The Politics    Friday, March 26, 2021

Man vs women

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison on A Current Affair last night. Image via A Current Affair

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on A Current Affair last night. Image via A Current Affair

Scott Morrison is making an enemy of women

This week, several attempts were made to define whose problem, exactly, the present crisis of abuse and harassment is. “I think this is a man’s problem,” well-meaning Liberal MP Russell Broadbent told the ABC – an opinion echoed by a slew of commentators. “It’s not a women’s problem,” wrote one. The problem, added another, “isn’t so much about women, but how men in the party treat them”. This morning, the prime minister, responding to Liberal MP Andrew Laming’s online harassment of women, tried to make it social media’s problem ­– despite the fact that it’s members of his government, not digital platforms, that have been accused of raping, harassing and slut-shaming women. In Wednesday’s 2GB interview, Scott Morrison and Ray Hadley tried to move this issue away from women altogether – while excusing “blokes” for not always “getting it right”, of course. Hadley, referring to the report of male staffers performing lewd acts in Parliament House, thought the “narrative was lost” when it became about attacks on women again. “I don’t want to make this a men versus women, women versus men thing,” the PM said. “There are great women, and there are great men, and they want to do the right thing. And they don’t want to make this a whole identity issue.” It was a line he repeated in last night’s far less chummy interview with Nine’s Tracy Grimshaw. “I don’t think this should be an issue that sets men against women,” he said. “It’s not about men versus women.” 

Morrison is keen not to make this a battle of the sexes, but time and time again in this saga, that is what it has felt like. After all, what is a “he said, she said” matter other than one that sees man pitted against woman? Hickey versus Abetz. “Christian” versus Kate. Laming versus the women he harassed. Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe versus the government senator and MP who regularly harass her. Higgins versus the men who won’t give a straight answer. Staffer masturbating over a female MP’s desk versus that female MP (it was never about the desk). The prime minister would have us believe this issue – of men assaulting and harassing women – is not about identity. But to suddenly pretend this isn’t about men and women ignores the fact that this is about men hurting women

As he said in his infamous 2019 International Women’s Day remarks – surely a forewarning as to how he would handle this reckoning – “We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.” The PM seemed to continue that idea that things should change for women without anything really changing for men in his interview with Grimshaw. “You don’t have to tear things down to build things up,” he snapped at one point, clearly unwilling to accept that cultural change might involve tearing down any of the existing unequal power structures.

Repeatedly, Morrison has professed that he wants things to get better for women, without things getting any worse for men. He wants women to rise, but not at the expense of men. He thinks we should believe women, but not at the expense of disbelieving men. The quota conversation, which so terrifies Liberal men, comes down to the same issue: they want more women in parliament, but not at the expense of disadvantaging men. But justice for women will sometimes mean justice against men. That is what Morrison – with his IWD comments, his refusal to believe women who make allegations against members of his government, his unwillingness to “tear things down” – fails to grasp. Women rising, women being listened to, women having more seats in parliament, will often come at the expense of men.

This is not a war women started, nor is it one they want to be in, but it is unfortunately very much about men versus women – these are the terms men have set. But it doesn’t have to be a war on #allmen. Plenty of men and non-binary people attended the March 4 Justice, and many have spoken out forcefully about this issue. It is simply women versus men who abuse or enable that abuse, and it’s easy enough to pick a side. On Tuesday, the prime minister asked women to stand with him, but they’re asking him to stand with them.

Regardless of the semantics of whose “problem” they are, rape and harassment are Scott Morrison’s problem now as PM – and likely a major issue for his leadership. Morrison is not one of the abusers or the harassers, the ones women are trying to call out here. But with each statement, each cheap shot, each choice to side with the accused over the accuser, he is further making an enemy of women around the country. This issue is in many ways about men versus women, but the prime minister should be seriously concerned about how much it’s become this man versus women.

“I think feminism comes in waves, and I can really feel another major wave is gathering – it’s gathering from activism in our own country and around the world.”

Former prime minister Julia Gillard says women must turn their anger into action, in an interview with Abbey Hansen, the woman who turned Gillard’s misogyny speech into a viral video on TikTok.

“I’m deeply troubled by the way that social media is corroding respect and dignity in how we all deal with each other.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison tries to shift the focus away from men’s behaviour and onto social media, following reports Liberal backbencher Andrew Laming digitally harassed two women in his electorate. Morrison has not called for Laming’s removal, noting that he has apologised.

Scott Morrison says he’s listening. Should we believe him?
Scott Morrison told the women of Australia this week he was listening to their concerns. But since then the Liberal Party has been rocked by more and more allegations of bad behaviour and sexism.

The number of years it will take (on the current trajectory) to close the gender pay gap in Australia, according to a new report on workplace equality.

“The Morrison government is considering radical reforms to the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme including denying funding to Australians with acquired brain injuries and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as well as reducing avenues of appeal for participants as part of secret plans to save costs.”

A leaked draft of proposed NDIS changes aims to deny funding to many, while concentrating more power in the hands of the minister and diluting the influence of state and territory governments.

The list

“What has Morrison done, exactly, to oblige the benefit of our doubt? What in the prime minister’s past behaviour suggests his belief in accountability? What suggests that it would be wise or valorous to assume his good faith? Or administrative competency? Or distaste for sordid tactics?”

“With its inexplicable duplications and diversions, the plot nods to Stephen King, with the subsequent instalments threading together as a horror-strewn countdown. The format makes clear which members of the extensive cast have a future in voice acting (Rosario Dawson) and which don’t (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the need for the viewer to remain attentive does accentuate any slip in the standard of writing, which folds in mordant humour and life-shifting realisations. Calls falls short of greatness, but it emphasises that the next step in the streaming wars just might be based on stretching the boundaries of what a series can be.”

“We are now two years on from the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, a terrorist attack perpetrated by an Australian man. And once again the responsibility has fallen on members of the community who were targeted to remind Australia that this horrific incident occurred and is still to be reckoned with. The erasure of the Christchurch attack from the political and media landscape in Australia has been staggering. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise though, given how our leaders chose to respond in the immediate aftermath.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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