John Wanna, another ANU political expert, says there was a “huge groundswell of support” for Gillard initially, with many Australians delighted to have a woman in the top job. But she soon plummeted in the polls. While some of her policies – such as introducing a tax on carbon emissions – have been unpopular, and commentators say she failed to communicate them effectively, some believe she has been given a harder time because of being a woman.
When floods devastated the state of Queensland last year, for instance, Gillard was criticized for not showing enough emotion. Protesters who staged a demonstration in Canberra against the carbon tax waved banners stating: “Ditch the witch.” She was vilified for reneging on a campaign promise not to introduce the tax, with some critics branding her “Juliar.”
Male politicians have abandoned campaign promises without being so bitterly condemned, notes Professor Wanna. “I think going back on her word, and maybe this is a gender thing, really played badly for her,” he says. “People thought they could trust her because she was a woman. People don’t like a woman, in particular, lying.”
Perhaps most damaging, though, is the way she came to power, staging a coup against Rudd. Again, some analysts believe the public reaction has been harsher because of her gender. Christopher Pyne, an opposition politician, likened her to Lady Macbeth.
“The way she got to her position has made her more susceptible to being called things like [expletive] and ‘deceitful,’ which play into stereotypes of women,” says Lauren Rosewarne, a social scientist at the University of Melbourne. “These gender attributes have haunted her from day one.”
But Dr. Rosewarne does not believe that misogyny necessarily lies behind such attacks. “With attacks on politicians, people grasp for the easiest angle, and being a woman makes Gillard an easy target,” she says.