Since the ousting of Julia Gillard, as well as the remarkable few weeks that preceded it, Australia has been alive with debate over sexism and misogyny. Some feminists, like Anne Summers, have criticized female politicians for not sticking up for Julia Gillard. Summers seems to believe that female politicians owe it to each other to show “sisterly solidarity”. A form of female affirmative action, if you will. Others, like Eva Cox, have gone the other route, and criticized attempts to “exploit gender tensions”. As a male, I have so far refrained from commenting on the presence or prevalence of sexism in Australia. I think sexism is undoubtedly present in Australian society and politics, as it is most societies. But to what degree I cannot rightly say. Something that Australia is definitely lacking, however, is discussion and education on the difference between Sex and Gender. And that is something we should emphasize.
The difference between Sex and Gender is something that women may talk about, however, males do not. It was not until I went to university and took a literature course that I really encountered the idea that there is a difference between the physical/biological underpinnings of behaviour and identity, Sex, and the societal underpinnings of behaviour and identity, Gender. Yet this is an important idea, and university is too exclusive an institution, and begun too late in life, for it to be the first/only time this difference is really discussed. I know when I started learning about it, it really made me think about how Gender both informed and restricted the life choices that both men and women make, and how society views those choices. For example, “men work and women stay at home” is not something informed by biology, but by society, and yet for so long (and in some places still) it is the norm. Similarly, biology may make men more physically powerful, but it is our (Gender-centric) culture that has resulted in governance and other positions of power being so dominated by men.
Right now Australia is stuck in this gender-centric way of thinking and judging. This is why so many of the critiques of Julia Gillard are centered around attacks on her femininity; her clothes, her voice, her childlessness. And this is also why Gillard spent so much of her time embracing her Gender role; e.g. visiting schools every five minutes. She was criticized for lacking, and therefore had to play up to, society’s Gender based expectations. If we want to make lasting change to the way females, and specifically female leaders, are treated in Australia (more than just the superficial change that will come with more women pre-selected by political parties, and female politicians showing “sisterly solidarity”) we need to place more emphasis on the difference between Gender and Sex. We need to highlight our tendency to bias based on cultural expectations rather than biological reality. Once this discussion starts taking place outside of the realm of feminist discourse, we are on our way to inverting the Gender/Sex binary.