In 2021, we are beginning to feel a cultural shift. Workplace harassment is no longer ‘just part of the job’. Sexual assault allegations are reported on the TV and women are beginning to feel supported after speaking out against perpetrators. Child sex abuse survivors are given a platform to change our perceptions of coercive control—some even go on to win Australian of the Year. If you don’t know who I’m referring to, do yourself a favour and have a quick Google; Grace Tame, Nina Funnell and Brittany Higgins are names you should know.
One name we all know is Julia Gillard. We remember her as the fierce Labor Party leader, former Prime Minister of Australia and now Chair of Beyond Blue. These achievements are not, however, the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear the name Julia Gillard. The moment in time that comes to mind when I hear her name is October 9th, 2012. The speech Gillard gave in parliament on this day has its own Wikipedia page. It’s one of the first links that pops up when you type her name in the search bar. It is, of course, Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech.
I get goose bumps re-watching Gillard’s address about misogyny to a room of predominantly men (24.7% in House of Representatives). Her passion is unflappable, despite the cacophony of voices that rise against her in waves. She remains focused on her message and commands the room with her precise (and well-founded) jabs at the Leader of the Opposition. She addresses Abbott, pointedly meeting his gaze, and refuses to stand for “the Opposition Leader’s repulsive double standards […] when it comes to misogyny and sexism”. The speech set off a chain reaction around the nation, establishing Gillard as a role model for women and a leader in the fight against gender discrimination in Australia.
In an homage to Gillard and her 2012 speech on misogyny, Steamworks Arts Director Sally Richardson and performer/co-creator Natalie Allen joined forces to create JULIA. This contemporary dance piece is a response to the sexism and misogyny not only iterated in Gillard’s speech, but also that which she endured during her time serving as Prime Minister of Australia.
I had the opportunity to interview Richardson about the creative drive behind this piece and what it meant for her to translate the socio-political sphere into the corporeal—the physical—using the body and dance.
“I think the speech has always been inspirational in many ways”, Richardson says. However, “we asked ourselves [as next year will mark ten years since the speech] what ha[s] changed?”
JULIA comes at a crucial moment in Australia’s history of gender-based discrimination [crucially, in politics], with women like Brittany Higgins speaking out against gender-based discrimination and assault in Parliament.
“We could never have anticipated what has occurred in the last 6-12 months in Canberra […]. Since Gillard has left there’s been this incredible sort of layering and growing of protest in terms of the classic line ‘we’re all entitled to a better standard than this’”.
Focused on advancing progress towards issues of sexism, equality and misogyny, Richardson and Allen use dance as an expressive art form to showcase an unique approach to igniting conversations about gender discrimination.
Richardson notes that dance can “embody emotional states; and, in a more powerful way than perhaps traditional pieces of theatre (which are driven predominantly by facts and character), we [Allen and Richardson] are really interested in using Gillard’s experience and the media that was spoken about her […] to talk about what misogyny feels like”.
“[Julia Gillard] was vilified. If that can happen to a Prime Minister, it can happen to anybody”.
This performance is as much an “exposé about social media” as it is “traditional, print media that was written about [Gillard] and spoken about her during her time as Prime Minister”.
A contemporary dance piece that engages with Australian politics, discrimination and sexism in culture, JULIA is a reckoning. It calls attention to not only the misogyny felt within Parliament in 2012, but also asks what are we doing to protect women now.