Australian Men Have Made A Terrible Start To 2016

Stay with me for a minute, while we stroll through the unfathomable deluge of garbage Australian men have dished out to women in JUST THE FIRST SEVEN DAYS of the year.

A cabinet minister, who inappropriately harassed a public servant leaked a photo of her to the nation’s presses. A more senior cabinet minister called a journalist who reported on that story a “mad f*cking witch” (and a side point, it doesn’t make any difference that he sent the message TO HER by accident — except in so far as to highlight his own incompetence). A cricketer ignored the attempt of a national television reporter to seek commentary on his sport and made it clear to the nation that her value instead came from whether he would date her. A Current Affair proposed a discussion of eugenics for women on welfare, and domestic violence hotlines were overwhelmed with calls. Overwhelmed. Also, men killed children.

Alas, no sooner had these awful events taken place than the vast machinery of misogynist scorn rumbled into action to deny their very legitimacy.

The public servant who reported her harassment had her reputation besmirched. And “technology” was blamed for the indiscretion ahead of the man who committed it.

The reporter (and the many, many, women who echoed her experience) were told they were at fault, for not getting the joke, for taking their careers too seriously.

The communities where children were killed were told the men were good people, good fathers, good blokes, and that the children were “lost”.

And we kept calling these things “once-offs” — they aren’t.

That huge machine that operates to shred the validity of those who are not in power worked in perfect time to quash the notion that men are to blame for what has happened. And guess what: we made the world worse. We continued to fuel the fear of those who try to challenge and report abuse, that they won’t be listened to. That there will be terrible consequences if they do.

And for what? For the defence of idiot men to have the right to treat women poorly? For the defence of awful jokes? Would it truly be so bad if we had to give up sexist jokes for other, cleverer ones? Is that what we want to defend? Would we lose much if we admitted that actually, some men abuse women, and they are not good fathers. They are not good people. Could we give that up?

Perhaps we’re not doing enough to fix this system because what we need to do is to not do a bunch of things: not leap to challenge women when they dare to say they’ve been abused, or when they say that a behaviour is demeaning. Just let them talk. Not defend the right to make dumb jokes. Not cling to the need to protect the reputations of bad men who’ve done awful things. Could we let those behaviours go?

This year, Australian men will do more bad things because we haven’t collectively acknowledged the systems we’ve created and perpetuated that enable these things to occur.

It is not enough that each of these instances is “managed” with measly fines, carefully worded (and un-apologetic) apologies, and Prime Ministerial “dressing-downs” (with no actual repercussion). Those things don’t change the system that encourages men to do these things. We need to redefine the power structures that cause these things to happen — and we’re not.

We need to start by getting past the idea that each of these things are one-offs, and that the response ought to be the one-off instance. The problem is systemic — and so must be the solution. There is a connection between members of Cabinet harassing and insulting women, men of high profile demeaning the jobs of women, TV programs promoting a debate about the right of unemployed women to have children, the huge numbers of women who are violently abused by men, and the Australian men who kill.

There is a connection between these things. We have to see that, and we have to disabuse ourselves and each other of the notion that this isn’t systemic. We could start by creating more spaces for women at the top of that system. We could start by simply accepting the notion that this abuse happens.

I have been a bad feminist. I have at times been part of this awful machine. In younger years I’ve told awful jokes and laughed at even worse ones. That was a bad thing to do. I am going to try and stop. In the dire trophic cascade that is Australian sexism, this week, it’s possible we’ve collectively set a new low.

Perhaps next week we could start to fix it.