I am obviously delighted to see a woman as PM, and I think Julia is an excellent choice. But I’m concerned that she won’t get a fair go.
We haven’t got a good record in selecting and supporting women in high positions. Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence were given the top positions when their states were unwinnable, as has, I suspect, Kristine Keneally. There has not been another female premier in Victoria or WA since then.
Julia’s situation is much less dire; the ALP is in a winnable situation and hopefully she can turn around the surprisingly negative public views. Being the first woman will give her a boost in some ways, but I am concerned that the way this happens could also be used against her. At least she was elected unopposed.
The knives are already out. Taking down an existing PM is never going to be pretty. Paul Keating was seen to have “blood on his hands”, even though it was time for a change. This is a first-term prime minister, who was exceptionally popular, so his demise will bring mixed feelings. The person that replaced him will inevitably be seen as part of the process, and sudden change will be seen as political assassination.
This does not fit with the widespread, still entrenched views that there is something unnatural about women in power. Where a diversity of stances is okay for men, women are still tied to the stereotypes, in particular we are expected to be nice, not tough.
A tough competent woman, doing no more than any man would do, is too often still judged more harshly, and it has already started on talk back, and by the opposition. Julia deserves to be taken seriously as a leader, not as the first women in the role.
We will know we really have made progress when women in top positions become normal and not worthy of comment. It will also mean we get better leaders, not just because many are women, but because we no longer exclude good people because of their gender.
This change is going to be tough to interpret because of all the other aspects of rolling a leader in his first term and so suddenly will also apply. However, it will also be a test of whether the Australian electorate, and those attempting to court them can focus on the politics and not the personal dirt campaign against Abbott. It will not be particularly good for anyone to take seriously but it could seriously backfire for a women leader because of the assumptions.
A dirt campaign on Julia by the opposition, depicting her as unfeminine, a bad women or just a puppet, could also backfire on them. My hope is that the change will put policies back on the agenda and not personalities plus.