On October 9, Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered one of the most famous smack-downs in the history of the Australian parliament.
The PM was responding to a motion by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to remove Peter Slipper from his role as Speaker of the House over a series of lewd and sexist texts to a former staffer. In her fiery address, Ms Gillard accused Mr Abbott himself of sexism and misogyny.
The 15-minute speech went viral, logging over two million hits on YouTube. While Australian media reaction was divided, the foreign press was lavish in its praise (feminist website Jezebel lauded the PM as a badass mother*****).
marie claire publisher/editor Jackie Frank caught up with Gillard in an Australian exclusive to ask her about the global reaction.Jackie: Your speech in parliament accusing Tony Abbott of misogyny and sexism made headlines around the world. Did that surprise you?
PM: Yes, it did surprise me. The parliamentary events of the day meant that I just gave the speech. I had no notice I was going to give it. I scribbled out some handwritten notes as he was speaking. I did have access to quotes and various things that Tony Abbott has said, which I used in the speech. You think, “That’s been a pretty feisty kind of round in the parliament,” but I didn’t expect it to go viral and go around the world the way it has as I was delivering it, or indeed afterwards, until it started happening.Jackie: Did you hear from other notable women afterwards?
PM: The office was besieged by people ringing up and sending emails. I had texts from personal mates and people I know, so once I got back into the office and settled back in, it was starting to become increasingly apparent to me that it made an impression. But even then I still didn’t expect the around-the-world-and-back-again reception to it.Jackie: How does it feel to be described as a “badass”?
PM: [Laughs] With another couple of words following: badass beep beep! [Laughs] I’m taking it all with a bit of a wry smile. I’m certainly taking badass as a compliment. I think that’s how it was meant.Jackie: What response touched you the most?
PM: Well, I’d say two things: a friend of mine whose daughter goes to an all-girls school in Melbourne said that the class his daughter is in watched the speech and spontaneously broke into cheers and applause at the end of it, so that touched me [Laughs]. The other thing that really touched me was in India I had two women who were around me across the visit, one of them in the car every time we travelled – Indian security women – and on the last day they asked if they could get a photo with me to remember the trip by. And we were just going to get that photo done and one of them said, “I Googled your name and this amazing speech came up!” [Giggles]. This is a lady who works for the equivalent of the federal police in India, with a wire in her ear and that thing in her cuff that they talk into, and she’s talking to me about it! That touched me, too.Jackie: When we met last week, you said you didn’t let personal attacks get to you. What prompted you to let fly that day?
PM: The double standards. The double standards and the lecturing. That was a bridge too far for me.Jackie: When you talk about double standards, some of your critics said that you were being hypocritical because while you were taking a man on about his misogyny, you were – for whatever reason – propping up a misogynist.
PM: I, in the speech and in other places, have criticised Peter Slipper’s conduct. What he said in those texts was disgusting and wrong, but I didn’t think that meant the parliament should turn itself into a kangaroo court.
Jackie: What words would best describe how you felt after it?
PM: There’s a lot of adrenaline involved [Laughs] so I felt strong, but also kind of boppy because of that adrenaline. Boppy’s probably not the right word. You feel very switched on.Jackie: Exhilarated?
PM: I wouldn’t have said exhilarated, but reality seems to have a sharper focus to it when your adrenaline’s up like that. All my colleagues said to me, “That was an amazing speech,” but I didn’t feel the full power of it until the reaction became clearer and clearer.Jackie: You said you were “personally” offended by Tony Abbott’s comments on abortion, that it was the “easy way out”. Why did you single that one out?
PM: I was shadow minister for health and Tony Abbott was minister when the RU486 issues came up. Women in Mr Abbott’s own political party were dismayed that anybody should be [telling] women what to do with their own bodies. I’ve always been pro-choice, but I’ve also always understood what an incredibly hard choice this is for women. And for anybody to dismiss or diminish how difficult that choice is I think is offensive.Jackie: What did your mum say about the speech?
PM: [Laughs] Actually, these things just wash over her a bit, so she watched it all happen and said, “Oh, there’s been a big to-do over all that.” [Laughs] But she didn’t offer a comment on the content and I wouldn’t have expected her to.Jackie: What did you do that night?
PM: [Ponders the question] Just hang on a second. Tim’s here. I just have to remind myself. [The PM and Tim try to figure out the evening’s course of events.] Sorry, we’re going through our lifetime recollections here. I needed to stay in the parliament until quite late that night, and then came home. Tim had had a bit of a snooze, but woke up when I came home and he’d drawn a bath for me to throw myself in. He knew it had been one of those kinds of days!Jackie: You’re hailed now as the feminist poster girl on the international stage. Do you know that?
PM: Well, kind of [Laughs]. If that’s the description, I’ll well and truly settle for that. [Laughs]Jackie: How does that feel?
PM: The whole thing’s a little bit unreal, in the sense of the international reaction. I didn’t foresee that and I wasn’t prepared for that, but if it’s remembered as making a contribution to women’s voices being well and truly heard, then I’m pleased and proud about that.Jackie: When we vox pop people, the younger ones believe there’s no fight to be fought. Your speech showed that actually there still is. How do you think the younger generation would have seen that?
PM: I think from my mate’s story about his daughter’s class, they must still intuitively feel that there’s some fight to be fought. So many things have changed and so many things have improved, but there’s still some fight to be fought or you wouldn’t get that kind of reaction.Jackie: Are you happy to reveal your guilty pleasure [from our “anonymous” survey]?
PM: Um, mine was getting more sleep, I think. Wasn’t there a question about a sleep-in?Jackie: No, no, no, that was a choice between sex and a sleep-in.
PM: Sorry, I’m the one who went “camel milk chocolate” [chocolate made from camel’s milk]. Eccentric, I know!Jackie: You know what? We’ve got to get you better shoes.
[The PM fell on her way to a press conference in India when her shoe got stuck in soft grass.]
PM: Yes, we do. Feel free to send any suggestions. They were a pair of Mimco shoes and they’ve served me well, but they weren’t right for that moment.Jackie: They certainly weren’t, but you bounced back quickly.
PM: That’s right. You’ve just got to get back up.
To read more of his exclusive interview as well as the Gillard and her minister's take on the issues that concern you, grab a copy of the December issue of marie claire, out now!