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Holding babies won't cut it for Gillard

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 13 August 2010

What is missing in this election is the feeling that “something wonderful is happening”. Many Americans experienced that aura before the election of Barack Obama.

Instead we have one “friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” type who relishes operating within, above and below dysfunctional, self-serving, patriarchal structures and another candidate who is managing to endorse it.

The result is two political charlatans who wish to have their electoral puffery accepted but who must be conscious that they’re asking voters to believe what they don’t appear to believe themselves. There seems to be nothing concrete in their programs, nothing solid in the candidates: the entire agenda seems to be evasive, equivocal rubbish delivered in a startlingly amateurish style.


But there is one fundamental aspect of this campaign the Gillard camp have overlooked.

This election is not about Julia Gillard, it’s about our perception of her. As Magritte said "Ceci n'est pas une pipe".

As the people form their perceptions of Gillard, gender schemas will inevitably and unavoidably play a significant role.

When we speak of gender we are highlighting our psychological and social conceptions of what it means to be a man or women. "Gender Schemas" refers to our intuitive hypotheses about the behaviour, traits, and preferences of men and women and boys and girls. Correspondingly, the term "gender roles" refers to expectations, to our ideas about how men and women are expected to behave.

All the signs have been there during this campaign. Physiognomy is well and truly at play, and more. We have covered her ear lobes, her marital status, her hair, her clothes, her choice not to have children and so on.

Meta-analysis notes that leaders are likely to be judged in terms of the fit between their sex and the conception of the job. In other words if the job is seen as masculine men will be considered more effective leaders but if the job is characterised as feminine, women will be perceived as better leaders.


In her book Why So Slow?: The Advancement of Women psychologist Virginia Valian said:

... In trying to assume leadership, a woman will have to work overtime to get people’s attention and when she does, is likely to evoke disproportionately negative facial reactions from those she is trying to influence. Those reactions in turn will have a negative effect on other observers who might originally have been neutral or undecided because all concerned are unaware of the extent to which they are affected by the woman’s gender, they will attribute their reactions to a woman’s lessor ability or bossiness. Thus even a woman who is herself completely unaffected by and indifferent to the reactions of those around her will have a tough time being a successful leader ...

Valian goes on to refer to one study that demonstrated that when women actively adopt an assertive leadership style, they are perceived more negatively.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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