even when it’s pointed out to her ad nauseum.
Are we being unfair? Are we really judging things on their merits here, or are we simply falling for media hysteria and sensationalism, the desperate desire to turn every issue adversarial? Have we been swindled by the need to draw in consumers through manufactured drama and intrigue, the commercial imperative that destroys all attempts at meaningful public discourse and intelligent policy formulation?
Of course not – it’s her fault.
I don’t want to be unfair. I realise it’s very easy to hate Gillard. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon. It’s easy to ignore the suggestion of latent sexism in all these relentless attacks. It’s easy to assume that every criticism, every nitpick, every carping, shallow insult thrown her way is a reflection of reality rather than just of the author’s lack of imagination and insight. It’s easy to keep on pointing out problems rather than begin conversation about solutions. It’s easy to make life unbearable for a woman trying to get a difficult job done.
It is very, very easy. Which is why we’re all doing it.
– Ben Pobjie is an author, comedian and columnist for The Age and New Matilda. His books Superchef and Surveying the Wreckage are out now. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, three children and a burgeoning sense of paranoia.
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