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Sydney - Australia's first female premier Julia Gillard has described her “murderous rage” at her sexist treatment, but said she would do it all again in her first public appearance since being dumped.
Gillard received a standing ovation from a sellout 2 600-person crowd as she stepped onto the stage of the Sydney Opera House for a candid discussion of her time as leader with renowned Australian feminist Anne Summers on Monday night.
It was her first civic foray since being toppled in a Labor party-room coup by Kevin Rudd on the eve of last month's national elections, and her first public remarks about the sexism that marked her time in office and her infamous misogyny speech.
Gillard said she had faced a “perfect storm” as leader in which the “wild card element of gender, being the first female prime minister” had been a defining factor.
She admitted being aware of the vicious, sometimes sexual and violent commentary both within the mainstream press and on social media sites taking aim at her gender but said she “chose not to focus on them”.
“I would have said more like murderous rage,” Gillard said when asked to describe how she had felt.
“So for my personal liberty it's probably a good thing that I didn't focus on them.”
Gillard said her ascension to the top job had unleashed a “wellspring of enthusiasm from women and from many men” about gender equality “but there was also this underside of sexism, really violent ugly sexism that came forward”, a “surprising” and “depressing” response.
When she became prime minister, Gillard said she decided not to “put in the foreground being a woman” but “as the days in office went on it just seemed to me increasingly I was getting the burden of that sort of misogynist underside”, leading to her blistering sexism speech in Parliament last year which went viral worldwide.
Gillard answered dozens of audience questions including a number from schoolgirls seeking advice on how she remained motivated and saw the future for women in Australian politics.
In moments of pressure, like preparing to concede the prime ministership, Gillard said she steeled herself by resolving that she “wouldn't give those people the satisfaction of seeing me shed a tear”.
When she reflected on the “sexist abuse that happened when I was prime minister” Gillard said she worried that “maybe the whole thing was sending the wrong message to young women” about the hostility of politics.
On balance, though, she said it had been worth it.
“Even if there was a woman standing before me and, crystal ball-style, I could tell that everything that had happened to me was going to happen to her I would still say do it, because the benefits and what you get to do are far superior to the burdens.”