I wasn’t going to respond to Miranda Devine. So many people have done so more eloquently than me and the effect has simply been to give her more oxygen in the form of her reply this morning in the Daily Telegraph. I was going to ignore suggestions that only ‘suitable’ women should have children, that being poor somehow causes a person to be violent, (I’m not sure who should be most insulted by that – those that are poor or those that are the victims of violence), and that violent men are somehow ‘feckless’ and unable to control themselves. Or more importantly, that violence against women isn’t a gendered issue.
There are plenty of articles challenging the language Miss Devine used and the statistics she selected. When I read these sorts of articles, I despair at the state of our country and hold fast to my favourite Annabel Crabb quote:
“…a woman gets killed by her male partner every single week, and somehow that doesn’t qualify as a tools-down national crisis even though if a man got killed by a shark every week we’d probably arrange to have the ocean drained.”
But what finally made me put pen to paper is something far more insidious and it was inspired by Barnaby Joyce. Yes, you read that correctly.
On ABC’s Q&A on Monday evening, Mr Joyce used a phrase that I’ve been waiting to hear. Something we don’t talk about, something we can’t change until it is loudly acknowledged. He said that violence against women is cultural.
It’s not a particularly nice thing to hear about your country’s culture, but there it is. We may consider our cultural identity to be more of a beer drinking, sport loving larrikin but there is an element of gender bias that is deeply entrenched. Barnaby stumbled a little over the reasoning, (which may be an article for another day), but his thesis was clear. If we are to make change, we will need to make change to the fabric of our culture. Juxtapose a right wing National MP pleading for greater respect towards women with Miranda’s article and you may get a sense of where I’m headed.
Though the tragedy of almost two women per week being murdered this year is reason enough to make significant cultural shifts, there is even more at stake. The field may be getting closer to level, but its still tilted and a future generation of women is watching as we explain away the causes of gender bias. And though there have been significant improvements made in the last few decades I fear we are getting more and more complacent, because ‘things could be worse.’
The thing is, gender bias is pervasive and women and men with archaic attitudes like Miss Devine’s, work against true gender equality. My daughter, a clean state yet to be infiltrated by preconceived notion and prejudice, watches as our sports women are ignored and our sports men are exalted. She listens when people use the phrase ‘throws like a girl’ and as she grows older she will become aware of issues such as pay gaps and woefully inadequate sentences for violence against women. While it is my greatest hope that the world will be a level playing field for her and for my son, the damage is already being done because we are perpetuating cultural norms that shape their future world views.
I want them to have great role models. And not just a sprinkle of amazingly open minded mavericks in a sea of status quo thinking. I would like the majority of spokespeople my daughter sees around her and in the media to proactively purport the notion that equality is a national priority. I would like to see advertising with women as the subject matter altered. I would like advertisers to treat their female audience as more intelligent and more than a two dimensional cardboard cut out ‘busy mum’ or ‘working mum’.
I would love her to witness a truly progressive shift in thinking towards such topics as paid parental leave, which could be a game changer for equality. A scheme that rewards women – parents in fact – for endeavouring to further their education and contribute to their chosen workforce, that incentivises re-entry into the workforce and doesn’t discriminate between male or female parents has the opportunity to wield real change to the benefit of everyone in our society.
I would love her to see women’s sport prioritised the ways men’s is. I would like her to know that when sports men misbehave, (because let’s be honest, it is overwhelmingly male athletes that misbehave), and in particular if they are openly or criminally disrespectful of women there are consequences. That our society and in fact our culture is intolerant of violence perpetrated by men towards women. Rugby League in particular has a very poor track record in this area and I would like to see that attacked with more than just a round where the players wear pink.
I would like for her to know that if any man were ever to make her a victim of physical or sexual violence that everyone within our culture would be outraged. That the criminal would be punished harshly and never allowed to repeat his repugnant actions on another woman again. I want her to know that such crimes as rape and violence against women are just as unacceptable as one punch crimes and that legislators are brave enough to prevent them as they have been with one punch legislation. I want her to grow up in a culture where rape is not horrendously under reported and where more than a pitiful 10% of sex crimes against women result in conviction.
I want for my children to grow up in a culture that says, we’re getting there but almost isn’t good enough when we are protecting the interests of more than half of our population. Because we value the individual and not just the gender. I want the messages they get every day from our media, our sports people, our commentators and our journalists to cohesively reflect that.
And most of all, I want her to grow up in a world where we are not likely to read the works of people like Miranda Devine, but rather favour the intelligent wit of the likes of Annabel Crabb.
On this one, Miss Devine, Mr Joyce and Ms Crabb are right. Violence against women isn’t just a gendered issue, it’s a culturally gendered issue and I fear you have missed the point entirely.