It’s the person not the gender that matters
The focus on the prime minister’s gender, Jeana Vithoulkas argues, is irrelevant in comparison to beliefs and policies.
On the day Julia Gillard was anointed to the position of Prime Minister, a male friend called me.
"You must be very happy about this?"
I wasn't sure on what premise exactly he was basing his assumption.
"Well, yes. She's the first woman prime minister in this country!"
"Oh, well yes. I suppose."
But the truth is I hadn't really thought about it. I hadn't really thought that I as a woman should be happy because we had our first female prime minister.
While her appointment is a landmark event for Australia, her gender is not pivotal in terms of my appreciation of her worth as a politician.
Her competence, her values, her negotiating and consultative skills are not, in my view, dependant on her being a woman and therefore because of that fact be different from a man.
There are women who believe this. There are women who think that women are essentially different from men and that women wouldn't do the bad things that men do.
Women wouldn't send young men to war because they are mothers, women are more compassionate, women are more inclusive, women are less aggressive and more nurturing.
I may have had this view once upon a time due to my upbringing where these female virtues were heavily promoted in our house.
After Maggie Thatcher, I don't know anyone who can really believe this.
She sent young men to war, she destroyed people's livelihoods and built up nuclear weapons.
She once famously declared that there is no such thing as a society. It's everyone for themselves. Doesn't sound very nurturing to me.
Debates among feminists raged during the 1980s about Thatcher. I remember reading that some feminist thinkers didn't consider her a 'real' woman, given the terrible things she was doing. But it wasn't just her.
In Australia, we have had the likes of Amanda Vanstone, who, while Minister for Immigration, imprisoned children in detention, deported Australian citizens (remember Vivien Alvarez Solon?) locked up mentally ill Cornelia Rau in an Immigration Detention Centre and sent Robert Jovics - a man who had lived all but two years of his life in Australia back to the country of his birth to fend for himself after his release from jail.
While I like to think that Julia Gillard will be an improvement on Kevin Rudd, her plan for asylum seekers and the position that she has taken on the issue doesn't look more caring or compassionate compared to her predecessors. And given the response of the East Timorese government, she doesn't appear to be all that much better at consultation.
There is also the view that having women in positions of power improves things for women generally.
I have worked for women who were inclusive and supportive, who didn't take credit for other people's work, who were fair, professional and displayed understanding of women's family responsibilities.
Then I've worked for others who were competitive, aggressive, dismissive of anyone who they deemed to be 'under' them and completely unaccommodating of women who juggled work and family.
It is a weak argument that by virtue of being women, we possess different qualities that we bring to positions traditionally occupied by men.
This is not to say that we don't have a problem with sexism. Already, there is emphasis in the media, and always has been, about her style, her hair colour and the fact that she is childless - characteristics that are rarely examined in male politicians.
I have also heard several parliamentarians, both Labor and Liberal refer casually to her as 'Julia' as if they're talking about their sister or their secretary.
I never heard any politician refer to Rudd as 'Kevin' in a formal media interview.
Undoubtedly, she has to battle these issues in ways that male politicians don't and that's completely unfair, but the fact that she is a woman does not mean that I'm jumping up and down with glee and make me vote for her on those grounds alone.
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