There’s one central paradox about the uncritical support some feminists have for the Julia Gillard regime. Eva Cox:
“I don’t think she was being blasted out at all because she’s a woman,” Ms Cox told The Australian. “The reason they are going after her is because she is the Prime Minister, not because she’s a woman. The party is in trouble.
“If anything, she has been protected by the process and the party loyalty rather than being punished by it for gender.
“Today when she was defending her record she came across with limited vision, which doesn’t include disadvantaged groups like single parents. “She’s not sympathetic to women who have been forced on to the dole and maybe a change in leadership would have led to someone who would have listened to the evidence.”
Because Julia Gillard has been on the receiving end of misogynist characterisations and attacks, her own very problematic record on the substance as opposed to the rhetoric of feminism has not just escaped scrutiny, but actively been ignored. It’s as if some phenomenon of over-identification is at work – Gillard is the first female PM, this is a worthy end for feminists, therefore she must be defended no matter what she does to actual vulnerable women.
Hence also the bizarre Manichean portrayals – Julia Can Do No Wrong, How Terrible are Those Undermining Ruddites? If only that nasty Mr Rudd went away (note the continual wishes that he disappear, from public view, from Parliament), her Great Virtue Would Shine Through.
Really? I mean, really?
She is an inept politician and only one thing remains in the public view of her – her lack of truthfulness. Now, that in itself, is true – witness the strange contortions of recent days – “Unite behind the Leader” (while any “enemies” are thrown off the deck), “she can win the election”. Both statements are not statements of truth. They could only be true if there was some alternative universe where a strong leader took control on Thursday, rather than the actuality – a complete farce which has been seen as such by the public, who rightly see this stuff as nonsense and a bad joke at the expense of good government.
Even most of the lines offered in her defence are negative projections. Aside from the fact that they are cooked up by bots in her office, and uncritically accepted by those who wish to deny the fact that she is the most conservative Labor Prime Minister we have ever seen, and one with not just unpopularity but active dislike, none of them ring true. X number of bills have been passed. Well, so what? It doesn’t go to whether they are good bills, bad bills, or indifferent. It’s process, negotiation skills – a transactional style of leadership. Meanwhile, the recent rhetoric has all been about xenophobia (“SAVE AUSSIE JOBS”) and the recent actions have been about kicking women on welfare in the teeth.
A lot of these lines are just silly (“how many good women would fall with Julia?”) … to test the veracity of that one, count how many men rise after the purge of Ruddites, which itself negates any truth to the claims of unity behind a leader. She leads a vengeful faction, not a united party. The demand to unify is coercion, and many of those who are elevated will be rewarded not just for any merit they have, but for blind loyalty.
The truth is that Labor destined itself for a wipeout on Thursday. S14 is predetermined.
Now, we also have a contest within the Labor Party and the broader social field between masculinised closed power structures, and forces of openness, transparency and accountability. In this contest, Julia Gillard is on the side of masculinised unaccountable power – the Shoppies who would love to recriminalise abortion, the AWU which sees MPs as its vassals, to be intimidated and bullied into doing its will, the unions who wish to maintain their power bases at the expense of internal democracy and public openness, and so on. It’s not just that these are the forces that prop up her tottering leadership, but that she actively enables their continuance in power long after she herself has evidently fallen.
The reason why the farce was played out on Thursday was that there is no fair and democratic process to resolve such disputes (aside from its underlying causes aside from personalities, which I am alluding to). In the past, leaders allowed three or four days for lobbying and considered decision when challenged. So weak is Julia Gillard’s position, and so authoritarian her leadership style, she orchestrated things precisely to cut short deliberation. Nor is there even the slightest consideration given to any measure of internal democracy – the Leader will continue to anoint Ministers, reward and punish. It is a sad, closed, paranoid bubble that the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party Leadership inhabits.
Where is the commentary on this from feminists? There is none, because it is an uncomfortable and challenging truth, and the whole Gillard project is magical thinking. It’s tragic, it really is.
Here we have a perversion of liberal feminism. Once one woman gets to the top (never mind how, and never mind how inconsistent the attack on “underminers” is with her own path to power), she is to be defended up hill and down dale with no regard for why she is there and what interests and purpose her continuance in power serves. The other paradox of liberal feminism is surely illustrated here – a progressive movement succeeds in opening a door, but the women who walk through it take on all the most negative characteristics and traits of those who wished to keep it locked in the first place.
Sadder is the failure of many feminists to apply analytical skills, as opposed to magical thinking and mis-identification with this Powerful Feisty Leader.
The failure of Julia Gillard paves the way for Tony Abbott. That’s truth. It would be better to confront it, for feminists and for everyone else who cares.