Gillard's 'misogyny' rant wins praise, but is she a hypocrite?
International media laud Australian PM, but at home they're questioning her motivation
AUSTALIAN Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made international headlines thanks to a withering attack on opposition leader Tony Abbott over the issue of sexism and has won a legion of new fans outside Australia. As a result, however, she is the victim of an equally vicious backlash in her homeland.
She launched into the ferocious and sustained attack on Abbott during a debate over the future of Australia's house speaker, Peter Slipper, who has been accused of making derogatory comments about women in a series of text messages.
Abbott had called on Slipper to be fired, but Gillard defended her man and turned the tables on Abbott, gesturing at him across the chamber and declaring: "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man... 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."
She then ran through Abbott's extensive back-catalogue of sexist comments.
US women's website Jezebel was impressed. "Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard is one badass motherf***er," it cheered. "In an impassioned 15-minute smackdown in front of the house of Representatives, the country's first female leader gave a scathing speech calling out opposition leader Tony Abbott's extremely misogynistic comments, actions, views on abortion and single women, all the while pointing in his face."
Her passion even impressed The New Yorker magazine. It accepted that her motivation was in some way political but added that "in the process, she got everyone talking about something much more important".
And that's not the only thing Americans could take from her performance. "Supporters of President Obama, watching Gillard cut through the disingenuousness and feigned moral outrage of her opponent to call him out for his own personal prejudice, hypocrisy, and aversion to facts, might be wishing their man would take a lesson from Australia," The New Yorker added.
Here, Spectator blogger Alex Massie wrote that there was "much to admire" in Gillard's performance, while Times columnist Caitlin Moran tweeted a link to footage of the putdown.
At least one Australian commentator joined in. Anthony Sharwood, writing for Australian political website The Punch, said Abbott "was utterly torn to shreds by the finest performance Julia Gillard has ever delivered on the floor of the House of Reps". He said her performance was enough to stop Abbott in the polls and could even help Gillard win the next election.
But have Gillard's cheerleaders missed the point? Many in Australia are less than impressed, accusing Gillard of double standards for smearing an opponent with allegations of misogyny in order to defend a political ally accused of the same crime. After all, Slipper later resigned, despite the support of the PM.
"Gillard's parliamentary presentation was brilliantly ferocious, emotionally stirring and evocative of a wronged and injured party," said The Australian. "But the substance and argument fell well short of an acceptable political strategy and risked only alienating more voters disenchanted with the grubby, hypocritical and personal abuse from both sides of parliament."
The Sydney Morning Herald said that by supporting Slipper, Gillard "chose to defend the indefensible, to excuse the inexcusable". Paradoxically, the paper said, her attack on Abbott showed that Gillard, who has a paper-thin majority in parliament, "was prepared to defend even the denigration of women if it would help her keep power. If Gillard will not defend respect for women, what will she defend?"
The whole episode reflects badly on Australia, says The Age. "The screeching of the most senior members of the Gillard government and the Abbott opposition yesterday was the sound of Australia's Parliament scraping the bottom of its barrel."