“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not.”

This is an impassioned yet restrained articulation of a problem that is both nationally significant and deeply, deeply personal.

The Iron Steameth Over!

To understand the frustration that found its voice in this speech, it is useful to understand a little bit about the circumstances – especially as regards the issue of gender. Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in June 2010. This speech was delivered in parliament on the 9th of October, 2012.

The leader of the opposition at the time, Tony Abbott, had made the following statement:

What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially its going to go up in price, and their own power bills, when they switch the iron on, are going to go up.

Tony Abbott

Escalating generalised sexism into a personal attack, Senator Bill Heffernan made the following remark:

(Gillard was) unfit for leadership because she was deliberately barren.

Senator Bill Heffernan

Even more personal, and most hateful, were the slanderous insults aired on talk-back radio. In these instances, the shock jock announcers were quoting listeners. But in doing so they were proliferating some astounding gender-based attacks. For example:

Mate, the Australian taxpayer even pays for the toilet paper she uses. Does she go down to the chemist to buy her tampons? Or is the Australian taxpayer paying for those as well?

(Tony) on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show

Immediately preceding the misogyny speech, Tony Abbot addressed the crowd in front of derogatory placards, including one adorned with the slogan; ‘ditch the witch‘.

Normally, Gillard ignored such taunts, preferring to revert to the requirements of her office, speaking about policy decisions and political matters of the day. Normally, she sidestepped the barrage of personal attacks on her gender, the fact that she was not married and did not have children. Normally, she showed no signs that any of these insults affected her in the slightest.

Except on this day – 9 October 2012, when she took the issue of sexism head-on.

Out of Character – But in a Good Way

Throughout Gillard’s tenure as PM, my criticism of her speaking style was that she was too restrained. Not enough pathos; she often struggled to establish an emotional connection with her audience. Her tone was usually even, bordering on monotonous and her pace was very slow. Although she rarely misspoke and never put a foot wrong her lack of pathos affected her connection with the electorate at large.

But on this day the emotions were very real. We can see and hear anger and frustration. Gillard does not simply rant. She does not lose it. She controls her emotions and with every sentence she lets Abbott, and all of us know – enough is enough.

Strength & Resilience

The heckling begins before even three words have left her mouth. She ignores it. She stares down her opponent, raises her voice slightly to indicate they will not shake her, and continues forcefully.

Thank you very much deputy speaker and I rise to oppose the motion moved by the leader of the opposition and in so doing I say to the leader of the opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now. Not ever.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Watch It Again…

There is no doubt that this was an historic moment in the journey towards gender equality in Australian politics. However, in the context of this rhetorical analysis of speeches that matter, this example is remarkable because Gillard demonstrated such eloquence and power whilst harnessing the heat of the moment and using it to her advantage. Gender issues aside – this speech stands out as a powerful piece of oratory.

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A Speech a Week Series

Words have the power to change the world. Speeches are used by leaders, revolutionaries and evangelists to persuade people to think differently, to feel something new and to behave in remarkable ways.

In this series we will examine one notable speech per week. We hope to cast a wide net – including politicians, business leaders, preachers, entertainers and philosophers. These articles will consider matters of content and style to uncover the secrets of oratorical success.

By examing the components of speechcraft we can improve our own powers of persuasion. We will come to appreciate the craft of eloquence – guarding against silver-tongued miscreants whilst gradually building our own expressive capability.

If you would like to contribute to the series by suggesting a speech, please send us a message via the mojologic website.