Like many women of my generation I am a card carrying member of what Mark Latham today called “the comfortable shoe brigade”. In an excoriating article published in today’s Financial Review about one of Julia Gillard’s book promotion events, he called Gillard an “agony aunt for women in comfortable shoes”.
Comfortable shoes, and the decisions women make about wearing them are not a topic you see covered often in the mainstream media. And for all the column inches that you see devoted to women’s beauty and fashion, you rarely see any real discussion of the hours women need to spend on putting on the face they must approach the world with every day. The hours that go into hair styling and maintenance, clothes choice etc. Women can hazard a guess at how long someone like Leigh Sales spends in hair and makeup before presenting on the ABC compared to say Tony Jones, but this is never discussed, never commented on.
Julia Gillard raised the issue of how long it took her to have her hair and makeup done as PM during her first post Prime Ministership interview with Anne Summers at the Sydney Opera House. It struck me that with all the attention that her appearance was given during her 3 years and 3 days in power, the upkeep of that appearance must have taken her was never discussed in the media. Putting on your face is something that must remain private least it destroy the mystique of femininity – or allow misogynists like Mark Latham to have cheap shots at a target who has already been well and truly aimed at.
Women’s day to day experiences missing
Latham’s article is so infuriating it is barely worth dissecting but it raises a point that is worth discussing. Why is so much of women’s day-to-day lived experience not part of the public narrative? Why don’t we have discussion and analysis of the time wasted on hair and beauty routines? Why don’t we have discussions about why we expect someone doing as an important a job as leading their country to also be impeccably groomed? (Seen Tony Abbott’s comb-over lately?)
More importantly however is the other missing part of the narrative. As prime minister we saw Julia Gillard express her (shock, horror) emotions a few times. Her tears on introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Her anger during that speech. But we now know from her memoir a lot more about her emotions. We know how it felt for her to be catapulted into the Prime Ministership. We know how it felt to her to be working overtime to ensure the business of government could progress despite what she felt was Kevin Rudd’s lack of ability in this area, and then to be betrayed by the very man she was protecting. We know her absolutely steely determination not to show emotion on her removal as leader. We know what it felt like both for her, and her staff, when she was removed.
Emotions are important
And this is important. Knowing about emotions is important. Women deal with emotions and feelings minute by minute, day by day in every aspect of our lives. We spend time minutely dissecting our interactions and consequent emotional responses with our friends. We spend time doing the emotional first aid work of noticing what other people are feeling and ensuring they are OK, whether they are our children, our partners or those in our professional or working lives. We do this because it is part and parcel of who we are as human beings. This is not to say that many men do not do this as well, but it is a dominant part of almost every women’s existence. Like the hair and makeup routines, it is hidden, however. We privilege in public discourse the rational and logical parts of our decision making, of our existence, not the messy, somewhat illogical bits dominated by gut response, emotional reactions and escape from pain.
And this is what felt different to me, and I suspect to many other Australian women about that period when our country had a female leader. I suspect that one of the reasons that Gillard’s misogyny speech resonated with so many women was because it showed so many of her emotional reactions to her treatment by Tony Abbott. There was the burning anger that so many of us feel when faced with daily sexism, but there was also the grief of her father’s death, her humiliation and shame at her treatment by parts of the media. It felt real. It felt like our private lived experience as women was being named and spoken about for the first time.
Mark Latham may well not understand any of this. He may not understand why a Julia Gillard book promotion feels like a ‘group therapy session’ or understand why Gillard hopes her memoir can help other women build ‘greater resilience’. Mark Latham clearly doesn’t understand a lot of things. Like feminism, or why men like him make it necessary. But women get it. Women understand that for a short period in Australia’s history, feelings, hair and beauty routines and the conflict inherent in the choice between comfortable shoes and pretty ones, were able to be spoken about publicly.
And Latham’s derision of what this felt like makes me feel like getting one of my comfortable clunky shoes and hurling it in his direction – with quite a bit of anger and rage.