Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Mysogyny Speech

This post has little to do with the regular themes of this blog. I’m posting it anyway. You have been warned.

If you haven’t seen Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech from last week, watch it. It is thrilling decent people around the world. This post is partly about her speech, but is also a wrap up of a number of inter-related stories that were circulating recently. For me they are all connected, and I want to draw them together in one place.
We start with pre-school. I want to print this article out and carry it with me everywhere and make random people read it. It is that good. Here's a taste:
For months, every morning when my daughter was in preschool, I watched her construct an elaborate castle out of blocks, colorful plastic discs, bits of rope, ribbons, and feathers. Only to have the same little boy gleefully destroy it within seconds of its completion.
I tried to teach my daughter how to stop him. We talked about some strategies. She moved where she built. She asked him politely not to do it. She stood in his way. She built a stronger foundation to the castle, so that, if he did hit it, she wouldn't have to rebuild the whole thing.  In the meantime, I imagine his parents thinking, "What red-blooded boy wouldn't knock it down. What is she thinking?"
She built a beautiful, glittery castle in a public space.
It was so tempting.
He just couldn't control himself and, being a boy, had violent inclinations.
She had to keep her building safe.
Her consent didn't matter. Besides, it's not like she made a big fuss when he knocked it down. It wasn’t a “legitimate” knocking over if she didn’t throw a tantrum.
His desire—for power, destruction, control, whatever—was understandable.
Maybe she "shouldn't have gone to preschool" at all. Better to keep her building activities to home.
I know it's a lurid metaphor, but I taught my daughter the preschool block precursor of "don't get raped” and Boy #1 did not learn the preschool equivalent of "don't rape."
Now we make a painful stop in a Melbourne street, where the memory of Jill is burned into Australia’s collective psyche. Australians at home and abroad talked about Jill. They talked about the man who killed her. How was he raised? Others talked about those who were not talking about the man, those who were talking about Jill.
"Jill, you can't run in those shoes." My mother-in-law said that same thing. Because women must always be ready to run.
This story about a woman’s commute home on public transport has been shared and re-shared around the world. It resonates with me as with so many because I have been her more times than I can count. I have done the mental math: If I walk away I have to turn my back on him, am I safer with a wall to brace for kicking? Can I run in these shoes? I shouldn’t ever have to run from that. No one should.
Blaming the victim is seen as common sense, right? I’m not saying it was her fault; it’s just common sense to make sure you can always run. Especially if you are pretty. Libby explains why that is exactly the same thing as blaming the victim.
Women’s own bodies are used against us. “It’s not my fault you’re pretty” he said.
Did you read about Amanda? The bullying that led her to suicide began when a man used a picture of her flashing her webcam to black mail her, belittle her and harass her. This article calls for each of us to “be one of the three” people someone in pain can turn to. To be someone for someone who has no-one. I try. Always. But I want to know more about everyone else. About the students who videoed her being beaten and left in a ditch and did nothing to stop it. About the women who engage in “slut shaming” each other. About the men who let other men make rape jokes.
Eryk wrote this great piece about rape culture and draws on his experiences in the expat community in Japan. My favourite passage:
Men have a pretty simple task: Don’t rape anybody.
If you’re a dude in Japan who cares about women, you are obligated to call people out on their bullshit. Be a total killjoy when the predatory creeps come creeping. Get in the way of unwanted groping. Make a scene when someone makes a rape joke, even if you’re the only one. Especially if you’re the only one.
That man is my husband. He doesn’t let it go, ever. Especially when he is the only one. We don’t have sons yet, but I hope we do, because he will be such a role model for them.
Here we swing back to Julia Gillard. The misogyny she has endured, the sexualised nature of the violent imagery directed at her, are beyond belief. Read this article (and this one) then watch her speech again.
Let’s turn the spot light on Tony Abbott now. Gillard brings up some of his past comments about women in her speech, but for me what sums him up is a 2010 interview in which he says that a woman's virginity is a precious gift she should save for her husband (he also discouraged women from taking the newly release HPV vaccination, which has had such positive results around the world).
My sons will not be Tony Abbott. My sons will not knock down little girl's building blocks without asking them. My sons will not see tearing open a woman's body as the most precious thing she can offer him. And if my sons are gay, that makes not one whit of difference to how I will expect them to respect themselves and others.
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  1. Soph, this is a really great article. I'll admit we don't hear too much about Australia stateside, so I had to read all the links you put up. But it's amazing how some things are so similar across the continents. You're lucky to have a great guy who will stand up for women, and I think you will have wonderful children since you will raise them.

    1. Thank you lovely, that's a very encouraging thing to hear. Going through pages and pages of adoption stuff trying to prove on paper that I could be a good mother is pretty draining, it is really really nice to hear some encouraging words. Cyber hugs :)

  2. Well written.

    I think I read it on this blog ( but the following line (I paraphrase) hit me pretty hard.

    Talking about walking down the street at night,
    "Men are afraid of getting laughed at by groups of women
    Women are afraid of getting killed by groups men."

    That is a really short, untrue version of what I read I'm sure, but the essence of it stuck with me.

    1. Thank you. I'm familiar with the quote (although I also can't remember the exact wording). The stats Eryk gives about the influence of the culture of surrounding men has on an individual man's actions are really moving. The world is full of great guys~ hopefully you can overtake the creepers and provoke a change of behaviour within our life time!

  3. (edit:) *"untrue" > > I mean that, I'm not being true to the original... I'm not paraphrasing very well. ^^;;;


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