As a teenager, I was raised by my mom. She also raised my brothers. She raised us alone, propelled by unconditional love, with enough energy to meet our requests and fight our rebellions. We tested her, challenged her, exhausted her. But above all, we loved her.
My brothers and I grew up to become men, raised by a woman. We were ridiculously different one from another, yet united by a modern virility filled with respect for women. Quickly, our mother became our hero, through her obvious sacrifice.
Doctor, actor or philosopher, we were transformed by our modern upbringing. We were, of course, treated like kings: fresh meals falling from the sky, dishes washed before we even knew it, impeccable service and tip included. But our mother wasn’t acting as a woman: she was acting as a mother. She wasn’t a feminist in her speech, but she was in her lifestyle: half-cook, half-handywoman. Mom never stopped herself because she was a woman. She knew she was strong, strong like a mother may be, strong like a father maybe.
As we got older, my brothers and I discovered a world with countries where pregnant women could get stoned. A world that could be violent to them, even in that system that was closer to home, and that didn’t help much during our family struggles. My brothers and I didn’t understand this world we had overlooked, a world that looked down on women despite their undeniable strength.
The day I virtually met Julia Gillard, I didn’t understand. There was a woman’s electrifying speech which, nevertheless, held an obscure component. At the other end of the world, a woman was standing up for my mom and her sisters. But she wasn’t standing up for all of them.
On October 16th 2012, the Prime Minister of Australia became a worldwide-web sensation, thanks to a viral clip that showed her response to the Leader of the Opposition. Rightfully, assiduously and eloquently, Gillard denounced the Leader’s misogyny. Because she was an original, and because it had been enough to disturb some of her colleagues. A redhead, the daughter of a Welsh psychiatric nurse, an immigrants’ child vaguely resembling Foster and Swinton, the Australian citizen had always known she would never have children. Politics were a war in which women needed a defender.
But a month earlier, Julia Gillard chose to stand against History by rejecting equal marriage… Why? It was a legitimate question, because she promoted equality for women. And equality for women was not only gender equality: it was also equality between women, at least when it came to opportunities. No matter if one was gay, straight, or anything in-between.
Why, then? Because homosexuality wasn’t natural? Science had numerous counter-examples. Because marriage had always been between a man and a woman? History had proven this theory wrong, with evidence taking religion aback. Because women needed to have children? Gillard didn’t, and why not favour adoption? For the sake of children? Studies from decades ago showed that children raised by gay parents were as sane as others, like a young American showed us in his own viral video. Because of religion? Gillard had admitted that she was an atheist. Like many gay men and women, she described herself as “a great respecter of religious beliefs, but they are not my beliefs.” For social peace? We could have invoked this against the right for women to vote, yet change needed to be initiated prior to being accepted. So what additional proofs were expected by Julia Gillard?
Gillard’s answer was that marriage between a man and a woman had a “special status”. “Special” as in different. Different as in “with more rights attached to it”. Let’s face it: she saw gay unions as smaller than straight ones. Gays had fewer rights. This was technically homophobic.
Ironic too, if we considered homophobia came from men who associated homosexuality with feminity. They linked it to some kind of desire to be dominated, which they thought was a feminine aspiration. What often provoked their violence was behaviours they defined as feminine, no matter where they came from. Was homophobia just another kind of misogyny? In that case, was the gay movement the next feminism? Could the great fights for the rights of minorities really be exclusive all in remaining logical? Or were we witnessing the unavoidable birth of… gayminism?
I suspected Gillard didn’t subscribe to such homophobia. Yet in denying the rights of so many women, she was not spreading love around in a very fair way. It would’ve been exaggerated to pretend that Gillard hated – or even disliked – women. But it seemed fair to say that she didn’t like them equally.
In her speech, Julia Gillard lectures Tony Abbott’s shameful-kid face. She does it with touching frailty yet impressive courage, relentlessly guided by facts. After all, Abbott once spoke of abortion as an “easy way out”. I applaud Gillard and the echoing applause. But I couldn’t applaud her controversial vote, because it seems unfounded.
In that very same speech, Gillard says she is “always offended by statements that are anti-women.” But is she really always? Rightfully denouncing a “double standard”, did she forget to see that which blinds her? She pressures Abbott to “think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.” What about lesbians?
If the blogosphere suggested the world looked at its own prejudices and imitated Australia, I was sceptical in front of a clip that left many people with a bitter aftertaste.
“I think it would be inconceivable for me if I were an American to have turned up at the highest echelon of American politics being an atheist, single and childless.” If Obama saluted her viral speech, many countries had nothing to learn from Gillard when it came to gay rights, because was it conceivable for a lesbian to become Prime Minister of Australia?
Self-proclaimed agent of “social inclusion” and “change”, Julia Gillard might have seen the irony of it, had she glanced longer. She once claimed that she “came into politics predominantly to make a difference to opportunity questions, particularly make a difference in education”. But what did her conception of a legal system teach to teenagers who were a bit too different? When she was in Belgium, she said she missed Australia. Would she have spoken the same words, had she been a lesbian in the second country to legalize equal marriage? The media criticized her for her austere kitchen revealed by pictures taken during an interview. Gillard mentioned how ridiculous it felt to be judged on a kitchen. Was she judging Australians on their bedrooms?
In politics, men sometimes made mistakes. As their equals, women did too. Gillard was fighting a crucial fight, often brilliantly. And I was filled with compassion for her, against the morbid and mean comment concerning her father “dying of shame”. I knew that somewhere up there, Gillard’s father was proud of her, though his psychiatric expertise might make him stand on different grounds when it came to equal marriage. I had equal compassion for victims of bullying who’d been targeted because of their sexual orientation, many of which had taken their own lives.
After her conscience vote, what did Julia Gillard tell herself and her very own conscience, in the silence of her austere kitchen? Did she ask herself if all those young gays and lesbians who committed suicide or where lapidated somewhere in the word died in fact of… shame?