Friday, May 16, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Anne Summers on Julia Gillard's misogyny factor

On this blog, I often bemoan the lack of documentation of women's speeches. Not so in the case of this one. Dr. Anne Summers has published a wide range of materials about this lecture. It talks about the misogynistic attacks leveled at Julia Gillard, who was, until recently, prime minister of Australia.

Titled Her Rights at Work: The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister, the speech was the 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture to the University of Newcastle. In publishing the speech--and the video, photo and graphic examples she showed--Summers created an "unexpurgated R-rated version" and a "Vanilla version from which the images and video links have been removed," along with an Appendix of additional material, which she compiled "because I felt it was important that we ordinary citizens and voters be aware of the obscene and offensive material that is circulating about our prime minister and our governor general."

The speech itself is intended as a wake-up call, describing how Gillard went from high levels of popularity to low ratings (which later helped push her out of office), and suggesting that the misogynistic attacks on her were fueled by her political enemies. Summers looks at actual YouTube videos, cartoons, Facebook attack pages and more to show as well as tell the story, and considers legal protections against gender discrimination that seem not to be applied to Gillard as prime minister. From subtle gendered attacks such as never referring to her by her title or even her name, to more clearly biased attacks like calling her a "lying bitch" or a "cunt," Summers walks us through this walk of shame and shines a light on the practice in society and in the Parliament.

Her call to action at the end of the lecture suggests a simple solution to the audience, whom she urges to say, "It stops with me:"
So next time you get one of those emails, don’t delete it – send it back to whoever sent it to you and tell them: It stops with me.  When someone in your company refers to the prime minister disrespectfully, don’t ignore it – tell them off: it stops with me. And if you stumble across a website or a Facebook page that contains offensive commentary or images, don’t avert your eyes – make a comment calmly saying how sad this makes you feel: it stops with me.
This is something that is beyond party, beyond political affiliation, beyond voting intention and beyond whether or not you like Julia Gillard. We should all be worried about this vilification of our first female prime minister.
It's interesting to note that this lecture preceded Gillard's own now-famous speech in the Australian Parliament, in which she described the opposition leader's misogyny, one of the most popular speeches in our Famous Speech Friday series.What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It's important to stop undermining comments in their tracks: The drip-drip-drip of comments that undermine women's authority and credibility take their toll. Summers offers a solution anyone can use in any setting to stop subtle and not-so-subtle sexism, by calling the offender on it and exposing the behavior publicly. It's the only way to counteract the intent, which is to shame the woman being attacked in this way.
  • Confront tough topics directly: The power in this speech lies in its unflinching willingness to show, again and again, offensive material to make its point. Summers uses the full range of media available so that the audience can see and hear the offenses directly, without the need for her to embellish further how awful they are. In this case, the examples speak for themselves, allowing Summers to describe the things that are harder to see--the laws, tactics and other factors that aren't being discussed.
  • Back up another woman: Any woman who's been under attack in this way knows what a lonely place it is. Meeting public backlash with an equally public show of support that addresses the attacks head-on is a real gift. Can you give that kind of support to another woman, whether it's in a speech or just in a meeting?
  • Have a strong and simple call to action: Topics like misogyny and distant public officials make it difficult to draw a connection with the audience. After all, these aren't people like you and you can't do much about the larger condition of misogyny. By reminding her listeners that these issues do touch their everyday lives in emails and on Facebook and in conversation, and by giving them a simple action to take, she lets the audience members know they, too, can have an impact.
Recommended by reader Cate Huston, this speech has plenty of documentation, and a video, which appears below. Summers's book, The Misogyny Factor, carries the speech forward with ideas on what successful gender equality looks like. What do you think of this famous speech? 

(The speech and quotes from it are used with permission from the author. Photo from TEDxSouthBankWomen's photostream on Flickr.)

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