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Australia’s first woman leader surprised by sexism

September 30, 2013

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s first woman prime minister, who was dumped by her party ahead of September’s election loss, revealed on Monday she was surprised by the level of aggressive sexism directed at her during three years in power.

Julia Gillard made the comments in her first interview since she was deposed in a ballot of her center-left Labor Party colleagues in June by a vote of 57 to 45 as public opinion polls pointed to the administration heading for a catastrophic election defeat.

She was replaced by Kevin Rudd, a prime minister she had deposed in a similar leadership showdown three years earlier in the face of poor opinion polling. Rudd led his party to a crushing election defeat on Sept. 7, causing some observers to ask whether the leadership change had served any purpose.

Gillard, who turned 52 Sunday, told a sold-out audience of 2,600 people in the Sydney Opera House in an interview televised nationally that she reacted with “murderous rage” to the sexist attacks on her in social media and elsewhere.

She was called “witch” and “bitch” on protesters’ banners, while a popular Sydney radio broadcaster said she should be dumped at sea in a sack.

“I was surprised by it. I had issues related to my gender before I became prime minister,” she said, mentioning a senator condemning her as unfit to lead because of her decision not to have children.

“There was this underside of ... really violent, ugly sexism that came forward, and I think it finds easier expression because of the social media, but I think it would have been there anyway,” she said.

Tony Abbott, who became prime minister after his Conservative party won the election, has been criticized for appointing only one woman to his Cabinet. The 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian was branded “a misogynist” and “sexist” by Gillard in a speech to Parliament last year that was lauded by feminists around the world.

Gillard, who did not run in the election, returned on Sunday from the United States where she accepted a position with the Washington-based Brookings think tank as a senior fellow specializing in global education.

Gillard also met last week with Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, and said the former U.S. Secretary of State was “full of ideas” about politics and the world.

″... wouldn’t it be fantastic to follow the first African-American president with the first woman president?” she said. Clinton’s supporters have encouraged her to run for president in 2016, but she has not revealed her plans.

Gillard said her administration, and others such as President Barack Obama’s and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s, has struggled with the evolving media environment, which she felt contributed to her political demise.

She said social media allowed governments to instantly get the truth “to thousands and thousands of people in a way that you never could before, but in an age in which lies and half-truths and odd political claims and silly slogans can also get automatic and widespread currency.”

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