Because I don’t have a smartphone, I’ve never really been on Twitter when ‘things are happening’. My computer limits my tweeting to my room and the TV room, which kind of defeats the point of Twitter. I mean, the people in the Arab Revolutions weren’t running around with their laptops tweeting about atrocities. They had smartphones. They took photos and videos and immediately put them on Twitter. I don’t have that technology (and frankly, I don’t think I want it. I do want the opportunity to be, for at least some of my life, disconnected from the internet and sloth videos).
Yesterday morning UK time, however, I woke to the news that there had been spill in the Australian Labor Party and there would be yet another leadership ballot.
For those of you out of the loop (though, I think most people are in the loop after all the fuss the Australians made on Twitter yesterday), The Australian Labor Party swept to victory in 2007 with a leader named Kevin Rudd (his battlecry was ‘Kevin 07’, which was rather nifty and convenient). This was after 9 years of national leadership by a conservative party headed by Mr. Sheen. I mean, John Howard.
For us Gen Y-ers of the bleeding heart, left-leaning variety, 2007 was the first time a ‘left’ party, a traditionally ‘unionist’ party had been elected in our adult lifetimes. There may have been dancing in the street when it came to my friendship circle.
As we inched towards the 2010 election, however, Rudd’s popularity was dwindling. More importantly (at least from the Labor party’s perspective), he was a changeable, irritable, impossible-to-work with meglomaniac. Eventually there was a spill and the party had a leadership vote. Julia Gillard won and became our first female prime minister. There was a lot of outcry from people who don’t really know what they’re talking about (when is there not?) mainly along the lines of, ‘But we didn’t vote for her!’ (For those outside of Australia, and for those within who don’t understand their political system: you didn’t vote for her. But you didn’t vote for Kevin Rudd either. You do not have a directly-elected leader like the USA. You vote for a representative in your electorate. When all the seats in parliament are divided amongst the parties, a majority is determined and whoever is the leader of the majority party is the Prime Minister. Its up to the majority party, not the country. #AusPol101)
Anyway, Gillard announced an election pretty soon after she was elected, so that the Australian people would have a chance to say what they thought about the leadership change (if not giving them the chance to directly vote for or against Gillard as prime minister). And the Australian public’s verdict was….
‘WE DON’T REALLY KNOW! WE’RE KIND OF ANGRY! AND WE DON’T LIKE THAT RED-HAIRED LADY! BUT WE KIND OF DON’T LIKE THAT OTHER GUY EITHER! Uhhhh… Can we just draw donkeys on our ballots and call it a draw?’
It was a hung parliament (oh and there were so many jokes made). Gillard eventually convinced the independent ministers and the one Greens minister to form a coalition government with the Labor Party (which, by the way the other side has been doing for years – the Liberal-National Party is not one party, but a COALITION of two parties. Lucky for them though, not many Australians know this, so the LNP was able to exploit the fact that this Labor-Greens-Independent coalition government was somehow ‘less stable’ than all the Liberal-National coalition governments over the years).
But, still, the Labor Party was the majority party and Gillard was the Prime Minister and had been ‘elected’ so by the Australian Public (though not really – see point above – but everyone somehow felt a bit better now). Then followed 3 of the most shameful years I have ever seen in Australian politics. And I don’t mean Gillard herself (though some of her policies I did think were shameful – refugees and gay marriage in particular, which were all the more shameful because I don’t believe these policies represented her true views, but were crafted to pander to a racist and conservative public). I mean, the treatment of Gillard.
What other politician has had to endure public personalities making serious speeches in which it is claimed their father ‘died of shame’ over her policies? What other (male) politician has had to endure shock jocks asking about the sexuality of their partner, just because he is a hairdresser and you are prime minister of the country? What other (male) politician has had to endure endless scrutiny and censure because they don’t have children? What other male politician has had to endure constant remarks about their weight, appearance and clothing when all they were trying to do was run the bloody country?
Yeah. That’s right. I’m pulling out the big guns. The reason Gillard had it so hard over the past three years was because of consistent and deep-seated misogyny – amongst the Labor Party, from the Coalition, from the mainstream media and definitely from the Australian public.
I’m not saying that Gillard did everything right. I’m also not saying there weren’t other factors at play (a vengeful and angry Rudd on the back-benches constantly spreading rumours and demanding leadership ballots would be hard for anyone to deal with – Gillard herself has said that she was essentially fighting two opposition leaders). But I am also saying the level of disrespect, the mud-slinging and the hatred aimed at Gillard surpasses anything I have ever seen before in Australian politics. And the majority of it came from white, middle-class men. Men who clearly felt threatened. Men not used to dealing with a woman wielding so much power. Men who wanted only to ridicule and demean, rather than engage with her policies on a serious level. Gillard was constantly accused of having no policy. Gillard had plenty of policy. No-one wanted to talk to her about her policy. They wanted to talk about the fact that she lost her shoe when a security guard pulled her from a ‘dangerous situation’. Here:
They wanted to talk about Kevin Rudd. They demanded ‘the real Julia please stand up’. When she did, delivering this amazing speech, heard by women all around the world, she was accused of political opportunism, cynically hijacking the issue of feminism and ‘playing the gender card’ (whatever the hell that means. As Gillard herself said in her departing speech yesterday, ‘Heaven knows no-one realised I was a woman until I raised it.’)
What’s my point? Well, I think you can tell I’m pretty hacked off. If you follow me on Twitter and were reading my tweets yesterday, I’m sure you could tell I was pretty hacked off. It’s not that I think Julia Gillard was the best politician in the world – as I said before I didn’t agree with a lot of what she did. It’s not even that I think she would have won the election in September (I know she wouldn’t have. But, incidentally, I don’t really think Rudd is going to win either). It’s simply that people have treated Gillard appallingly throughout the past 3 years – they have belittled her, they have demeaned her, they have insulted her, they have humiliated her, they have refused to listen to her and it is, as far as I can tell, mainly because she is a woman. They have done it because she is a woman and they have been able to get away with it because she is a woman.
And I think that is shit.
(At this point, I think you should watch this video. Which is from the other side of the world in terms of politics, but it seems appropriate at this time).
So, what was the new thing I did on Wednesday? I watched all this shit go down via Twitter and ABC News 24. I’ve not done that before. I spent a good 6 hours on the computer bitching and commenting and viewing and re-tweeting. I can’t say I enjoyed it. I don’t feel like I did anything useful. It’s not like my tweeting was changing anyone’s minds. It’s not like the ALP caved in under pressure from Twitter. As much as Twitter would like us to think their app is the new democracy in action, they’re not quite there yet. Venting on Twitter, however, did somehow seem more important, consoling, useful and sane than ranting at my wall. In hindsight, it probably isn’t. It’s probably like being one of those people who stands around with a sign around their neck saying, ‘The End of the World is Nigh.’ But I couldn’t help it. Even though it was the internet equivalent of screaming into the wind, being on Twitter felt like I was part of *something*, that I was doing *something*. Today is my Twitter hang-over day and I’ve kind of realised how silly that is. But I don’t really know what else to do. The world is shit and I can’t fix it. All I can offer are tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts and the occasional play. That ain’t gonna change anything.