Symbolism

Photo: A gathering of women leaders.

It’s official. After weeks and months of deliberating on the date of the next federal election we now know we’re off to the polls on August 21st. But before we cast our vote we need to talk about the appointment of our first female Prime Minister in terms of its symbolism.

Former Victorian Premier and founder of Emily’s List Joan Kirner, called the Gillard rise to the Prime Ministership an ‘historic moment for women in Australia.’

History was made when Julia Gillard became the first female to be sworn into the office of Prime Minister by the first female Governor General. To add to the powerful imagery the Governor General, Quentin Bryce wore a corsage of purple, white and green foliage – the symbolic colours of feminism-the significance of which was not lost on the sisterhood. A female PM was on her way to the Lodge. All over the country Australian women spoke of their pride and told their daughters that they too could aim as high.

But the honeymoon period for the Gillard government has been brief and we have only the imagination of what might have been, but will not be; that is any change to the status quo.

Over the last two and a half weeks the new PM has not given the slightest hint that things will be any different under her leadership. Gillard’s first strategic move was to make a deal with the powerfully rich miners over the Resource Super Profit Tax. Admittedly Kevin ‘07 wasn’t achieving a breakthrough but in reality Rudd was actually attempting to get more money for the nation- for us. And what has Gillard done but actually lose 7.5 billion on the deal.

Our new PM’s next chore was to address the perceived problem of asylum seekers about which she made some opportunistic but unworkable plan to dump them on the still impoverished nation of Timor Leste.

To date there has been no new vision and we must not be deluded into thinking that Gillard’s appointment to the top job will be anything but steady as she goes.

But we shouldn’t expect much else. Mistaken beliefs that women might change things for the better are still desirable but not realistic. In Party Girls Labor Women Now Rosamund Else-Mitchell asserts- stereotypes of women as ‘more caring, nurturing and civilized’ mean that we have unrealistic expectations about our female politicians.

Gillard as PM is operating in a capitalistic system and she will have to perform in the same ruthless way as the men who came before her. She has no choice and this is evident in the ruthless way she came to power and in the way she defended the war in Afghanistan two weeks ago.

The appointment of a female head of the country is just tokenism and makes it abundantly clear that women can get there but not much will change.

The election of women to parliament has undoubtedly led to huge improvements for women in areas such as abortion law, access to childcare and reproductive health services. Yes we have achieved these not inconsiderable gains but we could go a lot further.

Some try to take the corporations on and make unpopular change. Kevin Rudd’s folly and demise can be put down to trying to redistribute some of the nation’s wealth.

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