*Trigger warning: This article discusses multiple forms of trauma, including sexual violence and assault, abuse, harassment, and gaslighting, as well as the effects of trauma on mental health.
There is extraordinary power in the emotions surfacing in women around Australia right now.
The power of this moment is unprecedented. But, as a nation, we must get this right. We must hear the myriad and complex reasons as to why women are so deeply aggrieved and angry.
If those in power, who currently hold the political policy leavers, fail to act. Well, god help Australia.
This is not all about Christian Porter and Kate, nor is it about Brittany Higgins, Dhanya Mani, Chelsea Porter, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos – and the other extraordinarily gutsy women who have come forward, taken action and spoken out. Those women have all gifted critical energy and momentum to a movement that was ready to form.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, told the ABC she’s “never seen any moment like this.” Now, there is a solemn pause, at the beginning of yet another rapidly called Zoom meeting, when a woman of national note says, “a significant mass movement is developing”, and another, “finally, finally, we are collectively saying that the treatment of women in this country is unacceptable.”
This is about all of us. Every single woman in Australia. The profound failure of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and every minister in his cabinet to understand that point is, frankly, breathtaking. Women’s emerging rage is so intense that the disappointment felt about senior women in government abandoning them is disorientating. The deafening silence from our Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and others who have the privilege of voice, but not it would seem compassion or soul, will not be forgotten. I doubt it will be forgiven.
I am not sure I can read any more of the heartbreaking testimonials pouring out from women at this heightened time. But they just keep coming, in texts, online posts, phone calls and even official emails from the boss addressed to “Dear Colleagues”.
That one, dated 5 March, went like this …“The news coming out of federal parliament in recent weeks has been both distressing and confronting. The mistreatment of women generally, the failure to properly and appropriately respond … In 1989 I was raped … deep sadness and anger … it has felt overwhelming.” And on it goes.
That was from a professor of law. An eminent dean. Fearless about sharing her vulnerability, she is one of the most enlightened and effective leaders I’ve ever met.
She is also one of the thousands of women and girls pouring out their stories of sexual violence, abuse, harassment, gaslighting, shame, guilt and despair.
But not all women can muster those words. Or that courage. Which is why a collective march is so important. Women need to know they are not alone in their pain or their anger. Not all women are victims and survivors of violence, sexual assault, rape or physical harassment. But every one of us are vulnerable to it. Every single day.
Women’s anger has deep and ancient roots.
Women’s anger has deep and ancient roots. We tap into those roots the moment we are born female and learn we are but the support act for men’s lives. We internalise our secondary status, our lesser value, and do our best to make good with what we’ve got. What we’re given. We learn to be grateful.
And when we dodge the abuse directed at another woman, we think of ourselves as “lucky”. Sometimes we are forced to rely heavily, or wait patiently, on the men around us to permit entry to the world of power and influence.
Mostly we just get on with our lives, and try to fortify against the everyday slights of disrespect and demeaning treatment. But resentment builds.
Once you start to unpack the systematic, deliberate and sustained disempowerment of women and girls, peel away at the misogyny beneath it, once you start to see it in stark contrast to the privilege of being male, well, you can’t look away. Is it really any wonder women are angry?
This is a crystalising moment for Australian women.
Thankfully, there is positive power in that anger. As American writer Soraya Chemaly puts it, “Anger, when properly understood, is an outstanding clarifying emotion.”
This is a crystalising moment for Australian women.
Exhausted from years of waiting, lobbying, and campaigning, women are tired of pleading for proper resourcing and education around the prevention of violence.
We are sick of competing for hand-outs. We are insulted by every single treasurer insisting there is not enough money. That is a lie.
Governments just choose to spend it elsewhere. We are not stupid. We can read your colour-coded spreadsheet. We have had enough.
We are tired of enduring repeated political failure to treat gender equality and women’s equal participation in building and shaping our laws and our democracy, as anything more than an irritant. A PC rash. Women’s voices are hoarse from explaining we are not the problem. Men are.
But Chemaly lobs the ball back in our court: “What to do? What to do with all this rage?”
After years of frustration and now a kaleidoscope of emotion, following an ugly clash of foolish utterances and actions by our political and public leaders, finally the women of Australia have an answer. We will gather in force.
Monday’s March4Justice is about many things. The list of demands centre on appropriate responses to gendered violence; independent investigations; funding for violence prevention; meaningful codes of conduct in parliament; adherence to national recommendations and obligations around human rights and the elimination of violence; greater representation of women in political leadership; the implementation of a federal Gender Equality Act; and for all Australian parliaments to be gender equal by 2030.
These are not new demands. Nor are they exaggerated. They are in fact, the basic bare minimum. Nothing stands in the way of the Prime Minister moving immediately on every one of these.
All it takes is political will. And a mindset that truly values women as rightful and equal partners in every aspect of our democracy and Australia’s future.
Perhaps Jenny might have something to add to that?
This Opinion Editorial first appeared in The Canberra Times, 14 March 2021.
Words by Virginia Haussegger AM, Canberra Journalist and Founding Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation.
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