The first week of 2016 has been fucking hideous for women.
And when I say hideous, in actual fact it is probably wasn’t that dissimilar to many weeks in 2015, or the years before that.
However, the particular combination of members of parliament treating women with absolute contempt (while claiming to care about ending the epidemic of violence against women), a popular news program reigniting a particularly repugnant conversation about eugenics that vilifies ‘women on welfare’, domestic violence crisis calls going through the roof, and a father murdering his two children before killing himself, all in the first week of a new year seems particularly horrific.
Let’s start with the Briggs / Dutton saga (which possibly should be renamed the Jamie Briggs, Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann, Ewan Jones, a toothless PM and The fucking Australian saga.)
Jamie Briggs was the Federal Minister for cities and the built environment when he went to Hong Kong, abused his position of power as a boss and an MP, creeped on a female public servant and resigned. She reports that he kissed on the neck, told her she had ‘piercing eyes’ and put his arm around her.
Most women probably haven’t had a federal minister sleaze on them at a Hong Kong bar, but unwanted touching? Fliratious comments? ‘Jokes’ about what we’re wearing or who we’re wearing it for? That’s part of what ‘going to work’ means for many, many women.
It also means confronting a hostile boys club where men hunker down to protect some perverse sense of collective honour — hello Mathias Cormann and Ewen Jones!
No doubt Briggs was a good mate. No doubt Mathias Cormann really *does* know him as a “decent, hardworking and capable contributor to our cause.”
But you know what Senator Cormann? Your friend is now known as a man who harasses women. It’s not “decent” to treat your female fellow workers as objects. And tweeting in defence of your friend and his sexist conduct does not contribute to any worthy “cause.”
I don’t even know what to say about Ewen Jones’ bizarre tweet.
“Cream always rises?”
Is he suggesting this is a smear campaign? That Briggs will rise above the murky, deceitful, hurtful lies that women spread about the men in their lives?
Or is he making some sort of astute point that men in power look after their own and no doubt Briggs just needs to weather this particular political hiccough and lie low until he can be welcomed back?
Whatever he meant, the fact is that by sending those tweets two more Liberal MPs became complicit in Briggs’ sexism.
But I digress. Briggs then did something that is as unbelievably stupid as it is threatening and flagrantly disrespectful – he shared around a photo of the public servant who complained about his disgusting behaviour before and after she made the complaint.
There are only three possible reasons for Jamie Briggs to share a photo of the public servant who has accused him of inappropriate conduct with his fellow Liberal MPs.
1 // He is unbelievably stupid.
2 // He wanted to send a message that if you complain about your boss, if you complain about a man in a position of power, then your career is over.
3 // He does not see a female public servant as a fellow worker with a job and a career and a reputation, and so it does not even occur to him that having her face and job title plastered across The Oz will have a long lasting impact on her life and career.
I find option 3 hard to stomach. But then again, if you’re a man who is comfortable throwing around his power and cracking onto women in the workplace you clearly don’t see women as a fellow workers, do you?
It’s important to stop here and acknowledge that not only has this woman been harassed by her a man in a position of considerable power and influence, she has now effectively been publicly outed – and News Limited should take a heck of a lot of responsibility for that.
How dare a major newspaper in Australia with dwindling (but still considerable) influence publish a photo of a woman, and information that makes her plainly identifiable, on their front page.
And then how dare they sell their slimey, sexist story as some sort of salacious mystery of “drinks, texts [and] a delayed complaint.”
As a friend astutely pointed out, that teaser is *exactly* why women don’t complain, becuase it is THEIR conduct that becomes the object of scruitiny, quesitons and disbelief.
And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Minister Peter Dutton texted a female journalist who had written a rather cutting article about Briggs’ conduct, and he called her a “mad, f**king witch.”
Obviously he didn’t mean to send it to her, but that is irrelevant. What IS relevant, is that the Minister for Immigration’s response to a female journalist writing an article about his friend that he doesn’t like is to call her a highly unoriginal and incredibly sexist slur.
Before you say it, YES, I agree, this is far from the worst thing Peter Dutton has done to women. Peter Dutton locks up desperate women and their children in inhumane, torturous conditions for a living. Under his authority as Immigration Minister, we have heard reports of horrific sexual and physical abuse in the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. We have heard stories of women being denied basic sanitary items and their dignity.
So no, calling Samantha Maiden a “mad, f**king witch” is not even close to the worst thing that Peter Dutton has done to women. But he none the less said it, and became a part of this awful sexist saga.
So that’s how we started the first week of 2016, and it didn’t get any better from there.
On Monday a cricketer, who is apparently a relatively big deal, ignored female sports presenter Mel McLaughlin’s questions about the match and asked her out for a drink. He then told her “don’t blush baby”
She is a woman doing her job. And he is a man with a large public profile who belittled her and demeaned her by trying to transform her into the public object of his desire.
And then her employer, TEN Sport, reportedly live tweeted this awful moment of sexism with the hashtag #smooth.
That right there my friends is why when men cry “not all men” and accuse us of generalising, THAT is why it would be wrong to talk about these incidents of sexism as isolated aberrations.
TEN SPORT think it’s “smooth” to undermine a woman doing her job on live TV, to objective her and to try and demean her.
Un-fucking-believeable (except for the bit where it happens all the time).
Since we’re talking about television, things got even grosser on A Current Affair that night. A Current Affair ran a 10 minute segment on whether unemployed women should be forced to take contraception so they can’t have children.
TV shows, politicians, magazines, random people on the street… women constantly live with people telling them what they should and should not do to their bodies, particularly when it comes to having children; and the sexist, classist (and often racist) stereotypes that poor women and unemployed women have heaps of children that they can’t look after, is not new.
The segment was ‘inspired’ by former Labor MP Gary Jones (who has about as much relevance as former Labor MP Mark Latham) who has a deeply disturbing theory that intergenerational poverty could be ended by forcing unemployed women to be on contraception.
Notwithstanding that he obviously has no idea about the drivers of poverty or reasons for unemployment, the really distressing thing about Jones’ proposition is that it’s not that unbelievable that it could happen. Shamefully, forced sterilisation still occurs in Australia on women and girls with disabilities, and was examined by the UN as recently as last year. In not distant history, Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson writes about Indigneous women calling for an end to forced sterilisation while white women were fighting for their right to abortion.
The problem with A Current Affair’s segment, and Gary Jones’ horrific idea, is that it’s not new, and it’s not unbelievable. Women’s rights have always been precarious, we only have to look at the rollback of reproductive rights over the last year in the US to see that.
Perhaps worst of all, is that the context in which all of this was happening was thousands of women fleeing violence only to be faced with their crisis calls going unanswered, and refuges that had no bed to spare.
This Liberal Government, the same one that spat out Jamie Briggs and Peter Dutton and the rest of them, this Liberal Government called violence against women “one of the greatest shames of Australia.”
Prime Minister Turnbull called it a national disgrace.
He then locked in Tony Abbott’s funding cuts to domestic violence crisis centres and community legal centres — the same centres who can’t answer the phone calls they are getting from women who need their help. The same centres who can’t give beds to women who have fled for their lives.
The hypocrisy is repulsive. The fact that Briggs is probably going to lie low and emerge from this with a political career in tact is despicable. That Peter Dutton is even a politican is repulsive. And that Malcolm Turnbull can stand there and pretend to care about women makes me sick.
This week has not been a good one for women.
But, when I look at my start to 2016 where I went on a Tinder date with a boy who laughed at my jokes and seemed to think my opinions were interesting, who suddenly develop selective hearing for the words “no” and “not now;” or when I went jogging yesterday evening only to have a car slow down and a cyclist nearly fall of his bike he was so busy yelling at me … I’m not so sure it’s that different to any other year.
Our problem with sexism runs deep. This week, the boys club at the top was in the spotlight, but the truth is that men at every level of our society have a deeply vested interest in preserving the status quo.
So long as power and dominance are worthy objectives, men will fight to hold on to theirs over ours.
We cannot start to move towards equality until men, at every level, with every action, realise that dominance and equality are mutually exclusive.
So, men of Australia, if 2016 is going to get any better, you’re have to give up power. And that means not getting what you want.