People are asking me whether I am over Kevin Rudd’s resignation yet? The answer I give is no. It seems that the rest of the nation has moved on in this media age of instant gratification and frenzied media cycles. Not just because the polls and the policies have remained unchanged since Rudd was deposed, but more simply because the media’s coverage of Gillard this week has been downright farcical. Why? Because she’s a woman.
I am aware such a claim could potentially alienate half my audience so I want to use another example here to illustrate my point. Let’s imagine for one second that I secured the office of Prime Minister in a generation’s time, as it would surely be the first time to have someone with a physical disability developed from birth achieve the office as head of a national government not only in Australia, but in the world. (US President Franklin Roosevelt became wheelchair bound in later life, but hid it from the public, and did not live in the age of television or the Internet where image is everything in politics).
Although I held that dream between the ages of 12 and 21, I now believe that such a goal would be almost impossible. Why? Because being in an electric wheelchair doesn’t promote the qualities of strong leadership that the electorate take for granted. The image of an electric wheelchair doesn’t promote strength, it promotes weakness. The electorate also likes a leader who is intelligent. Being in a wheelchair elicits the stereotypical assumption of intellectual impairment. I know this for a fact because I have to break this stereotype every single day of my life. Being physically disabled would automatically wipe off between 5% to 10% of my vote. Of course if you were pragmatic and honest enough to state this to anyone it would get dismissed out of hand, but secretly most I dare say would agree with this assessment.
But do I have the potential to be a good Prime Minister? You bet I do. With a little more experience I could one day secure the political knowledge to assume the position. I am widely acknowledged to have astute political and policy skills. I have proven to be more than capable of the tasks I have completed in my life so far that would prepare me for such a position. But should I even get anywhere remotely close, the media would fail to asses these political characteristics, and instead question me about what it is like to be a member of a minority, or ask about why other people have to clean up my own shit, literally. Then when the time would come for my inevitable fall from grace they would draw those literal comparisons, then make them metaphorical ones. ‘WINTHER’S LEADERSHIP CRIPPLED’ I can just imagine it now, can’t you?
And yet for all this imaginary posturing. I have the opposite attitude. Gillard is a suitable candidate as Prime Minister, not because she is a woman, but rather because her parliamentary colleagues in the Labor Party deemed her to be strong, tough, a skilled communicator and was seen to have an even temperament: all the things the Labor Party didn’t believe Rudd had. Yet all this talk about Gillard breaking the 'glass ceiling' just because she has to sit down to go to the toilet is down right farcical. The political commentators who seem to be obsessed with this meaningless coverage should be asking a more important question. Can she do the job? It’s the media driving this gender argument and one voters should ignore, but obviously won’t given the simple assessments made my colleagues and friends this week, 90% of which are about Gillard’s sex.
To draw another parallel with disability, I recently wrote a post criticising Kelly Vincent, the first person with a physical disability to win a seat in an Australian Parliament. People were often asking me what I thought of this so called ‘historic occasion’ due to my political obsession. I declared it to be a complete waste of time because her agenda for disability sector reform was second rate and ill advised. When I stated this people would retort, ‘Well isn’t enough that she’s in there, breaking down barriers, getting the issue publicity?’ Well no it isn’t, because her agenda is a giant step backwards for the Disability Sector. To me it would not matter if she had Cerebral Palsy (like me) or whether she could walk comfortably, I find her approach utterly reprehensible.
And so it is with Julia Gillard. Forget the talk of crossing the gender barrier. Does she deserve to be Prime Minister? Absolutely not. Will she do a good job? I think she will. Should it matter if she’s a woman or not? It will to the media, but it shouldn’t, and it certainly won’t to me. It’s one thing to break a glass ceiling, quite another to avoid leaving a bloody trail when you land with the inevitable thump.