In the past week or so, since 2016 began, I feel like I’ve done nothing but shake my head. Do you know what I mean? Politics, sports, news stories and the reactions to them- everything has me wondering what the bloody hell Australia is coming to- and I say that well aware that I sound like a called to a talk-back radio show. Is it just me, or has Australia in 2016 got the “Feminist Outrage Machine” cranking already?
Feminist Outrage In Politics:
MP Jamie Briggs was given his marching orders after the investigation of an an incident reported by a female staff member. He is alleged to have stood overly close to her, kissed her and made remarks over her physical attributes- none of which are appropriate actions towards junior work colleagues. That the investigation into this matter same him relieved of duty means it was a serious abuse of power. Briggs also confirmed that he circulated a photograph of the woman who made the complaint against him, which was then leaked to the press. When journalist Samantha Maiden wrote about this in the scathing tones it deserved, things became somewhat more ridiculous with the involvement of MP Petter Dutton, who wrote a text to Briggs, calling Maiden a “Mad fucking witch”. This casually sexist remark is pretty offensive, when you consider the behaviour it was used to defend. However, we’d never have known about it if Dutton could manage a simple task like sending a text message. The reason we know about it is because he sent it to Samantha Maiden herself- the “mad fucking witch” he was talking about.
Feminist Outrage In Sport:
Cricketer Chris Gayle decided that a side-line interview was the best place to practice his sleazy pick-up techniques on reporter Mel McLaughlin, whose discomfort was obvious as he asked her out for a drink, made comments about her eyes and called her “baby”. He was fined by his club for his troubles but the response overall has been predictable, with men online complaining that women can’t take a joke and complaining that a man can’t even ask a woman out anymore (because that right is more important than her right to a safe, professional workplace). There have also been more than a few woman complaining that McLaughlin didn’t use the opportunity to put Gayle firmly in his place with a blistering retort or saying that women just need to stand up to men like this to find empowerment, like Rachel Corbett, who wrote a column on it (and incidentally, inspired the title of this post!). The thing is, as far as jokes go- it’s not funny to sleaze on to a woman who is simply doing her job. And no, you can’t just ask a woman out… on television, while she is being paid to interview you. Why? because it’s fucking inappropriate, disrespectful and unprofessional, that’s why. As for those lamenting the lost opportunity to cut him down to size, ignoring for a moment that his behaviour is not your responsibility, I challenge you to find a way to effectively do that and not place your job in jeopardy with zero time to pre-plan. And even if you did manage that, what lesson would you really be teaching him? Would you be teaching him not to sleaze onto women in work situations, or would you be teaching him to refine his target selection process? Women like Rachel Corbett might feel empowered by delivering a stinging comeback to men who have sexually harassed and/or groped them, and that is fine for them. Other people have learned that fighting back can be dangerous. As a teen, I slapped the hands of a much bigger, stronger boy that kept grabbing me. I was hit in the face for my trouble. Another time I gave a snappy comeback to a guy making disgustingly inappropriate suggestions only to discover that he was armed. Soon after the Chris Gayle incident, a Channel 7 sports reporter decided to throw his arms around a female presenter on air soon after. She asked him to remain professional and pushed him away, but she should not have had to do so. Speaking up about sexism is not whining. It’s not complaining for the sake of it. It’s not sympathy seeking. It’s an effort to define and illustrate what sexist behaviour is and why it’s so damaging.
Feminist Outrage In The News:
I wrote about a former politician’s proposition involving forcing female welfare payment recipients to have contraceptive implants last week. Because it was, frankly, a horrifying idea. The idea that women need a certain level of income before they are allowed to control their own bodies is pretty sick. Last night, I read about the Victorian Court of appeals reducing the sentence of a man for disgusting crimes against his former partner. She was 12 weeks pregnant when she tried to leave him. For doing so, he threatened her with a sword and tried to drag her out of a car. When that failed, he doused her in petrol and set her alight. She suffered life-threatening burns to 20% of her body, had to terminate her pregnancy and spent more than a week in intensive care. Part of the reason his sentence was reduced was because the court felt the sentencing judge didn’t take into account the fact that the perpetrator got some burns while trying to put the burning victim out. What a top bloke.
That leads me to the case in Port Lincoln, where it appears that a Damien Little killed his 2 sons and himself, yet we are reminded that he was actually a good bloke and a victim, according to media headlines. I can understand that people want to reframe such horror as an aberration in the life of a person they otherwise regarded well. I can understand those close to him, especially, not wanting to face the horror of what he did or looking for something else to blame. Mental illness, perhaps, as some reports say he suffered depression. But the fact remains; he killed his children and himself. Whatever his reasons were for doing this, they were not good enough reasons. If he had killed 2 children that weren’t his own, would we be as ready and willing to explain away his actions? We can feel compassion for him while still condemning his actions. We should look at things like mental illness as factors, most certainly, but not free passes.
And finally, Feminist Outrage In The Reactions:
Also in the news, the case of a 14 year old boy in a Moonee Beach shopping centre raping a 7 year old girl in the toilets as her mum waited outside. It was with mounting horror that I read comments on news articles like the following:
In response, I posted a short, simple comment on Facebook:
The fact that so many people liked and shared this post was brief respite from all the comments on various articles questioning the actions of the 7 year old victim or her undoubtedly distraught family. There were also many comments calling out the victim-blaming that was going on and this proves that speaking out about these issues is working. Slowly and surely, people are getting it. More and more, I think. But we aren’t there yet. So when someone calls out sexist micro-aggressions, behaviours or otherwise poor treatment of women based on gender, have a think about it before rolling your eyes or using words like “whinging” and “whining”.
If there is some outrage, even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, ask yourself why before dismissing it. Because (and this is food for thought) the toxic culture that asks what a 7 year old girl did to get herself raped is the same culture that is reinforced by women being disrespected, objectified, sexually harassed and targeted for speaking out.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.