Neither everything nor nothing

19 Aug 2013

PUBLIC debate about misogyny in Australian politics peaked in October last year after Julia Gillard let rip in parliament, and it surged again as we came to terms with the fact that our first female prime minister had been booted out of office because of her failure to retain public support. We are left with some troubling questions. Was this a failure on her part, or was it some kind of national failure of political maturity and public intelligence, compounded by low standards of journalistic integrity? To what extent, and in what ways, was misogyny a factor?

In her parting speech on 26 June Gillard made her own pronouncement. “It doesn’t explain everything, it doesn’t explain nothing,” she said. “It explains some things and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.” In contrast to the personal outburst on the floor of the parliament, the tone was one of stern detachment. The statement was devoid of rhetorical ploys, yet in its balance and economy it carried the hallmarks of classic rhetorical style. Every word hit home. The call for sophistication, for a resistance to ready explanation and all-or-nothing conclusions, suggested that we need to do the accounts but aren’t yet ready to see how they add up. This is unfinished business, but it will take some time to process…

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