Tame’s critics came from the right, and they attacked their target’s alleged rudeness rather than dealing with the legitimacy of her approach.
Some of the commentary about Grace Tame’s reaction upon meeting the Prime Minister at The Lodge has been disappointing but unsurprising.
Parnell Palme McGuinness in The Sydney Morning Herald said it looked like “childish disobedience” and suggested Tame had “squandered her time on political sniping”: her term as Australian of the Year had begun “with a roar but ended with a whine”. Queensland senator James McGrath called her comments “political, partisan and childish,” and implied she should hand back her award.
Tame’s behaviour was none of the things that were alleged. She was not partisan. She did not espouse the policy of a party which opposes Scott Morrison’s. She has been forthright in stating her view that the Prime Minister has failed to take the issue of sexual violence as seriously as he should have. Presented last year with an opportunity to face a crowd of female protesters in Canberra, he squibbed: he would meet a delegation in the safe territory of his office, but he would not front the crowd itself. It looked as though he feared being booed. There was no bravery in his stance.
What did McGuinness and McGrath expect from Tame? Her cold anger came through as consistency. Had she been warmly effusive towards the Prime Minister she’d have risked being called a hypocrite. And it is drawing a long bow to suggest that Mr and Mrs Morrison were “trying to make the best of welcoming a rude young woman into their home,” as McGuinness did: they were hosting an official function in the dwelling they occupy as an official residence.
These people are attacking somebody for daring to protest in an effective way not of their liking. Refusing a handshake, which Tame did not, has long been a means of demonstrating one’s negative opinion of the position of somebody who offers his or her hand. It happened more than once to the Prime Minister when he was touring the fire-affected areas during the Black Summer of 2019-20.
Since when was it compulsory to smile at or feel warmth towards a politician whose attitudes or policies on a matter close to your heart (and which remind you of your pain) you profoundly disdain? Tame was coldly civil. Her defiance, expressed in a contemporary way, landed. She made her point.
In advocating a position in pursuit of meaningful change it’s important to be noticed. Tame has been noticed and her critics, stridently partisan, have helped her. By playing the person they sought to give no oxygen to her cause – but they probably unwittingly did the opposite.
Tame’s critics came from the right, and they attacked their target’s alleged rudeness rather than dealing with the legitimacy of her approach which is very much of the modern era. Some seem not to like young, articulate women tilting at middle-aged conservative verities. What has happened to Tame has happened also, and still happens, to another young female warrior for a contemporary cause which often bothers the right ─ Greta Thunberg.