This is embarrassing to write as I share the gender and the age demographic of many who are problematic in our society. What is it with some men? What don’t we ‘get’? Don’t we realise we can’t and shouldn’t treat women the way some of us do?
I am an older, white, Australian male, and I am increasingly dismayed at the attitudes and behaviour of some of us towards women. There seems to be an assumption that women are men’s playthings and they must be permanently sexually available to us. Some of the old archetypes for women were – she could be a virgin, a mother or a whore. These identities were devised by men.
When my adult daughter was living at home with us, she refused to watch the commercial news at 6:00 pm. Her comment was – “another day, and another angry man hijacks another car”. She was right. Road rage and carjackings typically head the news. And nearly all of it is perpetrated by men.
I remember my sisters at a private girls’ school reporting that they had to attend boys’ football matches, but that was never reciprocated. None of us boys attended or were expected to attend the girls’ netball matches. This was male privilege on display. The assumption here was that the young males were to be accorded affirmation but not the young women. This indicates a collective socialisation where a whole society colludes in the myth of male superiority and inequality. Indeed, I was part of it and never questioned it at the time.
What is it with some of us men? Many of us (male and female) can cite examples of men taking up lots of space on public transport, talking aggressively, behaving inappropriately, and making derogatory comments about women. Research has also shown that one in three women have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, and that one woman a week is murdered – typically by their ex-partner. During 2020 with the spread of COVID-19 and associated job losses and lockdowns, instances of domestic violence escalated alarmingly in all jurisdictions.
Chanel Contos started a petition that has gone viral with 30 000 signatures and 5 000 testimonials from young women
who have been sexually assaulted by boys from private boys’ schools in Sydney over the last decade or more. Contos laments a “rape culture” among young men. Stories frequently featured interactions at parties with male students taking advantage of female students while drunk. Any wonder there is a call for widespread re-education about consent and that “no” really means “no”.
A woman can’t walk on her own at night in Australia without fearing she will be attacked, raped and possibly murdered. She is fearful of taking a taxi or an Uber.
And in Canberra – ‘big swinging dicks’. Really? This was apparently well-known in Parliament House among certain male politicians. If such a statement were proclaimed as a badge of honour in the public sector, or anywhere in corporate Australia, these men would have been disciplined and possibly dismissed. Labor is not immune from allegations of inappropriate behaviour. Any wonder that the reputation of politicians is lower than that of used car salesmen. As one placard at March4Justice quipped, “Big Swinging Dictatorship”. Male sexual privilege combined with power is a dangerous mix. It must be eradicated from Parliament, the people’s house.
In the UK, 33-year-old, Sarah Everard was recently kidnapped and killed by a police officer. Her killing has sparked national reckoning over violence against women, with an event turning into a rally against gender violence. The Duchess of Cambridge attended in support. The police were apparently heavy-handed in dealing with the protesters over Sarah’s tragic death.
The issues are many and complex, but this is no excuse for not finding lasting, sustainable solutions. For years, generations in fact, women have suffered at the hands of male-dominated institutions and male privilege. I say that with no resentment or bitterness, but sadness that as a society and as a gender, we haven’t learnt much from all these atrocities, or shown more respect towards women.
The solutions are both attitudinal and structural. Attitudinal refers to the antecedents of behaviour – the values and dispositions that privilege males above females. Here, the assumption has been that resources should be allocated to men, that men are the leaders, and that “boys will be boys”.
One doesn’t need to undertake feminist studies to realise that women are woefully underrepresented in positions of authority and that their views and concerns are rarely or poorly addressed.
Yes, the solution is also cultural. “Culture” is often used as an excuse for not doing anything because it is all too hard. Janine Hendry, the organiser of the March4Justice, refused to meet with the Prime Minister ‘behind closed doors’. She perhaps recognised in this token and secret response that the PM’s not addressing the matter seriously and in public is typical of how men in power regard ‘women’s issues’. Let’s hope the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, will help to address the cultural problems at Parliament House.
Women rightly have had enough
#MeToo highlighted endemic sexism and sexual abuse in the arts and entertainment industry, a protest movement that drew widespread support and recognition. Worldwide protests took up the same refrain.
Recent experience in the UK for Sarah Everard and the mass turnouts for March4Justice across Australia – occurring during COVID-19 days –highlight the same sad fact that gendered violence and sexism is ubiquitous and must end. Now.
Brittany Higgins’ recent allegation of rape in the Defence Minister’s office in Parliament House has brought the issue of sexual abuse to the nation’s attention, and allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter remain unresolved and un-tested because the PM refuses to conduct an independent inquiry. The impression seems to be that he’s [a male] in a senior role in Government and ‘the rule of law’ is being used as a convenient excuse not to pursue the woman’s rape allegations.
Grace Tame was voted as ‘Australian of the Year’ for 2021 for her courageous efforts as a survivor to change the law to ensure that victims of sexual abuse can legally claim their voices. While it was right that she was honoured, it is still a sad indictment that the law had failed to allow her a voice as a victim of sexual abuse.
Let’s make sure we hear women’s voices once and for all and do something about it. Let’s examine our assumptions, challenge our attitudes, confront our inappropriate behaviour, and educate young men to be more respectful, and that “no means no”.