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.