Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The speech every woman should hear

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Fri October 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fiery speech by Australia's leader slams a politician's newly found support of women
  • Frida Ghitis: Male candidates' promises to women usually forgotten after elections
  • Suddenly supporting women's issues is a hypocritical bid for votes, she says
  • Ghitis: Women must take claims with grain of salt and examine candidates' track records

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- The fight against sexism has suddenly become all the rage among politicians. How curious. How timely. How suspiciously convenient.

It took one politician, a woman, to put it all in perspective. If you have not heard the speech from Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the floor of the Australian House of Representatives, do yourself a favor. This is one for the ages.

Nobody has unmasked political hypocrisy with such fire, with such passion, in a long, long time.

We have heard the poll-tested, calculated claims by politicians around the globe. We hear it in presidential debates in the United States, where the election may depend on the support of female voters, and we've heard it in places like Pakistan, where politicians want to benefit from the outrage over the shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai after assassins tried to kill her for defending every girl's right to an education.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

In Australia, the political battle revolved around a very unique, rather strange, set of circumstances. But Gillard's words crystallized the source of the unease that hangs over so many people as they hear politicians courting them. How much can we believe what they say?

Much became clear after the speech in Canberra, when Gillard unloaded a sizzling rhetorical barrage on Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, who had presented a motion he claimed was motivated by his own support of women's equality.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Gillard would have none of it. "I will not be lectured about misogyny by this man. I will not. Not now, not ever," she intoned, pointing directly at Abbott, who sat in his chair trying to keep a plastic smile on his face, no doubt hoping it would all end soon. But Gillard was just getting started.

Romney tells 'binders' of women anecdote

The Australian prime minister, glancing only occasionally at a sheet of notes, eviscerated her opponent's claim that he had a sincere interest in standing up for women. You could detect a brief wince of anguish in Abbott's tense brow when Gillard suggested "Let's go through the opposition leader's repulsive double standards."

She went on to list, one by one, instances that demonstrate a track record of disdain for women by the opposition leader. Abbott was claiming to be offended by crude, sexist text messages, sent by the speaker of the House, who happened to be a supporter of the prime minister. The speaker eventually resigned his position. But Gillard, to the consternation of some Australians, would not support Abbott's motion to fire him.

If Abbott thinks misogynists are not suited for high office, she said, he should take a piece of paper and write out his resignation. "If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives," Gillard charged, "he needs a mirror."

Checkmate.

Gillard's now-famous "Misogyny Speech" became such a worldwide hit that publishing house Macquarie decided to update its definition of "misogyny." The old definition is "hatred of women." Macquarie said it will add a new meaning, "entrenched prejudice against women," reflecting the word's modern usage.

The speech became a hit because of its raw eloquence and visceral emotion. But it would not have ignited a fast-spreading fire if it had not touched flammable material. Gillard's words resonated because we have all heard hypocritical politicians make claims that have the tinny ring of untruth, an echo of political consultant and focus-group regurgitation.

The speech ... would not have ignited a fast-spreading fire if it had not touched flammable material.
Frida Ghitis

The phenomenon becomes more prevalent, not surprisingly, when elections approach. In Pakistan, for example, the country is preparing to hold elections this year. The attempt to kill Malala by the supremely misogynistic Pakistani Taliban came just in time for politicians to try to fuel their campaigns with popular sentiment.

The populist Imran Khan, a former cricket superstar who has entered politics, rushed to Malala's bedside and was quick to condemn the attempted murder, as were many politicians. But, like many others, he refused to blame the Taliban, even though the group openly admitted to the hit and vowed to try again to kill her, reaffirming its revolting anti-women ideology. A closer look at Khan's views, despite his show of support for Malala, indicates that he is unlikely to challenge the Taliban, even if that means sacrificing women's rights.

In the U.S., the last presidential debate came just after a Gallup poll showed Republican Mitt Romney tying President Obama in likely swing state votes from women. Obama had relied on an advantage with women to stay ahead in the polls. Not surprisingly, the two men came out prepared for a full-on joust for the women's vote.

By one count, the two mentioned women 30 times in the last debate, with Obama wrapping himself in his support for equal pay legislation and Romney making his much-maligned claim to have relied on "binders full of women" to find qualified candidates for high office while he was governor of Massachusetts.

Cardona: Romney's empty 'binders full of women'

I am not arguing that the "binders" are a fantasy, nor am I saying that Obama or Romney are sexist. What I do say is that, increasingly, what we hear from politicians is carefully calculated. It is not calculated for accuracy; it is calibrated for effect.

That means women, and those who want to see the realization of a vision of equality, of an end to sexism and misogyny, need to consume the words of politicians with a large serving of skepticism.

Every claim, every promise, must be checked against a track record to find whether it's true and whether it is a good predictor of what they would do after the election, when standing up for women's rights may not prove as timely and convenient as it does today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT