Picture this: it is October 2012. Our country has its first female prime minister, but we are far from living in a utopia of equality and female empowerment. In fact, quite the opposite is happening- the air is thick with misogyny aimed at Julia Gillard and everything she does comes under attack. Her gender, appearance, and her personal decisions, such as her choice not to have children, are disparaged daily by powerful politicians and by the media. For months she has been the target of sexist attacks that seem to ricochet, indirectly hitting every other Australian woman.
Gillard, having had enough of all this, gives an impassioned and unforgettable speech that is widely broadcast all over Australia and, inevitably, the world. Eight years later this very speech was voted to be the most unforgettable moment in Australian television history, and now, almost eleven years after the speech, this triumph remains sharp in our memories. What kind of imprint did this speech make on Australia? What kind of legacy did Gillard leave?
Millions of people have watched Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech
And not all of them are Australians. One week after the speech was uploaded to YouTube by ABC News, it had one million views. Almost eleven years later, the original upload has 3.8 million views, while another clip by the Guardian has 5.7 million views. A clip of the speech also circulated on TikTok, reaching a whole new generation of viewers, some of whom were not old enough to remember the original incident.
Comments from all over the world show that the speech has inspired people of all ages and genders, and remains popular to this day. As Julia Gillard herself put it, the speech “took on a life of its own”. Viral videos show young women following Tony Abbott, chanting the misogyny speech, having memorised entire passages of it. The transcript can be found online, in case anyone happens to see a certain ex-prime minister in the street and wants to remind him of the blistering monologue that was aimed at him that fateful day. But you didn’t get that idea from me.
Everyone remembers it… for better or for worse
While the impact it had is undeniable, not everyone agrees with her words- and not just misogynists. Some found it inexcusable and hypocritical that the speech was given in defence of Peter Slipper’s sexist behaviour. Others were horrified that, on the very day the speech was given, legislation was passed lowering the cut-off age of the single-parent payment by half, a decision that has no doubt contributed to the fact that 37% of single-parent families in Australia are currently living below the poverty line. Critics argued that Gillard was all bark and no bite- in other words, she impressed us all with her sharp shiny words, but her actions did not match her words.
It changed the way we define misogyny
Literally. The Macquarie dictionary updated the definition of misogyny after Gillard’s speech went viral.
The speech has inspired a song, a few books, and a star-studded ten year anniversary event. It legitimised and validated our anger and empowered us to speak out more- but what has it done politically?
On one hand, Gillard believes it overshadowed most of her other work in government. This can be a pro or a con depending on who you ask- like every other politician, she did some good and some harm. Sometimes it’s better to be remembered for making an empowering speech, however inaccurately it may represent your overall reputation, than to be remembered for making a decision that ultimately left a lot of single mothers in a vulnerable position, thus oppressing them further. And perhaps it’s just as well that so many people remember the speech but not the context of the speech.
Hilary Clinton believes that the misogyny speech paved the way for moments like #MeToo. And whether or not it is due to the misogyny speech, we must admit that things have changed exponentially since October 2012.
There are no perfect heroes. Julia Gillard is not a flawless feminist icon. But, if we isolate her speech from all context, it is pretty glorious. And it won’t be forgotten.
Not now, not ever.