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I think what has happened here in Australia with the dramatic deposing this week of Julia Gillard is shameful.  Only time will tell whether this was an appropriate move by the Labour party to change their leadership (whilst serving in office, not in opposition) just weeks before an election.

Julia Gillard’s media adviser John McTernan, brought in from the UK, is quoted in Sydney’s Sunday papers as saying “Australia is 30 years behind the UK in its attitudes to sexism”. I don’t agree with that although I do think there’s some truth when he says that Australia’s misogynistic culture was to blame for her downfall.

In the article he says “Gillard has faced serial abuse as a woman on a scale I believe is unprecedented in modern politics ……

“That negative, corrosive, anti-woman rhetoric that Gillard endured for so long has damaged Australian politics, and public opinion.

“The belief that everyone should be given a ‘fair go’ runs deep, but at the same time there exists a very powerful sense of mateship, of male values and a male-inscribed culture.

“And it is the tension between these two characteristics of Australian life that is the backdrop to the abrupt end this week to Julia Gillard’s prime ministership.”

Mr McTernan said that Ms Gillard was the best parliamentary performer of her generation who was “more than a match for the men around her”, despite being a “lightning rod” for “deep-rooted misogynist forces in society“.

What I have noticed is …. there’s both more opportunity for women and an awareness of gender issues ….. while an undercurrent of anti-females also exists in some quarters.  Only in today’s papers I am reading the following three stories which highlight these opposite positions:

1 Through the extraordinary circumstances of this week Kevin Rudd has eight vacancies on his new cabinet and he is filling them with women – seemingly re-righting the imbalance and is apparently “determined  to ensure that the men in blue ties do not dominate the political landscape”. The Sundaytelegraph politics page headline screams “Rudd’s new cabinet packed with women” ….. the number of women given full ministries will move increase from nine to 11.

2 The former Swimming Australia Chief has resigned and says he feels betrayed by colleagues who worked against him. He resigned because he apparently made lewd remarks to a female team consultant.

3 Broadcaster Alan Jones has been writing another letter of apology to a QC who he had wrongly attacked on air … and this follows the apology he had to make to the Prime Minister last December when he said at a function that her recently deceased father had “died of shame”. And that was after he had had to say sorry for calling Lebanese Muslims “vermin” and “mongrels”. This is what people are subjected to on the radio here.

I think the cartoonist in today’s Sun-Herald (above) by Glen Lelievre highlights an unnerving vein here when he depicts a cartoon figure of animated Australia writing its lines in detention with “I am not a sexist country”  only to quit when the blackboard is almost full so it can read a copy of Playboy magazine …

I don’t agree with John McTernan’s comment about Australia being 30 years behind the UK because I meet so many Australian men who are extremely forward thinking in their attitudes to gender relations and rather enlightened.  What I do see here is both a drive for fairness, to support women with opportunities, to elevate women and to be very conscious of gender issues … while still lurking in the background is an undercurrent of distorted masculinity that is confused and uncomfortable by the rising power of women.

I refer back to a video interview I did with Wayne Grogan and published on the woman-at-large blog last November on Australia’s White Ribbon Day. Wayne talked about how Australian society had been engineered and only 200 years ago it was a society with more than ten male settlers to one female. That has to have an impact that lingers.

He talked of a sense of betrayal that men felt when the largely working class convict community saw the few women who were also deported here were mostly paired up with Officers leaving the men feeling betrayed by their own class. Australia is unique in its culture of “mateship” where male friendships are celebrated and valued more than anywhere else I have seen in the world. Male friendships are indeed healthy but not when they are used to exclude and support each other in diminishing women.

I think the gender debate will continue here in Australia which is healthy. It is unhelpful when male newspaper editors refer to it is as a gender ‘war’ … it’s a debate and discourse not a war but then that’s the masculine mindset going in to its competitive mode!  It is a debate that I would love to contribute to in the spirit of moving forward and creating a society led by more balanced decision-making and one that values the different contributions of men and women, and where neither are diminished. Our gender might have been suppressed but this is not about us now doing that to men. We need to stop competing with each other and find a new way of working and being together. Don’t you agree?