Women leaders being blanked by political biography

14 September 2021

Sadly when it comes to politics in Australia, men are being written about while women have to set the record straight.

Former politician Julia Banks' memoir about her time in Parliament has taken the nation by storm.

But according to an expert from The Australian National University (ANU) Power Play also highlights a glaring problem in our nation's political biography - female politicians are left to tell their own stories and "correct the record" while men have their stories written for them.

How our female political leaders are immortalised today is in sharp focus in a special issue of the Australian Journal of Biography and History, published by ANU Press.

The 10 peer-reviewed articles take a deep dive into political biography in Australia, including the ongoing dominance of "old white men" across the genre.

Contributing author and feminist researcher Dr Blair Williams from The Australian National University said political biographies have long been the domain of white, middle-aged males.

"My research shows that of 31 political biographies published since 2010, only four have been written on Australian women: Penny Wong, Pauline Hanson, Patricia Giles and May Holman," Dr Williams said.

"But this fails to explain why neither Julia Gillard nor any woman leader of a political party besides One Nation have been chosen as the subject for a definitive biography.

"In this absence of biography, our female leaders are writing their own memoirs. Julia Banks' explosive Power Play is just one of many recent examples.

"Sadly when it comes to politics in Australia, men are being written about while women have to set the record straight."

Dr Williams is calling on the development of a framework for feminist political biography in Australia.  

"Female politicians are criticised, measured and judged on the way they dress or their relationships rather than their political successes or careers," she said.

"This is a major issues and fails to capture the massive and vital contribution many women make to our democracy ad political culture every single day.

We need to address this and political biography has an important role to play.

"As this genre continues to shape our understanding of political culture and history, it is more important now than ever that women are included to dispel once and for all the myth that their stories are not worth recording."

For more information or copies of the latest edition of the Australian Journal of Biography and History, contact Jaimi Schmid at ANU Press on +61 2 6125 7598 or Jaimi.Schmid@anu.edu.au.