Sarah Hanson-Young takes a stand
The Greens senator is not just playing politics
Joining in the widespread condemnation of David Leyonhjelm’s shameful attack on Sarah Hanson-Young should only be part of the response. Almost everyone, including the prime minister today [$], has called on Leyonhjelm to apologise, and so he should. Much more important is to thank Hanson-Young for taking such a strong stand. It does not come naturally to congratulate politicians. On a jaundiced view, this has been another episode in our broken, polarised politics – his idiocy and doubling-down, her anger and possible lawsuit – from which both draw profile and votes, and live on to fight another day. On a more optimistic view, Hanson-Young is part of something much bigger than we might’ve thought possible before #MeToo erupted less than a year ago: actual, real, lasting, broad, positive change that promises an end to sexual abuse and harassment of women in our society.
The background is well known. In a debate on relaxing restrictions on pepper spray and tasers to help women defend themselves against sexual violence, Hanson-Young interjected “men should stop raping women”, to which Leyonhjelm replied she should “stop shagging men”.After she called him out in the Senate, Leyonhjelm went on a Sky News panel on Sunday with Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron and doubled-down, saying she was “well known for liking men”, and even falsely naming someone she was supposed to have slept with.
Leyonhjelm refused to apologise all day yesterday, digging himself ever-deeper into a hole. Hanson-Young was on fire on ABC’s 7.30 last night, threatening to sue, and again this morning in a compelling interview with ABC’s RN Breakfast, which noted it was six years since Julia Gillard’s groundbreaking anti-misogyny speech in parliament. Apologising up-front for the language, Hanson-Young told host Hamish Macdonald that Leyonhjelm was slut-shaming, and that he was unfit to be a member of parliament and must resign. In both interviews Hanson-Young made the point that the sexist and bullying attacks had been going on for years and “I’m over it … I’m not putting up with it anymore.” Hanson-Young said she was encouraged by the support she had had, including from overseas, but Macdonald remarked afterwards that plenty of listener text messages sent into the station were hostile.
Hanson-Young told Virginia Trioli last night that she had a responsibility to stand up: “I am doing this because I am a woman in a relatively privileged position. I am able to stand up for myself. I am able to not remain silent and I am doing this because the woman on the factory floor, or the woman who works at the bakery or the flight attendant who has things like this held at her, comments made, harassment in the workplace, many of those women can’t stand up. Many of those women are made to feel intimidated and silenced, and it is time that this ended. And if we can’t clean it up in our nation’s parliament, well, where can we do it?”
Hanson-Young sure is making her stand count. The volume of commentary today is overwhelming. John Birmingham zooms in on the culpability of “Foxified” Sky News: “Who would have thought that if you unleashed three jabbering trolls with throbbing persecution complexes inside a television studio and let them run wild without adult supervision, they might end up breaking things and hurting people? Especially if breaking things and hurting people is your business model.” Sky News apologised to Hanson-Young, but compounded its initial error by suspending a junior female producer who added a strapline quoting Leyonhjelm’s sexist comments on Sunday’s show. In The Guardian, Gay Alcorn points up Sky’s hypocrisy, notes that Leyonhjelm was elected accidentally as a Liberal Democrat through a combination of mistaken identity and the donkey vote, and looks back over his record, including inviting Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the federal parliament. “Australia has a blokey culture,” Alcorn writes, “and there is considerable backlash to revelations of the ubiquity of sexual harassment, whether low level or more serious. It’s a ‘yes, but’ response. Yes, but it’s not that bad. Yes, but women are taking it too far. Yes, but women have no sense of humour.”
Hanson-Young should be applauded, pure and simple. As former independent MP Tony Windsor, not known for his political correctness, tweeted: “Take this bloke to the cleaners @sarahinthesen8, you have an opportunity to smack this attitude down on behalf of many women. You have a great deal of support.”
since this morning
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Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
Joining in the widespread condemnation of David Leyonhjelm’s shameful attack on Sarah Hanson-Young should only be part of the response. Almost everyone, including the prime minister today [$], has called on Leyonhjelm to apologise, and so he should. Much more important is to thank Hanson-Young for taking such a strong stand. It does not come naturally to congratulate politicians. On a jaundiced view, this has been another episode in our broken, polarised politics – his idiocy and doubling-down, her anger and possible lawsuit – from which both draw profile and votes, and live on to fight another day. On a more optimistic view, Hanson-Young is part of something much bigger than we might’ve thought...