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Real Julia is a real woman

By Richard Stanton - posted Thursday, 1 March 2012

Anne Summers defends prime minister Julia Gillard against what she sees as persistent gender-based attacks from the media and the public (The Age).

In the same breath as she refers to MP Kate Ellis as 'young and attractive', Dr Summers argues that Ms Gillard finds it hard 'to get traction' with the public even though she has presided over a 'remarkable record' of legislation 'all the while trying to find the right language to convey to voters the journey she is taking them on'.

This is the guts of it. It's not about gender. It's not about her tenure being illegitimate, as Dr Summers remarks. It is about the inability of the prime minister to communicate. And in constantly casting about to find the right performance language Julia Gillard has lost credibility - not as a woman but as a politician.


Gillard herself uses gendered language strategically to attempt to frame her political image. She speaks of getting the job done, of finishing the job, of her characteristic determination to get the job done.

She emphasises her capacity to push through, to have personal strength in adversity, about making sure each day you have the discipline and the method necessary to get the huge volume of work done.

In her speech to the Labor Party conference prior to the leadership challenge she said she brought to the job courage, strength, personal fortitude and getting on with it.

All very well but there is a huge amount of disquiet in the public sphere about the inability of the prime minister to communicate consistently and to explain adequately what the job getting done actually is.

Part of the problem for the prime minister in her unsuccessful bid to discover a language frame that will resonate with the public lies in the fact that political discourse is inherently and normatively masculinist.

This basic premise provides an understanding of why the prime minister was unable to explain the carbon tax. The advocacy campaign failed to differentiate itself discursively from the opposition campaign. It failed to construct an identity that would have allowed it to make representations that resonated within the wider electorate rather than in the narrower Greens constituency.


This is why Kevin Rudd's leadership campaign was so popular. He used language that the public understood. And he framed it as a masculinist discourse, despite his physical inconsistencies; his funny little-boy fringe and his pouty wet lower lip.

When Julia Gillard finished her short leadership campaign speech and its attempts at masculinist language and spoke to the media on her own terms she won hands down. She used words that were normal for her and which resonated with the television viewing public.

Whenever Julia Gillard attempts to compete within a normatively masculinist political communication frame she fails to engage. Her advocates say she is brilliant in meetings, witty in private and capable of getting her message across in caucus. I suspect in these non-public spaces she is successful in her communication because she is herself.

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About the Author

Richard Stanton is a political communication writer and media critic. His most recent book is Do What They Like: The Media In The Australian Election Campaign 2010.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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