Playing the gender card: media portrayal of Julia Gillard's speech

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Despite the enthusiastic response to Julia Gillard’s sexism and misogyny speech in 2012 from women all over the world, according to a University of Adelaide study, the Australian newsprint media primarily condemned the speech, accusing the Prime Minister of playing the ‘gender card’ for political purposes.

Masters student Anna Worth and Professor Martha Augoustinos, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, analysed over 200 news articles in the week following the speech and their findings were published in the journal, Feminism & Psychology, this month.

“From the outset of her elevation to Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was reluctant to draw attention to her gender, instead insisting that she wanted to be judged on her merits,” says Professor Augoustinos.

“This changed dramatically on 9 October 2012, when the Prime Minister delivered what became known as her ‘sexism and misogyny’ speech in the Australian Parliament.

“In what was described as an ‘extraordinary’ and ‘furious attack’, Julia Gillard accused the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, of sexism and misogyny.

“The speech attracted wide-spread debate about what precisely constitutes sexism, and whether the accusations made by Julia Gillard were justified,” she says.

Professor Augoustinos says the study suggests silence is privileged over speaking up against sexism.

“The analysis found that when women do speak up against sexism, or make such accusations, they are held more morally accountable than those who engage in the offensive behaviour in the first place,” says Professor Augoustinos.

“Sexism was represented as an irrelevant distraction from the real concerns of ordinary people, and women in positions of leadership were expected to ignore and rise above any sexism they experienced – Gillard’s confrontation of sexism was depicted as extreme, unfeminine, and problematic.

“The analysis also revealed the common sense understanding of ‘ordinary’ Australian women is that speaking up about sexism is risky, and it is safer for such words to remain ‘in their heads’. At the same time, not speaking up is seen as an injustice, so women are often faced with a dilemma as to how to manage such incidents in everyday life,” she says.

Professor Augoustinos says that while many women identified with, and celebrated Gillard’s historic speech, the negative media coverage may have a lasting impact.

“I believe the media portrayal of Julia Gillard’s speech may have implications for other women who wish to confront sexism – it may unfortunately deter them from speaking up in the future,” says Professor Augoustinos.


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Professor Martha Augoustinos
School of Psychology
The University of Adelaide
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Mobile: 0418 893 156

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