In 1963, a senior Australian government official, A.R. Taysom, deliberated on the wisdom of deploying women as trade representatives. “Such an appointee would not stay young and attractive forever [because] a spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years [whereas] a man usually mellows.”
On International Women’s Day 2012, such primitive views are worth recalling; but what has happened to modern feminism? Why is it so bereft of its political, indeed socialist roots that any woman who “achieves” within an immoral system is to be admired? Take the rise of Julia Gillard as Australia’s first female prime minister, so celebrated by leading feminists such as writer Anne Summers and Germaine Greer. Both are unstinting in their applause of Gillard, the “remarkable woman” who on 27 February saw off a challenge from Kevin Rudd, the former Labor prime minister she deposed in a secretive, essentially macho backroom coup in 2010.
On 3 March, Greer wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that she “fell in love with” the “matter-of-fact” Gillard long ago. Omitting entirely Gillard’s politics, she asked, “What’s not to like? That she’s a woman, that’s what. An unmarried, middle-aged woman in power – any man’s and many women’s nightmare”.
That Gillard might be a nightmare to the Aboriginal women, men and children whom this quintessential machine politician has abused and blamed for their impoverishment, while implementing punitive and racist measures against their communities in defiance of international law, is apparently not relevant. That Gillard might be a nightmare to refugees detained behind razor wire, children included, in places that are “a huge generator of mental illness”, according to Australia’s ombudsman, is of no interest.