John Pilger: Gillard’s rise marks the triumph of machine politics over feminism

March 8, 2012
Julia Gillard.

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 for ever [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 the writers Anne Summers and Germaine Greer. Both are unstinting in their applause for Gillard, the “remarkable woman” who on February 27 saw off a challenge from Kevin Rudd, the former Labor prime minister she deposed in a secretive, essentially macho back-room coup in 2010.

Greer wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of March 3 that she “fell in love with” the “matter-of-fact” Gillard long ago. Omitting Gillard’s politics entirely, 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.

That Gillard has been determined to keep Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and that the overwhelming majority of Australian casualties in that country have been killed or wounded during her period as prime minister are beside the point.

Her feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army. Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia, just like their comrades in the “hunter-killer” units currently accused of massacring civilians.

In ending the “cultural and other taboos that have kept women from combat roles in the past”, wrote Summers, Gillard has ensured that “Australia will again lead the world in a major reform”.

The devotion of this new “feminist icon” to imperial war is impressive, if strange. Referring to the despatch of Australian colonial troops to Sudan in 1885 to avenge a popular uprising against the British, she described the forgotten farce as “not only a test of wartime courage, but a test of character that has helped define our nation and create the sense of who we are”.

Invariably flanked by flags, she makes her point well. And the point is that celebration of this kind of politician, regardless of gender, has nothing to do with feminism.

On the contrary, it is complicity in some of the wickedest crimes of our age. It was Margaret Thatcher who ordered the sinking of the Belgrano, with the loss of 323 young Argentinian conscripts, and rejoiced. It was the outspoken British feminist MP Harriet Harman, along with other Labour feminists known as “Blair’s Babes”, who supported the invasion of Iraq and stood cheering one of its principal war criminals.

In the west, “glass ceilings” remain the issue of choice of bourgeois feminism. How many women who “make it” in politics speak out against the machine, reaching down to women left behind? How many resist the addiction of vanity to power and the media?

How many use their platforms to analyse and expose the psychopathic militarism and its industries of death and lies that contaminate our political, cultural and media life and are the source of so much violence against women in stricken, faraway countries, if not against women at home?

Who spoke out against Gillard’s junket to Israel in the wake of the massacre of 1400 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, and her unctuous support for their killers? Where in the coverage of politics are the principled voices of women such as Medea Benjamin, Arundhati Roy and the bravehearts of Rawa in Afghanistan?

Hillary Clinton was applauded by renowned feminists supporting the west’s invasion of Afghanistan to “liberate women from the Taliban”. No matter that this was never the reason; no matter that tens of thousands were killed as a consequence. In her 2008 campaign for the White House, Clinton, supported by feminists such as Anne Summers, boasted that she was prepared to “annihilate” Iran.

Here in Australia, familiar distractions apply: the same insidious corporate PR aimed at women and the young that says personal identity is the limit of politics; the same organised forgetting of people's history and any notion of class and our servitude to an undemocratic elite. Yet Australian feminism has an especially proud past.

With New Zealanders, Australian women led the world in winning the vote. During the slaughter of the First World War, Australian women mounted a uniquely successful campaign against a vote for conscription. A poster declared illegal in several states was headlined “The Blood Vote” and showed a defiant woman placing her vote in the ballot box rather than “that I doomed a man to death”.

On polling day all but one of Australia’s political leaders urged a Yes vote. They lost. Most followed the women. Such is true feminism.

[This article is republished from]


A great article by Pilger. Gillard is yet another decoy woman held up as a figurehead while the machine keeps on turning. Her willingness to let others pull the strings is demonstrated by the complete turnaround in what she thought she stood for in the past (her "radical" youth, and even her slightly more left positions before she got into power). Women are not much better off under Gillard than they were under Howard, which is quite a feat! Likewise Anna Bligh in Queensland, whose outright refusal to repeal archaic abortion laws and mass sell-off of state assets only serves to make life that bit more difficult for working women.
Thank you John . Parochialism has no place in a fair world. Gillard is a chameleon. Whatever she has to be she is . It is all about getting and holding onto power. When she was a teen at university she joined the Socialist Left faction. Now she is a stooge of the AWU and the NSW right. Germaine Greer seems to relate personally to Ms Gillard . Anne Summers like most middle class baby boomer Labor Party supporters seems to have descended into parochialism and fantasy. She supports Gillard and Labor because of what they purport to be , not what they actually are. Gillard as a progressive ? Name one issue she is not to the right of center on . Gay marriage , drug law reform , reducing the mining tax on Australia's mineral barons . Now she appoints Bob Carr , formerly of the Macquarie Bank as a " Labor " treasurer . We are edging ever closer to a corporate fascistic world in my opinion. It scares me . Thank you for a great article.
Another telling piece by you John. Ultimately it is quite funny that you do discuss Hilary Clinton. I think that she as Secretary of State turned the US into more of an imperial power than Bush could ever have done. All of course in the name of "liberation" right.

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