He’s “Taken Back the Reins” and She’s “a Backstabbing Murderer”: A comparative media analysis of the Prime Ministerial ascension of Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull

Stream: Panel 72 - Gender Politics: Gender and Representation: Women in Power 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


In contemporary Australian politics, though once rare, leadership challenges now seem to have become the norm. In the last five years, we have had five Prime Ministers (counting Kevin Rudd twice), with our first ever woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, leading the first coup. There is a stark contrast, however, in media portrayals of Gillard and her male counterparts, apparent most recently in the response to Malcom Turnbull. An abundance of evidence produced in the English-speaking democracies substantiates this sexist and gender-based bias, which is broadly indicative of an endemic criticism experienced by women politicians in the mainstream media. Undertaking a discourse analysis and content analysis, this paper seeks to compare the difference in media portrayals of Gillard and Turnbull in order to understand the ways in which mainstream media portray women Prime Ministers in comparison to their male counterparts. This analysis is grounded in Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity, used here to expose the rigid gender confines to which politicians have to adhere and to address the issue of why women politicians experience more explicitly gendered media criticism. Butler’s theoretical framework can also assist in understanding the ways in which performances of gender – and gender subversion – influence this phenomenon. Through this analysis I will unpack and explore the different gendered ways in which both Gillard and Turnbull’s ascension to the Prime Ministerial role were received in the media.


Blair Williams (Presenter), ANU
Blair is a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University and focuses heavily on women Prime Ministers, their gender performances, Butlerian theory and the media. Her research is heavily influenced by feminism and feminist theory.