The press of the 1940s and 50s were—if traditionally sexist—at least relatively polite. The election of female politicians in this period was generally praised as a milestone for women, and the skills and qualifications of each woman was reported in a respectful and positive way. However, as expected of this period, many inches of column space were also filled with details of their fashion choices, appearance and how they would continue to fulfil their domestic ‘home’ duties.
By the 1970s women were well-established in federal parliament. The rise of feminism had begun to focus attention on women’s issues, and change was in the air. Female politicians still had to contend with clichéd views and language of women, but they began to push back against the stereotypes.
The media landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. News is now online – fast, free and fractured across multiple sites and platforms. The line between tabloid, mainstream and social media has become blurred. In the battle for likes, re-tweets and clicks, an ‘anything goes’ mentality—often defended as opinion, entertainment or simply ‘free speech’—has developed. Sexist cartoons, demeaning language, violence and death threats have become the new normal for female politicians in the 21st century. It is sad proof that time does not always lead to progress.
“Anyone who chooses to deliberately remain barren … they’ve got no idea what life’s about”. – Senator Bill Heffernan to Julia Gillard, 2007
‘Julia Gillard Quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.” – Liberal National Party fundraiser menu
‘I’m putting her in a chaff bag and hoisting her into the Tasman Sea.’ – Allan Jones, 2011