I spend a significant amount of my time, both professional and personal, talking about female leadership. Why it’s important, why we need more female leaders and why, despite the fact we have a woman in the highest elected office in the country, women continue to have their leadership and authority undermined in society.
This is a problem that exists within almost every political situation and organisation. I speak to women who are presidents, convenors, elected returning officers and prominent within their workplaces and they tell me the same stories. They are being undermined by virtue of their gender.
Men continue to assume their supremecy in leadership, negotiation and relationship building. Worryingly, there are many women who also seem to believe this. They will undermine, undervalue and speak with disrespect about the abilities of female leaders in a way that they never do of men.
Julia Gillard was last week attacked by Germaine Greer on national television. Told she had a ‘big arse’ and that she needed to accept that. Sorry, what? That’s the level of the debate that we can now expect from one of the most celebrated feminists in Australia. Of our first female PM, you’ve got a big arse, accept it. A generation of women who may have looked at the Prime Minister and felt that the sky was the limit of their capacity can rest assured that the glass ceiling will remain, in the form of a feminist critique of your ‘big arse’.
Backlash against the gains made by women exists across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right. A culture that celebrates and promotes women is a grand conspiracy against men. Affirmative Action targets endanger the assumed place of men within political organisations. Infuriating as it is, what we as women wear and who we sleep with continue to be used against us by both women and men.
We’re told to be quiet, sit silently and wait for the problem to be solved. Rowdy women seldom are promoted in the real world. This seems to go against how the fight has been won in the past. We need to speak up and stop being afraid of the consequences. If the worst thing someone thinks to say about me is I have a big arse and should deal with it, or that i’m a man hater, lesbian, slut then I’m cool with those consequences. Lord knows, I’d be in some quality company.
There exists an upside to this though, a community of female leaders that grows stronger with every part of this backlash. The women that tell me these stories and the women that support them. Because we have to fight to be recognised behind every strong and powerful female leader there exists a community of mentors, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and allies who got her there. Strengthen this community, join it, our backlash isn’t over yet.