It has become clear that Julia Gillard is the leader we had to have.
Australia’s first female prime minister’s very existence has held up a mirror to the nation’s approach to gender and the image reflected back is like The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Not the shining harmonious portrait of equality we once thought but an altogether uglier, inconsistent darker study.
We thought our approach to gender was growing into a beauty. Turns out, it is covered in boils. Never has this been more evident than this week.
It was fueled on the national stage against a backdrop of allegations of army officers filming their sexual exploits and sharing the footage. At the same time, our national soccer coach muttered that “women should shut up in public”.
It ended with shock jock Howard Sattler’s question about whether her partner Tim Mathieson was gay. Because he was a hairdresser. And because they weren’t married.
It says a lot about what she has endured that the Prime Minister didn’t bat an eyelid at Sattler’s question and handled it with grace and dignity. Keating would have wiped the floor with him.
Gillard’s leadership has polarized the nation. And that is not about her policies because the big three, the Gonski education reform, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Broadband Network, remain popular.
Quite apart from her government’s reforms, Gillard has become a lightning rod for gender. And I wonder whether it would be different if she had been a more conventional superwoman, married with kids, nanny tucked away in the Lodge, juggling her roles and keeping her fruit bowl full.
Instead, she has been private, confusing but not confused, refusing to court and cajole the media and the powers that be.
As it happens, also this week, the Dalai Lama was asked about the possibility of a female Dalai Lama. He said if a female leader is more useful, “then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come”.
It is a big call for the leader of the very male dominated Buddhist tradition. His statement suggests that intervention is not necessary. When the time is right, a female spiritual leader will materialize.
But in a strange way, his idea squares with the political theory that says we get the leader that suits the times.
The theory goes that a radical like Gough Whitlam had to happen after thirty-something years of Liberal power. Malcolm Fraser was needed to stabilize the system after the tumult and reform of Whitlam. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were the only ones who could have reformed the economy with the agreement of the unions. John Howard reformed the tax base through the GST.
Which leads us to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, where the story is not over for either them or their possible successor.
If Tony Abbott does become leader, he will become the prime minister with the most socially conservative views on gender for his time.
I maintain Gillard was over the top to suggest women will be “banished” under a Coalition Government. Women have long been a part of the Liberal Party.
But after the events which followed, I believe voters will be reassessing what sort of country we want to be and where this bile comes from.
Like her or not, we had to have a female leader like Gillard. The nation had to vomit up this mess that we have seen this week. Better an empty house than a bad tenant, my grandmother used to say.
And when, like a dog, we return to our vomit whenever Gillard goes, the country might have a little more self-awareness to work out what it means.
MORE ARTICLES BY GABRIELLE CHAN
*Gabrielle Chan is The Hoopla’s political correspondent. She is a journalist and author with more than 25 years experience, having worked most recently as a regular columnist with The Australian. She has previously worked for The Daily Telegraph, the ABC and the South China Morning Post. Gabrielle has written and edited Flickers of History, War On Our Doorstep and FEAST and is a member of the NSW Anzac Advisory Council. She blogs at www.gabriellechan.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @gabriellechan.