Claire Black: Gillard passed feminist watershed

Former Australian PM Julia Gillard. Picture: Getty
Former Australian PM Julia Gillard. Picture: Getty
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IT’S been a funny old week for women in international politics.

On the one hand, there’s Texas senator Wendy Davis, who has caused a run on hot pink Mizuno Wave Rider 16 running shoes after wearing them for the 10 hours and 45 minutes she spoke (without taking a break or leaning on furniture for support) in order to filibuster the Republican abortion legislation in her state. I think the appropriate term is shero. And on another continent, a few thousand miles further round the globe, having been ridiculed for knitting, served up as a dish on the most repugnantly misogynistic fund­raising dinner menu ever thought into existence (“Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – small breasts, huge thighs & a big red box”) and repeatedly called “bitch” by her political opponents, Julia Gillard has finally been deposed as prime minister of Australia.

Gillard, don’t forget, was the woman who back in October of 2012 was hailed for creating a watershed moment in global feminism with her straightforward demolition of the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, whom she told across the dispatch box that if he wanted to know what misogyny looked like all he needed to do was pick up a mirror. Brava.

She was also, however, the woman who unseated her Labour colleague and then prime minister Kevin Rudd during his first term of office back in 2010. Rudd has now kindly repaid the favour, beating Gillard in a ballot of MPs by a margin of 57 to 45.

Gillard was not deposed because she is a woman. There have been too many political failures – on refugees, welfare, equal marriage – for that, as well as gaffes and a promised budget surplus that never appeared. But there’s no doubt that her gender played a part in what has happened. As she said herself, “The reaction to being the first female PM does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership.” I find it hard to agree with such a hideous double negative, but I know what Gillard means.

Gillard was pilloried for not being married (“Is your boyfriend gay?” she was asked on live radio, presumably because he is a hairdresser), and for not having children (“deliberately barren” was the phrase one opponent used). Not long after her father died, radio presenter Alan Jones quipped that he had “died of shame”.

On the national and international stages, women are still scandalously under-represented in politics. The fall of Gillard only makes that clearer. When asked what her term as prime minister might mean for other women leaders, Gillard remained indefatigable: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that.” I just hope she’s right.

IF YOU don’t recognise the name Edith Windsor, get thee to Google. Windsor, 84, is the woman who prompted the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last week to overturn DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) by suing the US government. Windsor’s partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009 after a long ­battle with multiple sclerosis. Spyer left her estate to Windsor, but because their marriage was not legally recognised, Windsor was charged $363,053 in taxes. She’ll now get this money back, with interest. Behind the hyperbole and hatred that often accompanies discussion of equal marriage, there are people like Windsor and Spyer. As the Scottish Parliament launches its equal marriage bill, it’s a fact worth remembering.

IF YOU were using the increasing number of carbon fibre road machines, hipster fixies and full-suspension mountain bikes on the road to judge the health of cycling in Scotland you’d be seriously misinformed. Yes, bikes appear to be everywhere. Yes, there are brilliant grassroots organisations such as Pedal on Parliament. But look at the Scottish Government and you’ll see the wheels on support for cycling in Scotland are wobbling. Latest data reveals that casualties amongst cyclists have increased by 9 per cent and nine cyclists were killed last year. Meanwhile, East Dunbartonshire Council is turning its back on 20mph zones while the Scottish Government argues that councils must take the lead. It’s all very well having a Cycling Action Plan for ­Scotland but is it worth the paper it’s written on? «

Twitter: @scottiesays