The ‘mother’ and the ‘witch’

Screen shot 2014-07-20 at 5.53.04 PMAngela Merkel, the German Chancellor is highly regarded by her public – indeed she’s very popular and is referred to as  ‘sister, aunt, even mother’.

She embodies what the German soul wants now according to Barrie Kosky, the former Australian artistic and theatre director,  now based in Berlin.

Merkel is a former chemist, he adds, and describes her as ‘boring’, even ‘staid’. Even so, few people dislike her, and even his left-wing friends approve of their conservative leader. He claims that this fondness for Merkel is to do with the history of the country, and with the point at which Germany finds itself now, and that these particular attributes of the leader make the Germans comfortable. Kosky says the Germans have come to terms with their past. They are not trying to prove anything.

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 4.50.06 PM


Whereas Angela Merkel is regarded as ‘mother’ to the nation, during her short time as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was frequently called a ‘witch’ and ‘smeared as Lady Macbeth, the woman who had plotted to bring down a prime minister’, writes Mary Delahunty in Gravity : Inside the PM’s office during her last year and final days. 




Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 4.55.54 PMDelahunty recalls the cold night in June 2010 when Julia Gillard came to power. When, as an admired deputy, it became increasingly apparent that the Rudd governance was dysfunctional, Gillard was urged by Kim Carr, Mark Arbib, Bill Shorten and David Feeney to challenge Rudd. This was no planned coup for when Tim Mathieson, Julia Gillard’s partner arrived in Canberra for the morning vote it was obvious he had left in a mighty hurry for he was wearing one black shoe and one dark brown.

Nevertheless the muck stuck: Long-time press gallery journalist Michelle Grattan summed up Gillard’s promotion from deputy to PM : ‘Her colleagues and the media saw her as the next big thing. Now she’s seen as the executioner’. Liberal Christopher Pyne was even more insulting  when he declared to the parliament that to compare Gillard to Lady Macbeth was unfair to Lady Macbeth as she had only had one victim to her name; this prime minister has a list of victims longer than Richard 111. He did not name victims but carried on about her failed policies.

Australians are not comfortable with women in power. Although we were one of the first countries to grant women full political rights we were one of the last to elect women to federal parliament. By 2007 the picture for women in politics had improved with Julia Gillard the first female deputy prime minister, Anna Bligh the first elected female state premier, and Julie Bishop the first female deputy of the Liberal Party. And in 2012 Julia Gillard became the first female PM, and Nicola Roxon, the country’s first attorney general. But the situation has now taken a turn for the worst and in 2014 women hold less than 30 percent of Australian parliamentary seats.

The frightful abuse hurled at Julia Gillard came mostly from older very conservative males, those in the mold of Alan Jones who said on radio that Gillard should be chucked in a chaff bag and sunk at sea. How dare he or anyone say this to anyone least of all our prime minister. Delahunty describes this hatred of Gillard as emanating from these old men’s fear of ‘declining influence and potency’.

As I read this book I find myself recalling Barrie Kosky‘s wise words explaining how the Germans regard Merkel with such fondness, and wonder if the desperate state of our politics is really because we haven’t grown up, we haven’t faced our past, maybe we don’t know who we are. Australians just weren’t mature enough to appreciate a female Prime Minister.

While Germany has come to terms with its history, Australia has not yet dealt with its indigenous history or its convict past. ‘The wound is so enormous, so dark’. Kosky says. For him, ‘Australian politics is just a reflection of convicts and prison guards’. Power, pettiness and meanness are the words he uses to describe our politics. He is right in his assessment.



Categories: feminism, leaders, media representation, politics, womens rights

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