By Charlotte Ainsworth
I have recently been clearing out my room and all my folders in anticipation of next week’s graduation. As I am doing so, I have been finding pieces of paper, random scribbles, and assessments from my younger years at Loreto.
It has been the perfect opportunity to look back and reminisce; of things done, of things said, and of things I am yet to do.
I was wondering what to write for my final contribution to the Mary Word, I remembered something I had written wayyyy back in 2016. I was 15 when I wrote this speech and a lot has happened since then, but I find that certain aspects continue to ring true.
In particular, my closing remarks have become something I have latched on to. In this, Year-10 Charlotte discusses how she is “optimistic for what [her] own future may hold.”
Well, I say to her; your future is almost here.
School’s almost over, but for now it is time to dwell on the past, and to remember the place which has been my home for 5 years.
So, with this, I bid you all adieu.
** ** ** ** **
Creating history has always been difficult for women. I mean, the word is literally “his” story, it completely excludes “her.” From the sports field, to television, to parliament house, women face many obstacles. There rests, between women and history, this unacknowledged barrier. A glass ceiling, if you will. Through sheer determination and grit, there are women who shatter this ceiling and show that a woman’s place is not simply at home, as tradition dictates, but in a swimming pool, on a sport’s track, in the army, in a medical laboratory, and in the House of Representatives.
When I was 10 years old, my life dream was decimated. Destroyed. Obliterated. My dream was to be Australia’s first female Prime Minister, and when Julia Gillard challenged Kevin Rudd for the position of Prime Minister and won, that was over. In my 10 year old head, I was really angry. But eventually I thought about it and realised that if I can’t be Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I was going to support the woman who was.
And from that point on, Julia Gillard has been one of my role models.
Of course over her tenure as Prime Minister, there were some occasions that I disagreed with her decisions and policy, but I still respected her as a person and woman of integrity.
Though I can’t say that this was true for everyone.
In 2011, protesters at an anti-carbon tax rally held signs with slogans like: “Ditch the Witch,” “Ju-liar,” and “Bob Browns’ Bitch”. And who was standing with these protesters, being photographed alongside these derogatory and misogynistic signs?
Our late Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The fact that this utter sexism and misogyny was being used to attack the leader of Australia using insults based around her gender, was something that really shocked 11 year old me. Looking at these dreadful protesters on ABC News, with the opposition leader standing among them really concerned me. I was so confused about how someone who was supposed to be a representative of the people of Australia could use the fact that his political opponent was a woman, in order to undermine her. Surely her policies and the way in which she governs would be the correct way to attack your opponent?? Not her gender.
Because the Australia I know wouldn’t use my gender as a weapon against me. Would it?
Julia Gillard herself later spoke out about this saying that she “really doesn’t know why this wasn’t a career-ending moment for Tony Abbott… sexism is no better than racism”. I completely agree that this should have been such a moment for Abbott, alas, it wasn’t. And that’s because as a country we do not take sexist attitudes as seriously as they need to be taken.
Part of being a politician is facing scrutiny from the media, however men in parliament don’t have to even worry about casually sexist comments being thrown at them; women do. Prominent female politicians are frequently questioned about:
- Why they don’t have any children
- Why they don’t have a husband
Our Premier was recently asked during a press conference about whether she thinks that her “marriage status and child status” is a “disadvantage politically.” Seriously, she was asked this.
Furthermore, when I discovered that 70% of parliamentarians in both state and federal government are male, I realized exactly how many obstacles Ms Gillard would have had to face to join parliament, let alone become leader of this country. Though it may be hard to see from a distance, the glass ceiling is there.
If there’s one thing that can prove that the glass ceiling has existed for women in politics for a long time, it’s a section on the Parliament of Australia website, which also happens to be the funniest thing I had seen in the whole process of creating this speech.
The site reads “there are currently more women parliamentarians in the Senate than at any other time since Federation.”
That’s great! But you better hope that there are more women in Australian Parliaments in 2017 than there were in 1901. Women couldn’t even vote until 1902! The most recent update on representation of women in Parliament, the website reads: “women first entered the Commonwealth Parliament in 1943 and female representation remained at less than 5 percent until 1980.”
So perhaps it wasn’t just Julia Gillard who had come between me and my dream. Perhaps it is the entrenched sexism present in society that would have made it harder for me to accomplish the dreams I hold, compared to, say, those of my older brother.
There are a lot of issues in Australian society. Discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, and socio-economic status are pervasive in every level of professional and social life. Furthermore, the issue of misrepresentation in parliament runs far deeper. Australia has never had a Prime Minister who wasn’t white.
I cannot continue this speech without acknowledging the sexism that men face either: their roles as parents as deemed less important than that of a woman’s, despite the fact that fathers are just as integral to a child’s upbringing as a mother. Men are expected to be stoic and unemotional. Neither men nor women benefit from a patriarchy, so instead of facilitating a discussion in which only one gender feels comfortable participating, men and women must work together for a better, more equitable, future.
Focusing on making change in one of area will make a big difference. A way of creating positive social change, of creating history, is educating yourself and the wider community about an issue, and working to create understanding of the various ways that something like sexism can effect both men and women, or racism can affect every member of our society.
On October 9th, 2012 a speech was delivered. A speech so great that it in history, it sits among the ranks of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Barack Obama’s election victory speech. 9th of October 2012 was the date of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech. This was a speech that spoke of the underlying frustrations that she must have been feeling after years of dealing with casual sexism every day, including comments about her deceased father “dying of shame.” Julia Gillard did not face criticism and subtle misogyny from just Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party, but from the media, and at times it almost seemed like the entire country.
26 June 2013, I was on a plane. Sitting amongst my siblings, the revolting smell of airplane food wafting up my nose, my legs pressed up to my chest. I was peacefully dozing off, until there was an announcement over the PA. The flight attendant announced that Australia now had a new (but old) prime minister… Kevin Rudd. A chorus of moans and cheers echoed through the cabin, a cacophony of disorientation.
Being in the latter years of high school, it sometimes feels like I’m back on that plane. I feel dejected, stuck, like I have years left before I can go anywhere. Before I can finally do something to make a difference in my community. But then I remember Julia Gillard. I think of the years that she had to wait on the sidelines. I think of how she managed to push through, and what she managed to achieve.
She was the first female prime minister of this country. She managed to leave her mark on his-story.
Thinking about this, to be honest, makes me optimistic for what my own future may hold.