Friday, October 19, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Australia's Julia Gillard calls opposition leader 'misogynist'

Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a pointed speech--in every sense of the word--in October in her nation's parliament, and it took off like a rocket.

She wasn't the only prime minister to give a major speech that week, but hers ran away with the web traffic, getting hundreds of thousands of views, shares and even more media coverage:
As of this week, that number climbed even higher, to close to 2 million views of the speech on YouTube alone. For perspective, that puts Gillard's speech--in little more than a week--at the level of the most-watched TED talks in a given year.

The speech took to task the leader of the opposition party, Tony Abbott. The parliamentary action at hand was his motion calling for the prime minister to fire the House speaker, part of her very narrow majority, after a series of offensive text messages from the speaker became known; Abbott suggested the speaker should resign because of these sexist and misogynistic texts. In effect, he labeled Gillard as sexist by association. But Abbott himself has displayed such views, and those form the core of Gillard's response. It appears to be a case of psychological projection, in which he's accusing someone else of the thing he's done himself, and Gillard turns the tables on him in a speech that was described variously as face-peeling, blistering, shaming, and impassioned:
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That's what he needs.
Pointing repeatedly at Abbott, who was sitting across the way, Gillard never refers to him by name, a move that can be considered at once formally correct, a slight, and an attempt to underscore his disrespect for her office by addressing him as an individual. But when it comes to her defense, she goes wide and narrow, taking him to task for offending women generally, and herself specifically:
I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women's roles in modern Australia....I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.”
Sydney-based speaker coach Claire Duffy, who has written about a different Gillard speech for Famous Speech Friday, thinks that the anger worked for Gillard in this speech: "Gillard's rage is an engine, which drives but does not drown her speech." Feminist and author Anne Summers said that, despite the force of the speech, she didn't think it would change the level of attacks on Gillard. "I think it's really energised a lot of people especially a lot of young women who maybe felt that there was no entry point for them into these kinds of conversations," she said. "It's given a lot of women permission to say 'yep, these issues are important and I want to stand up for them'." As a result of the speech, the Macquarie Dictionary announced it would add a second definition to misogyny, expanding from a pathological hatred of women to what Gillard meant: "entrenched prejudice against women." Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • On occasion, pointing works: Nine times out of 10, I'll tell you that pointing with a single finger is considered among the most potent and offensive gestures a speaker can use, in almost every culture--and so I'll counsel you to use other options. In this parliamentary setting, however, it works. You can see how it adds to the volume, drama and anger in Gillard's remarks, helping to visually put Abbott's words back on him as the speaker does the same.
  • A well-rehearsed speech should still take advantage of the moment: You can see Gillard referring to her notes before her in what appears to be a well-practiced, well-scripted diatribe. But she has an eye on her audience and on Abbott, so she's able to work in one of the best lines of the day: "Now he is looking at his watch because apparently a woman's spoken too long." 
  • Substantive arguments must underpin a salvo like this: This isn't just strong emotion and personal attack. Gillard's remarks include at beginning, middle and end several reminders of the parliamentary action at hand, and spell out her opposition on concrete terms, such as awaiting the outcome of a judicial action before parliamentary action is taken. They make her argument stronger, and the personal criticisms become the icing on the cake. Together, it's a potent combination. Less well known: Gillard's commentary mirrors actual research about how women's speaking is perceived and shut down by men. It rings true, even if you don't know about the statistical significance of her words.
  • When someone's projecting on you, put it back where it belongs: This happens all the time in the workplace, and Gillard's spirited effort to reverse the projected suggestion that she's a sexist does the job perfectly. Her suggestion that the opposition leader "needs a mirror" is an overt reference to this. Keep that in mind the next time the office gossip accuses you of gossiping you haven't done, for example, and fire back with a "but I was just thinking the same thing about you."
While cheered the world over, the speech was not universally loved, and Gillard was said to have "played the gender card," suggesting that she did so only for cheap effect and unwarranted sympathy. The New York Times has a good summary of the sexist comments made to and about the prime minister here, for background reading before you watch this speech. You can read a transcript of Gillard's remarks here, and watch the speech below. And if you want a key to the times in the video where the most-noted lines occur, Upworthy has that for you. What do you think of this famous speech?

Special thanks to Claire Duffy for sharing links and Aussie perspective on this post.