Julia Gillard and the terror of rape culture

This will be my third and last post in a little series looking at sexism. You can find the other two here and here.

Julia Gillard was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013. She was the first woman to hold that office. This week she was in London addressing a gathering in memory of Jo Cox, the UK politician murdered while campaigning in her constituency in northern England in June. What she said shocked me to my core.

“Threats of violence have become more prevalent for women in public life. They can take the form of detailed death threats, or threats of violence against family, friends and staff. And of course, as a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sickening dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common.”

Say what?  Rape threats are common? Well actually, Ms. Gillard continued, not only common…

“A woman in public view may expect to receive [rape threats] almost daily.”


Did you get that? Australians who objected to Ms. Gillard’s leadership of their country actually threatened to rape her. Almost daily!

I knew about how the media had questioned her choice not to have children. I knew she had been publicly chided by a senior conservative senator for being “deliberately barren.”

I knew she was regularly critiqued for her dress sense and her hairstyles.

I knew a talkback radio host had asked her whether her partner, a hairdresser, was gay.

I knew a menu for a conservative party fundraiser contained a reference to her “small breasts, big thighs and big red box”.

I knew that conservative politicians had stood on the platform of an anti-Gillard rally next to signs that proclaimed “Ditch the witch.”

I knew she endured three years of unmitigated sexism and hatred. But I had no idea the Prime Minister of my country was forced to withstand daily threats of violent sexual assault.

This is how some Australian men choose to express their displeasure with the policies of an elected official. Rather than pointing out the limitations of her policies, or making a case for a better one, instead they chose to just threaten to rape her!!

 It turns out that rape threats are a relatively common form of harassment levelled at women, especially online.

In 2014, Shoshana Roberts walked around New York City for 10 hours while being filmed by a hidden camera so that she could record the harassment she received from men on the street. She posted the film online revealing the over 100 catcalls, whistles and other forms of harassment she attracted. In response, she was the object of an avalanche of rape threats by men outraged by what she’d done.

That same year, actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson stood up at the UN Headquarters in New York City to deliver a speech condemning the harm that gender discrimination causes to both men and women, and inviting men to become active participants in the global struggle for equality. The next day, a website appeared targeting Watson with sexual threats and claiming to have nude pictures of her they were planning to post.

There are men around – obviously lots of them – who think that when they disagree with a woman in public view it’s reasonable to threaten to rape her!

It’s menacing. It’s creepy. It’s sick. There’s something fundamentally evil about a man who takes something designed to express love, intimacy and devotion – intercourse – and shapes it into a feat of viciousness, control and subjugation. To even threaten to use your body as a weapon for the abject humiliation of another is utterly unconscionable. 

This is the vein of brutality that runs through male culture, and it’s repugnant. And it must end. 


At her London speech this week, Julia Gillard not only revealed the threats that had been made against her, and noted the dreadful and cowardly murder of Jo Cox, but nonetheless still encouraged women to pursue a career in public life.

Noting that she still believed politics to be a “noble calling,” she added, “But understand that you will encounter sexism and misogyny and prepare yourself to face it and ultimately to eradicate it.”

Ms. Gillard’s stand against misogyny has been praised over the years by many world leaders, including Barak Obama. Her advice should come in handy for Hillary Clinton after November 8.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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12 thoughts on “Julia Gillard and the terror of rape culture

  1. Rape is common in war too women are vulnerable everywhere, considering the number of deaths of women at the hands of their partner the home is Just as dangerous for women. Sadly in 2016 nothing has changed. Thanks for your article Michael.

  2. I second that. It’s utterly horrid and repugnant.
    Thank you for speaking about it.
    Your series has been important, well written and direct. I concur with Alan Hirsch – loving your blogs. Thanks again.

  3. Thanks Mike for this timely word. As u well know it’s all about power and control. For those sad individuals who hold these attitudes cognitive dissonance and grief work are just too much for them. Attitudes and behaviors are learned. We have a lot of work in the years to come.

  4. Thanks Mike for this well written piece and the series in general. I’m pleased that the gift of eloquence you’ve obviously been given also comes with the heart to press those important social justice issues.

  5. Thank you. For those who are interested in seeing Ms. Gillard’s now-famous ‘misogyny speech’ on the floor of the Australian parliament, here’s the link. Very powerful stuff, especially in light of the threats we now know she was enduring. http://youtu.be/SOPsxpMzYw4

  6. Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism’ is well worth a read. Shows how endemic these kinds of misoygnistic attitudes are…

  7. There have been a few times in my life where I have been ashamed of my maleness. That shame is brought upon me by the actions of other so called “men”. Once was hearing a presentation on the sex trafficking industry. I walked away with a heavy burden knowing that I am part of the target market. Now because of this kind of “accepted” behaviour, it is even called a “culture”. I am further shamed, because these sort of men have taken trust from me. I am now viewed as having ulterior motives, automatically branded “sexist”. I have heard it said that “evil men do what good men dream about” if that is true, then we must take back mastery of our baser male instincts and show what real men are.

  8. Julia is an outstanding Australian woman. A great Prime Minister and advocate for many community struggles. I am glad she now has a world stage to hear her wisdom and honesty.

  9. Violent threats as well as violence are NEVER acceptable. Rape is violence. It is also sad that she is part of Emily’s List which are women paid to promote abortion till birth in politics.

  10. Mike, this is disheartening and atrocious. However, for thousands of years women have experienced this; this is not new. A large population of men, for thousands of years have not wanted women to be able to speak, our place is in the domestic world, our mouths to be kept silent; to be public speakers and thinkers becomes such an overload to a large population of men that the only way they “know” to respond is in sexual dominance; they know they can’t keep our mouths shut any longer, but they can dominate us physically. It is sickening. We aren’t even close to true equality, women know it. We continue, as we have for thousands of years using our silent resilience and perseverance as we push toward God’s purpose and sanctity and equal value of all human life; as women this is all we know.

  11. The other day I was in a coffee shop when a masked man walked in with a machete and robbed the place. He walked past me to get to the counter (within arms reach), and after hacking at the till to get away, he walked past me again and looked at me. I felt this predatory gaze. But the thing is that now whenever I walk out the door I’ve begun to take notice of the leering (almost predatory) looks that I recieve from men who must be decades older than me (I’m only 21). It’s not one or two of them – there’s a sizeable portion who wind down their windows and call out, others who blatantly stare. I know that this behavior has always been happening, I just didn’t pay much attention previously. But now I perceive it as a threat. I’m trying to dress in an inconspicuous, unappealing way, but I don’t think girls should have to do this to feel safe.

    1. Oh dear, that’s a terrible experience. And it’s sad that it’s awoken you to the leering looks you’re attracting. Peace to you.

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