arleeshar's picture

It begins: the media making sense of our first female Prime Minister on the hustings, cycling through cultural narratives, understanding Gillard through particular narratives of the feminine. I remember reading at one point a series of academic articles around the narrative framing of Pauline Hanson within the context of symbols of feminine power; the idea being that at times of crisis, a strong feminine figure comes to the fore, embodying the ‘traditional’ cultural values under threat, in the manner of Boadiccea or perhaps Thatcher or Indira Ghandi or Aung Sun Suu Kyi. This figure speaks out to protect her ‘children’, the disenfranchised, in Hanson’s case the ‘Aussie Battler’ or whatever. This was a way of making sense of the transgressive female figure in the public domain; the idea that this happens only when mother-love, a force of nature not understood in the domain of men but experienced as very powerful and pure, overwhelms and the invader must be stopped. Culturally we recognise this as an appropriate narrative of feminine power.

This, though, is not that. Gillard has to some degree positioned herself within ‘traditional’ values with her reactionary comments on gay marriage and asylum seekers, but there’s no real sense that she’s more representative of the battlers than Abbott, particularly since today’s announcement that he’ll be dropping WorkChoices as a policy. There’s some value perhaps in exploring the idea that Gillard represents a kind of protestant work ethic and mainstream and Abbott a more marginalised and subversive Catholicism, echoing older debates in Australian social and political history, but by and large, that is not what I see happening here.

Instead, when I look at this photo, what I see is the unmarried older Gillard going to the altar, so to speak; Gillard as Australia’s Bride, visiting the Governor General to get permission to marry. We’re already engaged to her, but she hasn’t moved into the Lodge yet, and she’s decided that she won’t until we walk her down the aisle and go through the formalities. This is the path she must take before we can make sense of her as a wife/mother of the nation.

cross-posted at terriblefabulous