Love was all around the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Town Hall this week as Anne Summers interviewed Julia Gillard about her time as Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

But the loving surrounds never masked the brutal reality of Gillard’s experiences nor the need for women to keep raising their voices and demanding equal rights.

Gillard’s story about failing to put her gender in the foreground, when she first became the Prime Minister of Australia, and the misogyny she copped as a result is a lesson for us all.

“I thought to myself then…Of course I want to speak for women, of course I want to govern for women, of course I want to do good things for women’, but I didn’t think I needed to put it [being a woman] right in the foreground because it was just so obvious’,” Gillard told Summers at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.

She thought because she was a woman it would be commented on by others and her gender would define her prime ministership without her having to point to it constantly.

As we know, this happened more often than not – but in a bad way.

Gillard said she ended up being burdened by the “the misogynistic underside” of the situation rather than reaping the benefits of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister – because she had failed to put her gender out there.

During her prime ministership it was hard to fathom why she had kept her gender in the background for so long

However, that changed when she spoke out in her famous misogyny speech in the House of Representatives in October 2012.

She described to the Sydney audience how she had reached “a crack point” in her thinking.

“I thought after everything I have had to see on the internet, after all the gendered abuse that I have seen in newspapers, that has been called at me across the despatch box, now of all things I’ve got to listen to [the then Leader of the Opposition] Tony Abbott lecture me about sexism,” she said.

“That’s what gave the emotional start to the speech, ‘I will not…’, and once I started it just got a life of its own.”

Initially, she had no sense of the speech’s impact beyond the House of Representatives, she told Summers at the Melbourne Town Hall on Tuesday night.

She was astonished to find it had resonated globally.

Ultimately, the “speech was for every woman who has bit her tongue…It’s one for her”, Gillard said.

Asked about Abbott’s response to her speech, she told the Sydney audience it was an “infantile conversation about gender wars” – but it involved more people than Abbott.

She described it as a no-win situation for all women. “Because apparently if she complains, she is playing the victim, and playing gender wars, and if she doesn’t complain, then she really is a victim.”

Silence isn’t an option, however. “We’ve got to be able to say strongly to women and girls, ‘You’ve got a right to an environment that treats you with respect, treats you as an equal and raising your voice about that isn’t starting a war, it isn’t playing the victim, it’s just asking for what simply is right’,” she said.

Overall, while Gillard copped abuse, it wasn’t just about her.

“…it’s about all of us, it’s about women and about the kind of society we want to be for all of us…we should feel a sense of rage about it because it’s only through something that really spurs you on to action that is going to change,” she said.

What kind of society do you want?

This story was updated on 8 December 2013

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