Because she's a woman: gender stereotypes and women's participation in Australian politics
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 17:30 by Kathryn Gooch
Politics has always been infused with gender: only the extent to which it is noticed, or emphasised, has changed over time. Julia Gillard’s rise to Australian Prime Minister on 24 June 2010 heightened the public’s awareness of gender in politics, and it was repeatedly foretold in the mainstream media that women would vote for Gillard ‘because she’s a woman’. Some commentators represented gendered voting as a predominantly female behaviour with questionable political legitimacy. This critical discourse analysis focuses on the way women were stereotyped during a period in Australia’s political history marked by the novelty of a woman prime minister. While examining dominant discourses and the establishment and perpetuation of stereotypes in the mainstream media, I also locate important counter-discourses in the online discussions of women, many of whom challenged negative representations of women in the media. As participants in this counter-discourse, however, women constituted a smaller proportion than men of those who revealed their gender in conversation, and I argue that this is one effect of negative discourses about women. Another effect I identify is that some men may have felt threatened by a potential for unity in women’s vote decisions. As a result, I contend that despite often being overlooked in mainstream discourses on gendered voting, men did exhibit gendered behaviour, both in response to Gillard’s leadership and the discourses surrounding that event. Identifying contemporary gendered myths and stereotypes in attitudes towards women in Australia’s past, I argue that attempts to discursively discipline women emerge when the public perceives women’s actions to be challenging the gender status quo. I show how contemporary parallel discourses that uphold traditional gender roles also affect women’s status in politics, and contribute to the power of the mainstream media and stakeholders in the gender status quo to portray powerful or political women as transgressing gender norms. This study’s insights into the political uses of gender can be deployed to enhance the environment for women’s political participation, to increase political actors’ repertoire of resources for resisting and responding to negative gender stereotyping, and thus to strengthen Australia’s political culture.