Our speaker was Julia Gillard, former (and first woman) prime minister of Australia. I don't know much about her politics, but I was predisposed to like her -- first, because I realized she is exactly my age; second, she is an unapologetic feminist; and third, she has suffered untold slings and arrows for being not only a woman but a childfree one at that (as I wrote here in 2010). She told us that she & Barack Obama had joked about which of them made the most unlikely leader -- he, the first black/biracial leader of the United States, or she, an unmarried, childless, atheist woman as prime minister of Australia?
Gillard was an excellent speaker, moving away from the lectern and only referring to her notes when she had statistics to quote or a quotation she wanted to read. She spoke for almost an hour, and then answered questions from the audience for half an hour. I wish had taken notes! -- but here's some of what I remember she said:
- Bias and misogynistic attitudes towards women are ingrained and pervasive (and she backed up her observations with statistics and academic studies).
- Education is the key to greater success in life. Gillard loved school, and is emphatic about the role education (and free state university tuition) played in her own success. She's now the head of the Global Partnership for Education, and is passionate about educating girls, particularly in developing countries.
- Women need to be bold, try new things and not hold themselves back.
- Women must call out sexism and misogyny when & where they see it. (Gillard did so, memorably, in what's become known as "the misogyny speech," where she blasted the (male) leader of the opposition for hypocrisy. She had the audience groaning -- and gasping -- when she related some of the horribly sexist things that were said and written about her -- including, after the death of her father, that he had probably "died of shame." She was also compared to a "barren cow" and reminded that infertile cows inevitable get slaughtered and turned into hamburger meat.)(I kid you not.)(!!!!!)
- She said the most valuable political advice she received (which she encouraged the audience to do too), shortly after becoming prime minister, was to write down her purpose -- what she wanted to achieve during her time in office, what she wanted her leadership to stand for. She said she carried that increasingly dog-eared piece of paper with her in her purse every day and looked at it often.
- She encouraged women to carve out some quiet time regularly to think and rejuvenate themselves. (She would tell her staff she was going "into the Cone" -- as in the Cone of Silence -- a "Get Smart" reference that had those of us of a certain age chuckling).
- She firmly believes in the value of quotas (in both the political and business worlds) as a way to level the playing field and uncover new talent that might otherwise be overlooked.
- Being the "first woman" is an honour -- but even better would be to watch as the second, third, fourth and so on emerge and succeed. :)
- There is life after politics. :) Gillard spoke with pride about her family, and how she had moved back to Adelaide to be closer to them (hmmm, this sounds familiar...), including her 89-year-old mother, sister, niece and nephew (she hosted his wedding in her back yard) -- and now a great-niece and nephew.
- Most important, Gillard urged women to develop a strong sense of self/self worth. She worries about young women in particular, growing up under the influence of social media and deriving their self-worth from the opinions of others.
What women have inspired you lately?
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.