Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, has opened up for the first time on the sexism that plagued her leadership and her famous misogyny speech in her final interview before being ousted.
Gillard, an unmarried, atheist lawyer, was dumped as Australia’s prime minister by her ruling Labor party last month, almost three years to the day since she toppled Kevin Rudd — now reinstated as PM — in a shock coup.
Her time in office was marred by slights on her gender and sometimes violently sexist commentary, including from members of the conservative opposition, prompting a fiery speech about misogyny last year that went viral and earned her global accolades.
The galvanizing speech on the floor of parliament saw her become a torch-bearer for women around the world.
Welsh-born Gillard opened up for the first time at length about the sexism she faced in what would ultimately be her final interview as prime minister, telling author Anne Summers you “wouldn’t be human if you had no reaction to it.”
Australia’s first female leader said conservative leader Tony Abbott had tipped her over the edge, portraying himself as “some convert, or someone with a real understanding about what it’s like to face the world as a woman and to feel the weight of that?”
“I just wasn’t prepared to suffer through that in anything that looked like silence,” Gillard said in the June 10 interview published late on Friday, adding that she had been energized by the response to the speech.
“The reaction to the misogyny speech did give me that sense that there are moments when I can talk about it that will have that resonance in other women,” she said.
“However they vote or whatever they think of me, they will actually say, ‘Yep, I know exactly what she’s talking about,’” she added.
Gillard said that she had spoken to former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton about the travails of female leadership.
“She said to me that she never really felt that issue about gender when she was a senator,” Gillard said.
“It’s when she put herself forward for executive office that she felt it very acutely, and so she talked about the crack she put in the glass ceiling,” she said.
They had also discussed the loss of privacy that came with public office and an “obsessive” media poring over every detail of their past lives, Gillard said, recalling how Clinton advised her “to stand up to it.”
She also described her affinity with US President Barack Obama, forged in part over their place as “The First” — she Australia’s first female premier; he the first African-American president.
“I think there is a little bit of a spark there about the sense of being ‘The First’ and consequently having to deal with things that someone else who is in your position has never had to,” Gillard said.
In remarks foreshadowing her fate just two weeks after the interview, Gillard said the constant leadership speculation which ultimately brought her undone had been the worst aspect of her time in office.
“When you want to be getting along with something, something important, but for whatever reason — often associated with the media, sometimes associated with internal Labor dynamics — you feel like you’re being hemmed in by distractions,” she said.
“There are many days when I feel like I could really shout out loud ‘We don’t have time for this. Let’s just get on with the things that really matter,’” she added.
When future generations are asked who Australia’s first female leader was Gillard said that if she lived a normal lifespan she would “see people get it wrong at quiz nights,” predicting that it will “have passed into being so absolutely normal.”
Gillard will not be standing for re-election when Australia goes to the polls later this year after promising to retire from politics if she lost the Labor leadership ballot. Rudd beat her 57 votes to 45.