Australia swore in its first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on June 24, 2010, and since then there has been countless critical media articles published. However, the difference between Gillard and her male predecessors is that a proportion of those articles were not aimed directly at her policies or leadership skills, but rather her dress sense and overall physical appearance. Additionally, this specific type of representation in the media began years before she took head office. One example of such a text was published on December 6, 2006, in the days after Gillard was elected as the Labor Party’s deputy leader. Whilst this should have been a day of celebration by Australian women as proof that they were continuing to break through the ‘glass ceiling,’ journalist Anita Quigley chose to offer her opinion on Gillard’s “less than flattering haircut and…frumpy 80s tapestry print jacket.” (Quigley 2006). Whilst acknowledging her intelligence and competence to do the job, Quigley also recognised that voters can be superficial and easily influenced by the aesthetics of a woman rather than her competence and talent, and rather bluntly suggested that Gillard “Get a stylist [her] own age.”
In comparison to more suppressed countries, Australians are allowed - “within the bounds of the law, to say or write what we think privately or publicly, about the government, or about any topic.” (Five Freedoms 2013). This essay looks to demonstrate that the belittlement of female politicians in the media is an exploitation of Australia’s freedom of speech rights and an example of inherent sexism still apparent in Australian society. The freedom of the press to criticise those in power without fear of penalty will be compared with the freedoms allowed to the South African media, and an analysis of how those politicians have the option of bringing action against media representatives they believe have caused damage to their reputation and dignity.
Whilst public defamation of character is not a crime in South Africa, civil lawsuits can be pursued. In December 2010, South African President Jacob Zuma sued political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro for R5 million for a cartoon (Figure. 1) depicting him about to rape ‘Lady Justice’ (South Africa Freedom of the Press 2012). The cartoon was meant to imply that he was ‘raping’ the South African justice system following his acquittal of a rape allegation, and a corruption charge that was dropped prior to him becoming president. Zuma also issued 13 lawsuits against the media for a total of R64 million in 2006 for injury to his dignity and reputation during the rape trial (Duncan 2009, 17) and (Guardian.co.uk 2006).
(Figure 1, Lady Justice, Hammett 2010)
Political cartoons are usually used with humour to “[provide] a space of resistance that can be used to challenge elites and hold governments to account (Obadare 2009, quoted in Hammett 2010, 89), however Ustinoff states that over the last half century the media has begun representing female politicians with “negative stereotyping and unflattering caricatures in the guise of political commentary” (Ustinoff 2005, 97). Another more recent political