In his book War on Women, Brian Vallee says it is not the war on terror, the Iraq war or the war in Afghanistan, but the war on women which is most often ignored or distorted by the media. How true.
Over the past three years, we have seen a sustained series of attacks on a political leader such as Australia has never before witnessed. The attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard are very personal and most often sexual in nature and if you think this has nothing to do with gender, think again.
When Tony Abbott first appeared in front of signs describing Julia Gillard as a ” witch” and a ” bitch” I knew the war on women had become very public and very dangerous.
Public because we still don’t like to admit how pervasive sexism, abuse and violence against women in Australia really is. Mostly confined behind closed doors, violence and abuse is perpetrated against women in alarming numbers. If you think this is an exaggeration consider this: One in three women experience domestic violence by an intimate partner across their life span and one in five women experience sexual abuse across their life span. ABS 2006 On average 80 Australian women die each year at the hands of an intimate partner. Australian Institute of Criminology. This does not include figures on women murdered by strangers, those listed as “missing persons” or those women who tragically end their own lives when the bullying and abuse becomes unbearable.
Dangerous because it gives permission for others to take up personal assaults on Julia Gillard not as the Prime Minister of Australia, not because they disagree with her policies but as Julia Gillard the woman. And this is exactly what has happened. Every part of her anatomy has been held up for criticism, ridicule or vile ‘jokes’.
What does this mean for women in this country? A lot more than we realise.
If a female Prime Minister is not safe from vile personal attacks how on earth can we work towards a safe equitable society for ALL Australian women.
The Personal is Political
I am not denying that men can also be abused but the attacks on women are so pervasive and linked to notions of gender and sexism that is my specific focus. The attacks on Julia Gillard are spurred by the same beliefs that see women as “fair game”. Everyday in Australia thousands of women are physically, emotionally, verbally and sexually abused by partners, boyfriends, family members, work colleagues and strangers.
The violent language used in reference to Julia Gillard included drowning, stabbing, throat slitting, hitting with a baseball bat, being fed to the sharks, putting a target on her, wishing she would lay down & die, its the killing season, strangulation, shot by the Taliban and finally cremated. Any wonder our attempts to end violence against women are a continued struggle. Ask abused women how often they would hear all of this and worse.
When you describe Julia Gillard as some man’s “bitch”, it mirrors exactly the description some men have of their female partners. Male ownership and control.
Leaving politics aside, the attacks on the Prime Minister have gone on unchecked for so long solely because our so called “civil” society sees violence against women as “trivial”, “she asked for it”, “entertaining” or just what some “men” do. Women are fair game whether it is within the confines of their personal relationships, at work or in the public domain.
Visit anyone of the 400 + women’s shelters across the country and you will hear heartbreaking stories of unimaginable abuse perpetrated against the women who seek shelter there. Not convinced then maybe a visit to one of the hundreds of rape crisis centres. These are the women that can tell you about the everyday realities of the war on women that continues unabated across this country. We need the power of many women voices especially those women who are further disadvantaged and silenced by their race and ethnicity. The only voices heard on this should not be just those whom media consider spokesperson for the women’s movement.
Julia Gillard urged everyone to “join the dots”. Well that’s exactly what we need to do. The abuse of one woman diminishes all women. We need to face the reality that violence against women is pandemic in Australian society. Whether we are talking about the widespread abuse of women within institutions such as the military or the hidden abuse of domestic violence, it has the same foundations in distorted beliefs about gender & power.
How often do we jump into victim blaming?
- Why was she out alone at night?
- What was she wearing?
- She wouldn’t stop nagging
- Why doesn’t she leave?
- She was drunk
- She can’t take a joke
- She was leading him on
Women are dehumanised and demeaned by language that describes then as a whore, slut, trollop, tart, floozies, cow, dog, bitch or witch.
When women try to speak out or fight back they are then accused of “pulling the gender” card. As if it were some magical credit card that women carry with them to use against men. Nonsense. No such thing exists except in the minds of misogynists and those who support them.
It has become so much easier to blame the victims than to seriously address the behaviours and beliefs systems that foster such abuse. Why do some men and other women, think it is OK to treat women in such degrading & dehumanising ways.
Probably because they can. Who holds them to account.
There are very few consequences for violence against women. How often have we seen high profile men abuse women with impunity? Very few cases even make it to court (except of homicide or serious assault) because we continually discount or disbelieve the victim. Women who recant prior truthful statements through fear or coercion are then further victimised by unsupportive police, courts and media.
Men need to be held accountable for their behaviour, whether it be the abuse of a partners or girlfriends, sexual abuse within the military, at sporting events, nightclubs or “private” political functions that have grubby menus. Enough is Enough.
Men need to be held accountable for their violence and men need to be held accountable for their silence. David Adams 2012
There are many decent men and women across Australia who see what is happening around them and are disturbed by it.
This week in the Canberra a group of women are unfolding a memorial quilt in the parliament forecourt to remember the many hundreds of women who have died in domestic violence. I urge all Federal politicians to stop and reflect on the symbolism of the quilt and where unchecked abuse and violence leads.
Our political leaders need to be public role models for human decency & respect. And we, the electorate, need to demand this of them. As Lieutenant – General David Morrison reminded us recently
“The standard you walk past is the standards you accept”