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January 13th 2015 print

Roger Franklin

How They Keep Busy at Sydney Uni

The notion that Julia Gillard's failure as Prime Minister might have been the direct consequence of her personal flaws and political failings seems not to have dawned on a trio of Sydney University academics. To no great surprise, they conclude it was sexist perceptions that did her in

queen julia small Below is part of a press release, reproduced as received, from the Sydney University’s publicity office. Notice the theme: that Julia Gillard’s abysmal prime ministership was in no way the consequence of low companions, wholesale lies, economic illiteracy, managerial incompetence or a platform of policy and agenda whose foundation never progressed beyond a series of empty, ad hoc holes.

No, none of that. In the scholarly estimation of Dr Christopher Hunt and Dr Karen Gonsalkorale and Dr Lisa Zadro, a trio of School of Psychology researchers, Gillard’s failure as a leader to rise above the woeful had everything to do with sexist perceptions. The trio even confirmed their findings with a small sampling of university students.

The study assessed 167 Australian undergraduate students on a measure of conformity to gender norms. They then either read statements about generic difficulties experienced by leaders or the gender-based difficulties experienced by Gillard before completing a questionnaire on their attitudes to leadership and certain occupations.

“For male participants, those with high conformity to masculine norms showed a greater belief in their own leadership capabilities after reading about Gillard’s gender-based difficulties than when reading about generic difficulties, while low conforming men showed the opposite pattern.

“This suggests that Gillard’s example provoked a defensive reporting of leadership capability  -  consistent with research showing that women who succeed in traditionally male domains are often perceived to be threatening,” said Dr Hunt.

“The next step in continuing this work is to see if these findings were specific to politics or whether the same findings would apply to other professions.”

Clear on that? The paper’s abstract might help the casual reader, and a study of pages 273 and 274 of the Unions Royal Commission interim report would surely assist doctors Hunt, Gonsalkorale and Zadro to grasp the factors, other than uterine phobia, at play in Gillard’s demise. As the interim report of the Unions Royal Commission recently noted, her veracity is a two-tiered thing:

“If just allowances are made, all important parts of her evidence fall into two categories. One category is those parts which can be accepted positively. The other category is those parts which have not been demonstrated to be incorrect.”

The prose is from the pen of Commissioner John Dyson Heydon AC QC, whose report neglects to note the degree of his  conformity to “masculine norms”. Once the good doctors have figured that out, they will understand how to deconstruct his valuation of a former Prime Minister’s relationship with truth.

Many Australians, although not perhaps so many Sydney University academics, also found that issue troubling.