It’s over a decade since then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, gave her now famous ‘misogyny speech’ in response to the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, who tried to accuse her of sexism. This was a feeble and embarrassing attempt by Abbott, to shift the blame onto Gillard, utterly devoid of any self-awareness or comprehension of his actions which had been riddled with misogyny throughout his career.
For the small number of readers who might not be familiar with Gillard’s speech, I would urge you to watch it in its entirety. The sentiment rings true to this day:
“I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. And in so doing I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That's what he needs.”
This speech might have been made over ten years ago, on the other side of the globe, but there is a reason it struck a chord with so many. You don’t have to be the leader of your country to have your own backlog of stories of misogyny in the modern day. I have stories, all of my friends do. I can’t imagine there’s a woman out there today who couldn’t list examples of the misogyny they’ve faced.
As we speak, the Scottish Government has a live consultation on whether to make misogyny a criminal offence. This is the level we have reached. A society where the hatred and vitriol towards women have become so ingrained, so entrenched, so expected that we now have to consider whether to legislate against it. The women in my life certainly feel no level of surprise that this is the stage we’re at. I won’t disclaim this with the usual ‘not all men’ verbiage. We know this isn’t the case. We know it’s a minority. I am simply passed the point of trying to avoid offending the decent and good men out there. This is a life-or-death situation for women and non-binary people and it’s not my, or any other woman’s responsibility to make you feel comfortable in the fight for our equality.
If you don’t have personal experiences of misogyny, you only have to glance at the media to see it with your own eyes. Look at the replies to any tweet published by Nicola Sturgeon, or any number of our female MPs and MSPs to see the vile level of hatred repeatedly thrown their way.
I remember very early on in my political career the headline when Nicola Sturgeon met Theresa May in Glasgow to discuss Brexit, “never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it”. Two women in the highest positions of public service, reduced to nothing more than their physical appearance. This headline, and the article which referred to Nicola Sturgeon’s cross-legged stance as ‘…a direct attempt at seduction’, rightly received a great level of backlash, but we need to do more than just call out misogyny after it happens. This is why we must legislate against misogyny, to stop it at its source. To create a society in which these views and beliefs aren’t normalised, so that gender equality isn’t just a pipe dream, or a hope for the distant future, but that it is a reality.
This week we saw Jacinda Arden give her farewell speech to the New Zealand Parliament, her final message being ‘you can be anxious, sensitive, kind and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can be a mother, or not, an ex Mormon, or not, a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things, and not only can you be here – you can lead.” THIS is the message we should be giving young women and girls, not reducing them or sexualising them based on their physical appearance.
What is true of Julia Gillard, Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon is that they all faced a level of scrutiny higher than any of their male counterparts. We’re all better off for having had them contribute their careers to public service, but are their lives better off for it? I imagine they all feel a deep sense of pride, as they rightly should, for the positions they’ve held but the toll is undeniable. How long can we expect women in leadership positions to sit back and accept the abuse that these women have had to endure? And in what world can we expect any women who have seen the abuse they’ve faced, to step up and willingly take on a public role too? It’s enough to put off even the thickest skinned.
Regardless of political views, we must all be able to act with a level of decency and respect towards others. Yes, we must be able to challenge viewpoints, and hold our leaders to account but just because they have dared to put their heads above the parapet, does not make them fair game for abuse. If we continue at the rate we are now, I fear the democratic landscape of our nation, will be all the worse off for it.