The war on women

May 2, 2024
Equal Gender Balance And Parity Man Woman

AUKUS and associated propaganda might make men feel safe but will do nothing for women. A recent Australian Institute of Criminology report showed an increase in the numbers of women being killed by partners, current or former.

See: AIC Reports Statistical Report 46 Hanah Miles and Samantha Bricknell Homicide in Australia 2022-23.

The researchers interpreted their findings cautiously and scientifically and included many other significant statistics. Nevertheless the report shows that attempts to overcome the problem have been unsuccessful.

As with efforts to close the gaps which mark Indigenous disadvantage, campaigns to eliminate violence against women continue to fail. We agree that it is a matter of justice and we also know that the social and economic costs of this catastrophe are heavy. Why then have we not been able to reduce the incidence of domestic violence?

Once, Australian budgets were subjected to a gender audit. The rationale was that every budget detail has the potential to affect men and women differently. By scrutinising policies and spending proposals, the audit reminded Treasurers that the impacts of their expenditure were seldom gender neutral. Now suddenly, the Australian Government has discovered that there are cultural biases behind the rate of domestic violence against women.

Several areas of policy and political practice ensure that the cultural underpinnings of violence against women continue. These include:

  1. Australia becoming a garrison state,
  2. expenditure on international defence rather than domestic defence,
  3. the swagger of male politicians in parliament,
  4. the lack of power allowed women in political and business spheres,
  5. undervaluing of women’s importance in vital roles such as child-raising, nursing and teaching,
  6. media glorification of masculinist values in elite sport and
  7. harassment of women on social media.

Australia is becoming an armed outpost of US foreign policy. Inevitably cultural values come with the defence package. Secrecy, legalism and authoritarianism inhibit female equality. When billions of dollars are dedicated to war preparations, expenditure on policies to address domestic violence is impoverished. The focus on terrorism and the creation of a menace from China in the Pacific increase fear and suggest that solutions to potential conflicts occur only in terms of strength, of ‘manning up’.

Despite talk about getting more women into parliament and front bench roles, the masculine paradigm of parliament has changed little in the last few decades. Cross chamber aggression and disparagement of opponents remains the media focus. Neither the operation of the proportionally representative Senate nor a growing cross bench influence in the House has enabled development of a new politics.

Women are under-represented in politics and business. In politics, women have barely begun to arrive in parliaments in the so-called critical numbers to achieve change. Political roles have long been defined by males. Unless women can escape the pressures of party membership and caucus across chambers, change is unlikely. Parties must loosen their grip.

Women are assets in businesses of all sizes. They are held back by prejudice and by old boys’ networks. Until they are seen routinely in positions of responsibility, it is difficult for them to escape the charge of tokenism. In our capitalist society, wealth is respected too much, but until women have economic power, then they will be constrained by dependence and the subservience this produces.

Women’s strong representation in child-raising can lead to them being taken for granted. This role involves engaging in what many people consider grubby work. It can involve sleepless nights and challenges to self-esteem and wellness. Many men have taken on their rightful share of child-raising, but change is slow in this area. In dealing with domestic conflicts, the current assumption is that women who complain must leave to find shelter. The home is not a safe haven.

Women’s strong presence in teaching and nursing means that these careers are under constant pressure, especially over the value society – politicians really – place on them reflected in low pay, increasing responsibilities and constant industrial disputes.

The aspects of elite sport most valued by media are shown in ‘highlights’ from weekend football matches, especially AFL and NRL. Players placed on report for assaulting opponents and celebrating rudely after scoring are the pictures television emphasises. The effect on young male fans is to reinforce images they have of what it means to be a real man. Rates of alcohol consumption and domestic violence seem to peak during nights of football finals and interstate matches.

It has been informative to watch developments in the AFLW. Initially, a different spirit prevailed in these matches. Celebrations were more restrained, the illegal push in the back was rare and some players were seen to help opponents to their feet rather than to lean on them. Whether it is pressure from coaches experienced in the male game or from sponsors, the women’s game is coming to resemble the male game. Something similar happens in the world of politics, perhaps.

A revolution is needed. Unfortunately, the posturing of male political leadership across federal and state systems suggests that change is unlikely to be led by governments. To begin, we must look at those aspects of the seven problem areas listed above over which governments might be expected to exercise control. As they run scared of mainstream media and cannot understand social media, do not expect changes in those areas.

A gender audit is urgently needed for policies on defence, including Aukus. The more militarised society becomes, the harder it is for the values of women to be understood and valued. This is an area where the executive government is heading in the wrong direction. Militarisation must be stopped and then reversed or it will undermine meaningful change in the area of domestic violence.

We must chip away at the resilient male hegemony. We should not shift the responsibility onto women for achieving changes feared and resisted by men.

Perhaps mature males appreciate better the changes needed. Expect the usual excuses along the lines that older males do not understand the pressures younger males experience. Young males should start to understand that, as the AIC report shows, they are themselves the most likely victims of violence, so this is not an exclusively female problem. It is a huge, ingrained social problem. Change requires individual action and government integrity. Finding the latter might be too much to expect.

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