If Julia Gillard's supporters really believe the Prime Minister's political discontents are due to prevailing misogyny in a contemporary patriarchal society, they are delusional.

Writing for Fairfax Media last week, left-wing historian Professor Marilyn Lake described Gillard's problems as being due to a gender gap and a generation gap.

She declared that ''it is now time to say goodbye to the old men of politics – Kim Carr, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and Kevin Rudd – and give the new team a go, relieved of the heavy burden of a patriarchal past''.

Lake seems to have acquired an academic fondness for models. To her, it is the old white men who are opposed to the Prime Minister in the Labor Party and the young and the women who support her. This overlooks the fact those advocating a leadership change included former cabinet minister Chris Bowen, who has just turned 40, and former whip Ed Husic, who is 43.

According to Lake, ''the advent of Australia's first female prime minister … was clearly a shock to the political system and the national psyche''. But was it? In June 2010, Labor parliamentarians replaced Rudd with Gillard because they did not like the way he ran the government and feared that Tony Abbott would lead the Coalition to victory.

In the event, Gillard was moderately successful. She narrowly won a majority of the two-party preferred vote and managed to establish a minority government with the support of independents Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor, along with Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Labor did relatively well after the 2010 election and Gillard earned kudos as Australia's first female prime minister. Newspoll's net satisfaction rating indicates her support went into free fall around February 2011, when she broke her promise not to introduce a carbon tax.

Since then, Gillard's satisfaction rating has surged and declined but has never approached the positive rating held immediately before and after the 2010 election.

If Lake's theory is correct – and Gillard's prime ministership ''called up the misogyny that lays deep in Australian culture, brought to the surface by the terrifying sight of women in power'' – then Labor would not have done as well as it did in late 2010 and early 2011.

The misogyny/patriarchy interpretation of contemporary Australia appears to be fashionable within academe.

Last October Professor Susan Sheridan, of Flinders University, wrote in The Australian Financial Review that Abbott ''inhabits a culture with a long tradition of hatred and fear of women – and he reflects that culture''.

In September last year a couple of dozen academics at the Melbourne University law school – headed by Professor Ann O'Connell – wrote an open letter to all federal MPs. They expressed their ''concern over the lack of respect being shown for the role of Prime Minister of Australia and the vilification of the Hon Julia Gillard MP (an alumna of this law school) personally in that role''.

O'Connell and her colleagues, some of whom were male, linked the vilification to ''the example set by some members of Parliament and by shock jocks and certain cartoonists''. But no one was named.

It is true that, on the web and elsewhere, there have been some sexist attacks on Gillard – principally from some members of what I have termed the lunar right. But it is also true that John Howard, when prime minister, was abused by sections of the radical left – who were wont to link him with Nazism. Similar barbs have been directed at Abbott.

Successful democratic politicians have long recognised that such verbal anger goes with the job. The likes of Howard and Bob Hawke did not complain about sledging. Nor did Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Helen Clark in New Zealand or Anna Bligh in Queensland. Nor does Angela Merkel in Germany today.

Gillard is not the first leader in recent memory who has experienced a loss of support in the electorate when, judged by international standards, the economy is in good shape. The economy was doing just fine when Paul Keating and Howard experienced big defeats in 1996 and 2007.

Lake believes ''most women and fair-minded men support [Gillard] in her program of change and her vision of a fairer society''. If this is the case, Labor will win easily in September. If the Gillard government falls, the reason will be found in policy and administration – not gender.