So, it’s official. First female prime minister.

It’s a Big Moment, there’s no denying it. And the feminist celebrations are a lot less qualified than they would have been if one of the other prominent female contenders had made it across the line. Julie Bishop, say. Or God help us, Bronwyn Bishop.

And yet, I can’t suppress my inner party-pooper — not in response to Gillard herself, but in response to all the talk about The Significance, the invitation to the feminist sisterhood to start giving each other high-fives.

For years, conversation about gender issues in Muslim societies has been met with the smug line that at least Muslim states like Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh have had female leaders, unlike well, the United States. Or Australia.

But the rise to power of these women did not signify a breakthrough for other women in their societies. Benazir Bhutto failed to repeal the notorious Hudood Ordinances, under which too many Pakistani women, including rape victims, were jailed for adultery. And Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban was generated under Benazir’s watch.

I do not suggest that Australia suffers anything like this level of gender inequality, or that Gillard resembles Benazir in any way other than the #firstfemalepm hash tag. I mention it only as a reminder that the hardest feminist battles have never been the struggle for a few women to attain positions of power.

And the most difficult battles are also the most important, because they are the battles for the most vulnerable. The women who struggle against gender violence, against entrenched poverty, against multiple disadvantages not only misogyny, but also racism, poverty, disability and all the myriad forms that marginalisation can take.

The danger now (well, one of the dangers) is that feminists will be told that the battle is won, that anyone who is still on the battlefield is just a whinger, that if a woman can become prime minister, then we have no further reason to complain.

We’ve shattered the ultimate glass ceiling, after all. So anyone who is still struggling is either not good enough or has made other choices (like settling for a gorgeous Louis Vuitton handbag from the David Jones CEO).

I am sure that Gillard is very well aware of these dangers. And well aware that if she is to address them in meaningful terms, then getting to the Lodge has been the easy part.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey