Rape Threats, Sexism, And Fashion Critique — These Are The Problems Female Presidents Are Still Dealing With

by Eleonor Botoman


At a memorial event for slain British MP Jo Cox, former Australian PM Julia Gillard spoke openly about the violent threats she received and the harsh sexism she endured throughout her political career. Her words of caution were primarily directed to Theresa May, who is now serving as the UK’s second female Prime Minister.“Threats of violence have become more prevalent for women in public life,” she explains in her powerful speech. “Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily.”

A compassionate humanitarian throughout her career, Jo Cox’s horrific death sent powerful shockwaves across her fellow women in politics, especially Gillard. “Women friends of mine…were particularly shaken. They wondered; ‘What does this mean for us now?’ Standing at street stalls and giving out pamphlets at train stations they asked themselves for the first time ever – ‘are we safe?’”

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As an activist for change within her own country, Gillard has endured her own fair share of terrible, escalating sexism within Australia’s political world. Although she encouraged young girls to take action and become more involved in government, Gillard’s support came with a warning: “As you forge ahead, understand that you will encounter sexism and misogyny and prepare yourself to face it and ultimately to eradicate it.”

She recounted her own experience as a female Prime Minister, oftentimes the only woman in the room. She was subjected to double standards of motherhood her male counterparts never even thought about. “Even before becoming prime minister, I had observed that if you are a woman politician, it is impossible to win on the question of family. If you do not have children then you are characterized as out of touch with ‘mainstream lives’. If you do have children then, heavens, who is looking after them?”

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She also talked about her friend, Hillary Clinton, who continues to face sexist ridicule on the American political front despite her many years of public service. When the two met at the Earth Summit in Rio, Gillard recounted what a journalist had this to say about their meeting: ‘As well as matters of state, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have had a chat about their hairstyles.’ Six paragraphs then followed on the matter of our respective hairstyles.”

Gillard has faced (oftentimes violent) sexist ridicule from supporters of opposition leader Tony Abbott. The male PM appeared behind “Ditch The Witch” signs at rallies, made frequent sexist comments about her leadership until Guillard finally shut him down with her now famous “Misogyny” speech. 

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When Gillard first entered office, the nation was in the midst of a political crisis. Her gender was never brought up during the initial chaos, but sexism eventually seeped through. This gender-based hatred, which come from sexist politicians and anonymous Internet trolls alike, discourage women from speaking out due to fear of bodily harm, ultimately limiting the impact of change these women are working so hard for. Gillard’s words are clear: the fighting does not end when the election is won. More action needs to be taken by government officials (both male and female) to end these rape threats and violent Internet harassment and finally eradicate sexism in politics once and for all. 

Photos via Julia Gillard’s Official Facebook Page

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