Julia Gillard backlash puts women with traditional gender beliefs off politics – study

Research finds some fear going into politics because of how former PM was treated, but women with flexible view about gender roles are more motivated

Women who set more store by traditional gender roles are less likely to contemplate a career in politics following the attacks on former prime minister Julia Gillard, research by Sydney University has found.

But others were motivated to follow Gillard’s career path after the criticism, which she branded misogynistic.

The study of 167 university students found that women who valued traditional gender norms such as modesty, a focus on family over work and maintaining their physical appearance were put off politics when reminded of the backlash Gillard faced.

“Julia Gillard’s experience led them to be fearful of backlash from entering a political career,” the study’s lead author, Christopher Hunt, said. “Previous research … has shown people associate leadership and traits of leadership with men.

“However, for women who rate themselves as non-conformists in regards to gender values, being reminded of Gillard’s difficulties motivated them to go into politics,” Hunt said. “She appears to be a role model for this group.”

Hunt also found that commitment to traditional gender roles was a better indicator of political participation than it was of voting habits. While there was little difference between Labor and Liberal voters, Greens voters were the least likely to embrace traditional gender roles.

Views on gender better predicted their response to the survey than whether they would vote for Gillard, Hunt said.

Sympathisers have long decried the gender-based attacks on Gillard when she was in office, with Hillary Clinton publicly denouncing the “outrageous sexism” faced by the former prime minister.

Gillard’s speech in parliament on misogyny went viral. She later described it as a “cracking point”.

Critics accused Gillard of “playing the gender card”, especially when she tried to soften her image and appeal to a greater audience.

Hunt noted the catch-22 of women in leadership who tried to conform to traditional gender norms.

“It puts women in a difficult position … [because] they are sometimes seen as being too soft,” Hunt said.

He said those who broke traditional gender roles were often seen as incompetent, less likeable and less worthy of being promoted. This applied to men who moved outside gender roles as much as women.

The key to attracting more women to politics was to “increase the visibility of women” succeeding in public life, Hunt said.

Contributor

Shalailah Medhora

The GuardianTramp

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