Thursday, July 15, 2010
When Julia Gillard, 48, orchestrated the ouster of Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whom she replaced, she made history as Australia's first female prime minister. But Gillard is much more than that. Gillard is the rare national leader of a modern country -- in fact, I cannot think of another, male or female -- who is not married and has never been married. Moreover, Gillard has not been a parent, and she's an atheist.
Most amazing, and I think of it as a sign of the non-judgmentalism that permeates the West and certainly Australia: Hardly anyone cares. Gillard's actions as prime minister interest the public far more than her personal life.
Since 2006, Gillard has lived with Tim Mathieson, a hairdresser. As far as Australia knows, the couple has no plans to marry. You may recall that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's husband was dubbed the state's "first dude." Australian papers have dubbed Gillard's boyfriend, usually referred to as her partner, as Down Under's "first bloke."
Danny Nalliah, head of Catch the Fire Ministries, has complained about Gillard's single-woman status. "I am ashamed ... that my PM is living together with a man and could be moving into The Lodge with him shortly," Nalliah wrote. And: "It's a shame that our PM does not deem marriage and wedlock important enough in her own life."
But as The Australian reported, the Australian Christian Lobby noted that Gillard's views on marriage might alienate some, but "it respected her honesty" and hoped she would stick to the policies of Rudd.
Gillard has been unusually straightforward about her beliefs. Radio journalist Jon Faine asked her, "Do you believe in God?"
The newly minted PM answered, "No, I don't Jon. I'm not a religious person."
In 2007, when she was Rudd's top deputy, Gillard told The Bulletin that if then-Prime Minister John Howard or his conservative lieutenant, Peter Costello, had to raise their own children, neither would have made it to the top. No doubt, she had a point.
Perhaps it is her refusal to pretend she is something she is not that has muted her personal life as an issue.
Just as certain politicians -- former Ess Eff Mayor Willie Brown leaps to mind -- Gillard never has pretended to be pastor-like.
Gillard does play the populist card. She calls herself a "bogan" -- the Australian term for Bubba. She owns Ugg boots and speaks with a flat working-class accent. As Herald Sun columnist Susie O'Brien observed, Gillard is "popular because she's a bogan, not in spite of it."
Having arrived, however, Gillard now has to balance the need to project as a leader -- hence her recent reported purchase of $1,250 outfits -- without seeming to have discarded her bogan roots. Already, she has taken heat for wearing pearls -- which she used to joke were part of a "dress like a Tory" look. Now when Gillard changes style, that makes news.
It seems a prime minister can be a woman, can be a single woman and can be an atheist single woman. But no matter how far women come, there always will be controversy as to what she wears. Ask Hillary Clinton. A woman may break the glass ceiling, but she can never escape the pantsuit-joke barrier.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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