I am PM, hear me roar...

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a function show their working relationship is at times less than close.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a function show their working relationship is at times less than close. AAP

IN A week in which PM Julia Gillard's "slap-down" of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reverberated around the world, what do women in power on the Northern Rivers make of the poisonous gender debate being waged on the national stage?

Ms Gillard's parliamentary performance on Tuesday, in which she heaped scorn on Abbott for what she saw as misogyny, went viral.

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not. Not now, not ever," was the opening of Ms Gillard's blistering rebuke of Mr Abbott.

Writer Anne Summers lauded it as the most passionate defence of women's right to be free of sexist abuse that she's ever heard.

Academic Catherine Lumby said the speech was for all women in power.

The vast majority of social media commentary sided with Ms Gillard, many viewing it as a seminal moment in female empowerment.

But many of most prominent political commentators argued that Ms Gillard's attack on Mr Abbott failed to disguise her massive misjudgement over the former Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper, whose own seedy and some say sexist text messages, made headlines this week.

In defence Mr Abbott said: "Just because the PM sometimes has been the victim of unfair criticism doesn't mean that she can dismiss any criticism as sexism, that she can dismiss any criticism on gender grounds."

So is Ms Gillard playing the gender card to deflect legitimate criticism or has she been the subject of unfairly vitriolic criticism as the first female PM of Australia?

MLC Catherine Cusack said events this week had nothing to do with feminism.

"Everyone gets roughed up in politics, regardless of their gender," she said.

"Julia Gillard is not doing our cause any good. We need a fair go not a soft go."

Ms Cusack said there were important issues to be addressed to ensure women had an equal opportunity to be in politics but Labor was using feminism as a shield.

Page Federal MP Janelle Saffin said sexism did not just reside in politics.

"It does exist, and my view is that you tackle it when it rears its head and work to inform people about it and its consequences, and make the necessary policy, and where applicable, legal changes," Ms Saffin said.

"On the week in question, I say, the less said the better. I am appreciative that we live in a democracy and I only want to be judged for the job I do for our community with securing services and leadership on issues."

Lismore City Councillor Vanessa Ekins said she had experienced sexism in her role as a councillor.

"I have experienced sexism in my role as councillor. I often find myself the only woman in a room of men and this can be quite intimidating. But the real effect is felt in language. My male colleagues usually refer to each other as councillor so and so but refer to me as Vanessa, without using the title councillor," she said.

"Also when I am speaking at a formal meeting, my male colleagues refer to what I say as 'chatting' when they are 'speaking to the motion'. These may be small manners of speech but I find the treatment I receive, particularly from older male councillors, to be unequal."

Byron Shire Council deputy Mayor Diane Woods said she believed the PM had a valid point about Alan Jones' comment about her father's death. 

"It was a disgusting comment. As far as sexism goes, I think that in a high profile position, we are always open to all sorts of unwarranted and unnecessary comments," she said.

"I have experienced sexism and aside from the point that I think it is wrong, I feel it is more important for me to focus on the job I have been elected for and not waste my time or my community's time paying heed to such things. I think it is part of what we have to deal with, unsavoury as it is.

"I am disgusted with all of the Federal politicians, and their childlike behaviour. What kind of leadership do they portray to our community, and particularly to our upcoming voters? No better than school yard tactics.

"They are being paid HUGE sums of money to govern our country and they should be concentrating on that. If they cannot do the job they were elected for and are being paid for then get out and let someone in who will do so, and go and fight their personalised arguments elsewhere."

Ballina Shire Councillor Sharon Cadwallader said the PM was "a strong woman who has been up to her neck in Parliamentary banter and invective for many years".

"She hasn't really complained about the tone of debate before the past twelve months, and hasn't been afraid to throw a few insults herself," Ms Cadwallader said.

"On at least one occasion the PM has seriously crossed the line in the heat of a debate, when she made inferences about the sexuality of Christopher Pyne, who she referred to as a "mincing poodle".

"Considering this reputation, I think people have a right to be sceptical about her claiming to be a victim at a time when her government is under severe and sustained attack for its policy failings and grubby deals with people like Craig Thompson and Peter Slipper, whose own attitudes to women have been shown to be much worse than anything Tony Abbott has been accused of.

"I don't think her performance reflects very well on women in general, and it definitely diminishes those people who have really been the victims of sexism and misogyny in the workplace.

"Sexism definitely exists in society, as does racism and a whole host of other prejudices. But we're at the stage now where these prejudices are so universally condemned that it is a lot easier to tackle them than it has been in the past. My attitude has been to call sexism where I see it, deal with it and move on. I certainly don't see it as a valid excuse for poor performance."

Topics:  gender julia gillard politics tony abbott

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