Is criticism of Julia Gillard’s performance as prime minister sexist, as Bob Brown suggests? Is the current bout of leadership rumbling reflective of the febrile, misogynist minds of male media commentators?

Or, as many Crikey readers think, is it all just another media beat-up?

Gillard has undoubtedly been the subject of gender-based criticism in the media. Some of the coverage from The Daily Telegraph and The Australian during the 2010 election campaign was disgusting in its crass misogyny. In November, she was the subject of a disgraceful newspaper attack comparing her to a schoolgirl during the visit of Barack Obama.

But it doesn’t follow that Gillard is currently the victim of sexist criticism from male journalists (for one thing, last time we checked, there were plenty of female journalists in the press gallery giving Gillard a serve).

It’s not male commentators that caused Gillard’s poor performance at the Labor conference in December, nor did they have a hand in her inept reshuffle soon after. They didn’t compel her to abandon her agreement with Andrew Wilkie. They didn’t dispatch her media adviser to play political games on Australia Day.

Nor do they invent the polls that have shown, week in and week out, for nearly a year, that Labor’s vote is a disaster under Gillard and she is simply not liked or trusted by voters.

Gillard’s government in fact has been effective in policy terms: she has delivered significant reforms, although they’re hardly the historic achievements she insists they are. Wayne Swan’s economic management has been excellent. But as prime minister, Gillard has been almost spectacularly inept at the basic stuff of politics: telling voters what her personal vision is for Australia, what she wants to achieve in her current term, and how she intends to do it.

That’s why she’s in deep trouble and unlikely to reach the end of the year as leader. Anyone who thinks it’s a media conspiracy, whether s-xist or otherwise, is blind to the simple reality of politics.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey