Australia just lost its first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. She didn’t lose at election, rather she was forced to call a leadership ballot and then did not win it. The man she beat 3 years and 3 days ago in the same way, Kevin Rudd, successfully concluded his bitter, undermining and downright vengeful campaign to be reinstated as this country’s prime minister for the last 77 days leading to the election on September 14. Yep, democracy. Yep, factional politics. All that, but in the end, difficult not to conclude that it was nothing but a personal vendetta simmering then boiling on flames fanned by Australia’s media.
Much has been written, much has been said about the state of Australia, and how immature we are to be unable to cope with a woman PM, a strong Labour woman and how misogyny is rife. I don’t disagree at all. But I want to say how how it feels. because I am a little shocked about the extent of my feelings about this.
I think am going through empathy overload. Closely related to outrage overload. I feel despair and grief in inverse proportion to the joy and optimism I felt when three years ago, Julia Gillard became the first woman Prime Minister we have ever had. Sure, I have been disappointed in her sometimes (she opposed gay marriage), and downright angry (Australia’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers, cutting financial support to single mothers) but I have also been proud, moved and fist-pumpingly energised (that misogyny speech). I also just liked seeing a woman being in the top job. And I liked seeing all those terrific women in cabinet (some of whom voted against Julia in the spill). Julia gave Australia our first female Attorney-General. I liked my daughter seeing women in the top jobs. I liked that politics looked somewhat gender-balanced, and it just looked…well… normal.
I feel like I have been cheated, and in some way violated by what has happened. Last Wednesday night watching the coverage of the leadership spill unfold, I felt anger, fear and real sorrow. Texts, tweets and Facebook messages between friends during the unfolding events confirmed that we all felt the same way. We were using words like “heartbroken”, “heartsick”, “grieving”, “sad” and “outraged”. We were feeling our own pain, but we were also feeling Julia’s pain, hence the empathy overload. I felt, and still feel to some degree, so weighed down by it, that I can’t bear to listen to the news or watch television coverage, while at the same time, I am desperate to know everything, every detail, so follow brilliant commentators on Twitter and put my own rants on Facebook. This is helpful, and validating, and a bit healing.
I have strong, long-held personal values of justice and fairness. Those values guide my work to end violence against women, guide the decisions I make about what work I do, what causes I support, what barricades I go to, and who I vote for. For me, I know I am deeply affected by this because its about the injustice of it all, the pure unfairness.