Jamie Briggs, Minister for Cities and the Built Environment in the Abbott/Turnbull Liberal National Coalition Government resigned from the Ministry on the 29th December, 2015, citing his behaviour was an error of professional judgement. A female public servant has submitted a formal complaint, complaining of Briggs’ sexual behaviour. No one knows the exact nature of the complaint made, as we are not privy to any specific details at this time. Newspaper reports indicate that this complaint relates to unwanted sexual advances and/or sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment by men is the “Unsolicited, non-reciprocal male behaviour, that asserts a woman’s sex role, over her function as a worker (Benokraitis & Feagin, 1995).
A number of articles written in various newspapers seek the opinion of Jamie Briggs’ wife. I will not link these articles, as I will not reinforce this distraction from Briggs’ behaviour. In fact, Jamie Briggs’ wife should be left out of this altogether.
When I read the various articles in newspapers focusing on his wife’s opinion and acceptance or condemnation of Briggs’ behaviour, I cringed. My mind went back to late 90’s and Hilary Clinton immediately. Hilary Clinton is still harassed about her husband’s behaviour today. Hilary Clinton is still expected to take responsibility for her husband’s behaviour and men in politics try their hardest to use this as a source of shame for Hilary Clinton.
No sooner had the ink dried on Briggs’ resignation, the media immediately turned their attention to his wife.
In doing so, this takes the focus off the man’s behaviour. It gives us something else to talk about other than the man who used his power on a woman who did not consent, nor did she welcome such behaviour of a sexual nature. Briggs abused his position of power. His ethical behaviour is also questioned.
Many argue that Bill Clinton had his ‘private ethics’ hat on, in his interactions with Lewinsky. Many argue there is a fine ethical line between a private ethics hat and a public one for politicians. However, in the case of Briggs, his ethics hat at that time was a public hat, as he was representing Australia in all his actions at that time. His reflection that this behaviour was not up to the standard of a Minister is accurate. He has made the correct decision to step down from his position in the Ministry.
In all organisations, including politics, there is a system of power rules in play. These power rules, like most other rules in society, have been developed through the powerful positioning of white men over a long period of time. (Please note, this article is about the sexual harassment of a woman. The Author recognises such power rules can impact on men, women of colour, men of colour, LGBTI people and people with a disability and other marginalised and disadvantaged groups).
Some of the “Power Rules” in play for the case of Briggs are “Legitimate Power” (power given to a person due to their position) and possibly “Coercive Power” (this is power where the holder of this power may have an influence on career choices etc., Coercive power is often used in a negative way, such as threats of demotion or non-recommendations etc.,). This is a little more complex, as it has many dynamics. Even if coercive power is not direct; a woman needs to face the decision if her complaint will be detrimental to her work-life due to the coercive power of those associated with the aggressor. This is intensified when the aggressor displays the perception that they have such power, (perception of power) even if it is not legitimate.
Unwanted sexual advances and sexual harassment of women, intimidates and creates fear at a personal level and has implications at the work level. In cases where unwanted sexual behaviour and the workplace collide, intimidation and fear may also impact the victim’s work-life. Often, this is a source of non-complaint, where women feel reporting an incident of sexual behaviour is not worth the risk. The use of power rules, particularly coercive power in workplaces can have a dramatic impact on a woman’s self efficacy to report unwanted behaviour in the workplace. This should not be delegitimised by shifting the focus of attention to the opinion of the Briggs’ wife.
Turning the focus to Briggs’ wife takes our attention off the victim. It takes the focus off the victim’s discomfort, powerlessness and distress. The victim should remain the most important person in relation to Briggs’ behaviour, not his wife, mother, aunt or any other women who may be used take the attention off Briggs’ own behaviour.
Also, bringing a third party (wife) into the scenario, this act of abuse of power resulting in humiliation, discomfort and distress, for the victim, diminishes Briggs’ behaviour to the opinion of the third party (wife) and not the opinion of the victim.
Turning the focus to the opinion of the wife, also diminishes the behaviour of the aggressor, when we ask, “What does his wife think about this?”
If Briggs’ was a single man would the media or other male politicians diminish his behaviour by using excuses such as, ‘he was only looking for a soul mate’ ‘She (the victim) must have read him wrong’ etc., etc., as we have seen many times before.
If the behaviour of sexual advance/harassment by men in power cannot be diminished or excused due to ‘bachelorhood’, the next step is normally, to seek to diminish the behaviour through the support of other women in their lives; usually starting with the wife.
As with Bill Clinton, question’s raised in people’s mind’s about Hilary Clinton, “Is it her fault?” “Is she not being ‘good wife'”, “Is the wife ‘not meeting his needs'” etc., etc., All these questions raised in various people’s minds puts the onus on a third party (wife) and lets the male aggressor off the hook.
All politicians and the people who market them desire for them to have ‘Referent Power.’ In a nutshell, referent power is about charisma and using that charisma to influence others and build loyalty (voters). When men are in public life, it is very important for others to try to re-establish referent power for the (fallen) individual male in question as soon as possible. The culture of sexual harassment is still dominated by the needs of the male (ie how complaints about their behaviour will affect their career. What will happen to the man now?). Seeking the opinion of supportive wives, other supportive women and supportive prominent men who may reinforce the ‘goodness and wholesomeness’ of the aggressor, reinforces this culture.
As a woman, I will not pass judgement on wives of men, where the men have a question of sexual behaviour or any other indiscretion associated with their power above them.
As a woman, I will not pass judgement on wives of men who are in positions of significant power. “Power Rules” exist in the wife’s external environment (political face and an extension of the husband’s work-life) and internal environment (power and control within a relationship). The layers of ‘power rules’ women, as wives of men in power must negotiate, is complex.
For people judging Briggs’ wife’s support for her husband, the illusion of how high her own moral bar is held, simply cannot and should not be judged. She could very well be subject to power rules and her ‘morals or ethics’ could be set at a very different level in private. (In saying, that her moral bar is completely irrelevant). In making any judgements about the wife’s opinion and her morals, we are simply condemning another woman caught in the same power rules as the victim. Power rules created by powerful men. We also remove support from the victim, by shifting our focus away from the unwanted, unsolicited sexual behaviour perpetrated by a man in power.
The only woman I have concern for, and the only woman who should be in our focus is the victim.
It should be continuously acknowledged that Briggs’ behaviour and men who display the same behaviours make women feel uncomfortable in their own spaces, fearful, frightened, powerless and even ashamed.
It should be continuously acknowledged that Briggs’ behaviour and men who display the same behaviours make women fearful, intimidated and distressed about how these unwanted behaviours will impact on their own career progression and work.
It should be continuously acknowledged that Briggs’ behaviour and the men who display the same behaviours view women, not as workers, but as sexual objects. This diminishes a woman’s entire gamut of knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes a woman possesses in her workplace. This in turn, diminishes the value of a woman’s labour at work. These men should not be part of public life, particularly where they influence legislation pertaining to women and work, such as Briggs was in the Howard era. (Chief advisor in the Prime Minister’s office on Industrial Relations / Work Choices).
(On an aside note, It brings to question, if Briggs’ Work Choices work, is the motivation for Turnbull promoting an Abbott supporting right wing man.)
Briggs, a man, so hell bent on the idea of Merit as opposed to Quotas, in particular really needs this reinforced over and over and over again, until he ‘gets it.’ Ironically, Jamie Briggs’ own behaviour makes him a shining example of why we do indeed need quotas for women in politics.
The focus in the case of Briggs’ resignation should always be about condemning Briggs’ behaviour and concern and empathy for the victim. Sexual Harassment by men, particularly by men in positions of power needs a cultural shift and that shift should start now.
Whilst doing my research for my most recent blog post, I analysed a range of opinions throughout social media on the topic of contraception and welfare. Naturally, these threads across various pages gathered the opinions of those not on welfare and those who are. Comments on social media give one an insight into the thoughts of a wide and varied demographic. Often thoughts on social media are contained to a particular thread on a particular topic; so it is always interesting to view the differences of opinion from many on that particular subject. This is particularly evident when it is a newspaper forum, or another general page which attracts a diverse range of people. People will group together on opinion and often there are long debates from those for or against a particular opinion. I love reading the opinions of people on social media, as narrative or discourse, gives us a glimpse of the social psyche.
Social discourse is a key element to social change. Many of the comments from people, as per my last blog post, painted those on welfare in a very negative light. In fact, the ones highlighted were of the very strong view that those on welfare ‘should not breed.” The Liberal National Coalition (LNP) Government has a very strong discourse on punitive measures aimed to punish people on welfare and sets this standard, through their unfair cuts to welfare and treatment of jobseekers.
Newspapers and media also seem to slant their stories to the negative. There were many comments highlighting that Sunrise had posted the ‘welfare and contraception’ story three different times on their Facebook page. In my local regional newspaper today, there is an prominent article with the headline “Hard-working Australian culture fading away” which has a 20 year old mechanic front and centre telling people to ‘not cry poor and go out a get a job” and “I don’t believe for a second there’s no work out there”.
This is in spite of the unemployment rate being 6.3% nationally, youth unemployment sitting nationally at 14% nationally and being as high as 29.3% in outback South Australia, 26.7% in south east Tasmania and 21.3% in Cairns. This is also in spite of skills shortages in 2014 identified in specialized and professional fields as external auditor, surveyor, sonographer, phsysiotherapist, midwife, software engineer and construction estimator. The jobs listed as skills shortages are not jobs that would be likely to match young people seeking employment, or unskilled jobseekers. This means that contrary to the social discourse occurring at present, job search is a highly competitive environment and those with little to no skills or experience, or who face any barriers to employment (including sole parenting), will find securing employment very difficult.
This does not even take into account age discrimination or Indigenous unemployment, which sits at 17.2% nationally and the Government’s changes to programs that will greatly affect this group. These changes show blatant changes which target people through race, which are discriminatory as compared to other parts of Australia.
The blog post I researched most recently discussed the argument that ‘People on welfare should be forced to take contraception.’ Single mothers were certainly a group raised for discussion. In particular, young mothers featured prominently, as did women from certain suburbs in Australia and another prominent single mother group attacked negatively were those ‘assumed to be refugees’ or from an ethnic minority background or non-white people.
Single Parents have only had to seek employment as part of Mutual Obligation since the 2005 – 2006 Howard Budget. This has continued to be evolved by successive ALP Governments since 2007 and remains as a focus for the Abbott Government. There have been calls from ACOSS that the inclusion of single parents in mutual obligation contravenes Human Rights Obligations. I strongly agree with ACOSS, not only for the economic affects outlines, but especially for point 2, which discusses discrimination against women:
The Bill violates the rights of single parents to non-discrimination under Art 2, paragraph 2
of the ICESCR and Art 11(1)(e) of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Since the majority of recipients are
women, they will suffer indirect gender discrimination should the Bill become law. In
addition, sole parent families, identified for special measures due to their greater
vulnerability, will suffer discrimination through the loss of these measures.
As I delved into people’s conversations on social media whilst researching my last blog post, I noticed something quite prominent and thematic with young mothers and their arguments. I was becoming increasingly aware of the amount of young women (single mothers) who felt the need to defend their space in society. These young women felt the need to list every single effort they make to work in paid work, volunteering, job search or furthering their education through study or training. Often, they would write a long list of work and study they were doing at the same time, as well as caring for their child or children.
What this is saying to me, is that young mothers and single others feel the need to ‘reaffirm’ or establish themselves in the eyes of the privileged (those not a single parent) to be deemed worthy or accepted in society. My position is difficult here as I can only view the conversation and not seek clarity or construct any dialogue with these young mothers to further develop understanding; but I feel that these young mothers feel that there are societal pressures that say that being a mother 100% of of the time is not enough as set by the standards of society and in the eyes of those who view them as ‘sole parents.’
One theme that was quite prominent was when young mothers did list the whole range work or study activities they were undertaking as well as motherhood, people congratulated them on their efforts and ‘becoming a productive citizen.’ The comments resonated that being a mother was not being a productive citizen. Raising other little good citizens is being a productive citizen in itself.
I for one second do not take away any single parent’s choice to undertake any activities to better their future for employment etc., The key word there being choice. However, I question the need that there may be mothers who feel they cannot be a mother only, due to the strong social narrative that drives this pressure, which is enabled by the Government view of single parents. Something afforded by privilege to those who have this choice in a partnered relationship. I know many may argue that even women in partnered relationships need to go to work; but if a woman strongly wanted to be at home, they have the choice, through that partnership to adapt their lifestyle, so this can be supported on one wage in many cases. The fact of the matter is single parents do not have this choice even to contemplate, as that second wage is simply not there.
Some of the privileges afforded by those in partnered relationships or single people with no children, who set to condemn single parents are thus:
I will break out of the bullet points to direct attention to one that I am most passionate about. I will speak to this for mothers only. I would value input from how single fathers see this in the comments below.
Due to the mutual obligations forced upon single mothers by the Government, single parents have no choice but to have another person spend critical and valuable time with their child. They do not have the option that this may be the person they are in an intimate relationship with as a privilege afforded to partnered mothers who desire to return to work and have a stay at home father. Single Mothers are forced to pay strangers to spend critical and valuable time and input in the rearing of their child. Not only does this take away from critical and valuable parenting time, but places an extra financial burden on women as it cuts into money earned from employment.
This also places an additional burden on women fleeing domestic violence relationships and fleeing violent partners. It forces a woman to be engaged in employment (sometimes with no phone contact as enforced by the employer’s rules) and it creates more worry, stress and strain on a woman already experienced heightened anxiety and concern for the safety of herself and her children.
I find this absolutely abhorrent that this choice is taken away from single parents by force, rather than by choice. It takes away one of the most important and most treasured days of a woman’s life by force.
Although the majority of single parents are mothers, single fathers make up 12% of single parents in Australia. Single fathers also face particular burdens based on how society positions gender and parenting, based on the notion that only women are the natural nurturers and men are the breadwinners.
There is also appears to be an absence of research on single parents from a breakdown of a same sex relationship. Statistics included for single parents are inclusive of gay and lesbian parents as statistics do not specifically also target sexual preference.
There appears to be an abundance of literature on same sex parenting as a dual couple. However, the absence of literature on gay and lesbian single parents, makes for a gap in understanding the full picture of single parents and their lived experiences.
The Howard Government in 2005-2006 budget papers set forth the foundation for including single parents in mutual obligation. Successive ALP Governments since, have not sought to enable single parents by repealing this legislation, but have sought to tighten this legislation and provide even more restrictions and obstacles for single parents.
The Abbott Government’s response is hinged on ‘family values’ but defines this family as the predominantly white, dual parent family, with more than likely Christian values. Often classified as “The traditional family.” This is not representative of all families in Australia.
The Abbott Government has injected 20 million to “strengthen relationships and help improve personal and family well-being—it makes social and economic sense.” Because, you know single parents are a burden on society and a factor for social decline.
The Abbott Government has chosen to fund only Christian Chaplains in schools as a pastoral mechanism. Christian Chaplains would only advocate for traditional heterosexual relationships and traditional forms of family through marriage.
There is a lack of investment from the Abbott Government on Domestic Violence and funding for shelters and other programs for both women and men and an absence of understanding of the need for shelters for men who have experienced domestic violence or intimate partner violence.
There is an agenda of stigmatisation from the Abbott Government for those on welfare, adding to the layers of stigmatisation experienced by single parents, indigenous, the disabled, immigrants, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and people in other minority groups.
If this blog post has resonated with others, I would encourage everyone to write to the Government and to both the ALP and the Greens to advocate to have mutual obligation as a forced measure removed from single parents and be implemented as a voluntary measure only, with no penalties.
One of the reasons behind me writing this blog post, was that I get so disheartened from reading harsh and judgemental comments from those in a position of privilege. The other reason was that I really want people to start assessing their own narrative when it comes to passing judgement of others on welfare.
The Abbott Government through their agenda of stigmatisation has really created a strong narrative to enable and encourage others to stigmatise those on welfare. If you oppose the Abbott Government, but contribute to this stigma by adding your voice, you are really supporting the Abbott Government by becoming a part of their agenda. Their agenda for stigma is strong as it paves the way for even more harsh cuts and unfair treatment of the disadvantage as the discourse becomes more widely sociably acceptable.
“Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.”
The topic of conversation across many pages on Facebook, across newspaper forums and even current affairs shows has been a statement from ex-ALP Minister Gary Johns
“Former Labor Minister Gary Johns suggests linking the dole to contraception.”
The comments from a wide and diverse range of people regarding this topic has certainly been an eye opener.
Firstly, I need to get something off my chest….. I find it absolutely remarkable, that an overtly sexist comment from an “Ex-ALP Minister” hits the headlines three days after the polls screamed loudly that Tony Abbott is falling out of favour with women. Now call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but I do find that linking an extremely sexist and controversial statement to the ALP three days after polling highlighted that women would rather #putyourironout rather than vote for Abbott again, an attempt at political strategy by the right. #diversion.
John’s originally wrote his article as opinion for The Australian and they labelled John’s as an ‘ex-ALP’ Minister whereas the Australian Newspaper could have labelled him either senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) (Abbott linked right-wing think tank) or the Associate Commissioner of the Commonwealth Productivity Commission from 2002 – 2004 under the Howard Government. I find it interesting that the Murdoch press chose to link John’s to the ALP instead, although he hasn’t been a Minister of the ALP and has been critical of the ALP since at least 1996. The Australian may as well have gone onto social media and asked some random their sexist opinions on welfare and contraception.
Which takes me to my next point. I have taken a selection of comments via Facebook, across various pages and groups. This is just a small sample and if you could quantify the negative comments supporting this argument, I would estimate it was approximately 70% (in favour) 30% (not in favour) across the board. The narrative in this country is something that we need to look at a lot more closely.
Some of the themes from those on social media go something like this (hit it)
Facebook Comment: “Still my point is valid…. There are other ways to prevent people from having children! Sterilisation is a good one! Some people have children completely dependant (sic) on the government… Those people need to be told NO!”
According to this Facebook User (and many like this person) I should not exist. You see, my father was an invalid pensioner (completely dependent on the Government) and my mother on the wife’s (carer’s) pension. So going by what this person is saying, because my father had a disability and mum looked after him, she should have been sterilized. This is the type of person who would vote for a Government to forcibly sterilize a woman because that woman is not ‘their ideal woman who should be breeding.’ But give her a job and she will be Mother of the freaking year!
In fact, with this line of thinking, I should not exist and neither should my two sisters or three brothers. Why? Because we are not the product of a ‘born to rule’ ideology that salivates at the thought of social cleansing, where only those ‘not in need’ have a space in society? This person and many commenting like this person, obviously dream of a society, where the ‘undesirables’ (aka those on welfare) are left to rot or be eliminated altogether.
What these sort of people don’t understand is when you have kids and you are on welfare, it is usually the mother who goes without to accommodate the needs of the children. People just make do with what they have. They don’t scream and ask for more to live a wealthy lifestyle.
Facebook Comment: How anyone can disagree with this is beyond me. Bums breeding more bums! And so the cycle will continue.
and this gem
Facebook comment: What about the rights of children not to be born to deadshit parents?
According to this Facebook user all children of welfare recipients should be cast aside as ‘Bums’ before they are even given a chance in society. In my own lived experience as a child of welfare, every single one of us has gone on to achieve a full and productive life. I have worked in Management across private, public, community, vocational and higher education sectors. I have gone on to postgraduate education and also have a partially completed PhD which may or may not ever get finished. My brothers and sisters have all worked in either a professional capacity or in management. We all have families and children. My family is not a unique example. Many great leaders have also come from very poor backgrounds. To deny a child a life, because others seek to cleanse society of children not born to “Women of Calibre” is beyond the sickest ways of thinking.
What people like this do not understand, is that there is more to life than money. Sure, we lived in commission, didn’t eat fancy meals, but the values that our parents instilled in us, cannot be bought with money. How one parents is not governed by how much money someone has. In fact, there was more love in my home growing up, than what I had witnessed in some of my much better off friends homes growing up. Turn to any Youth Agency and you will also see that young people who need assistance come from a wide and diverse background. Not just welfare.
This type of person believes that people born into welfare are Bums or their parents are ‘deadshits’ and have nothing to contribute. Please tell that to Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling, just two successful women with links to welfare.
Facebook Comment: Besides there needs to be a cull of the human race anyway. Weeding out bottom feeders bogans just plain right pieces of crap from society. This is why we have such a f u ked (sic) up society because of all the bottom feeders who have kids that dont (sic) bring them up with morals and values respect this is why there is alot (sic) of kids on the dole its (sic) all they know (Just imagine the punctuation is there. You can do it!).
and this gem
Facebook Comment: Agreed. The rats have a screw and produce a rat might be different size whatever u still breed a rat a bottom feeder (Once again, use your magical powers so this makes freaking sense!)
Once again, we have the mentality that thinks Eugenics are a fine thing to implement in society. Do these people really believe that only a certain ‘type’ of person should be allowed to have children? Do they really believe that the Government should have the right to stop the bloodline of those that are in need of social supports?
The rat comment is also even more chilling, as the Jews were referred to as rats during the Holocaust, a time where there were those that thought a blond haired blue eyed race was the only race that should exist.
What these people do not realise is, if Eugenics, Social cleansing or the likes were adopted, there will always be someone ‘at the bottom of society’ and that person could very well be you.
Then we move on to the ‘related topics’ that show how people’s mind link other negative societal behaviors to those on welfare.
Facebook Comment: Totally agree and don’t forget to drug test as well
This comment is actually from a person who is well known in a certain town and aspires to be a Lord Mayor. You know – making decisions about people and their lives in an entire region/community. As Keating said, “God help us….God help us.”
This type of (let’s face it) brainless idiot, touts this sort of rubbish, because it gives them a sense of self-importance. The problem is it only feeds the ego and not the brain, as statistics on drug use are completely contrary to what this person is implying. This type of person seeks to further stigmatise the already stigmatised in society, as it makes them feel so much above everyone else when in reality, they are the lowest of the low.
I won’t go any further into this one, as I have already published two articles on this topic of welfare and drug testing.
Drug Testing and the LNP’s Ongoing Stigmatization of the Poor and The LNP’s agenda for welfare. A clarification of what drug testing really means
Facebook comment: Dude it’s what is happening. It’s not only adults popping kids out now a days it’s teenagers. You walk in to centrelink and there’s 16 year olds sitting every where with kids on there hip
It always fascinates me how people specifically target young women who are mothers as the primary burden, almost a parasitic burden on society. It also fascinates me that although we now have Google and no longer need to trawl through the Funk and Wagnells, people just can’t be bothered checking facts before they open their bigoted mouths.
Only 10% of lone mothers are aged 15 – 24 and the peak group for lone mothers is age 35-44 years of age and the major contributor to sole parenting is the break down of marriage. 12% of sole parents are men, and are usually over 35. Doesn’t this indicate to people that if a relationship breaks down for a younger woman, that it is the younger woman who is most likely left to care for the baby? Let’s not target and label bright, young enthusiastic women, because they have the extra responsibility of sole motherhood. They have much to contribute to society.
Having a child out of wedlock is not a crime and the only people who are bastards are the people who think this way.
After reading comments across so many different forums yesterday; it is quite evident that the Australian narrative needs to be scrutinised further and Australians themselves need to be openly challenged in their thinking. If we did not have the safety net of unemployment benefit, what impact would this have on the economy? It could be assumed that most people would keep spending to a minimum so they could support themselves in the event of job loss. So many people are so judgemental, yet, never question the tax payer funded benefits of big business, but feel it is just and moral to kick the boot in to the already disadvantaged. The derogatory vilification of people in dire circumstances, simply needs to stop. To quote my most favourite politician Anthony Albenese:
It’s time for a more serious debate on welfare – one that goes beyond dog whistling and demonisation of the poor
One theme very evident through all the comments, is that taxpayers feel they have some type of ‘ownership’ over the lives of those on welfare. Kind of like the Master / Slave mentality. It is quite appalling really, that these people think they can dictate to others how they can live their lives. Most people who are on welfare at one point in their lives, have contributed to a tax system, which is used to pay for welfare. For those that never have and never will pay, it is the duty of the Government of this country to ensure that these people are supported and they simply do not deserve the disrespect dished out to them.
(taken from a Facebook user on the Sunrise thread) I will end with this post with his comment:
Facebook Comment: Some of you seem to think that unemployment benefit isn’t a right… well, you are not correct. It’s right there in Hansard.
(He sounds NOTHING like the Liberals of today – who are these people?)
Is standing up and proclaiming to be a non-feminist a sign of personal success, or is it an insular subconscious privileged rejection or blindness to the existing failures in our system that still affect women in Australia today? How does the absence of self-identifying as a feminist affect policy issues at Government level?
Julie Bishop, MP & Foreign Minister, only woman on the front bench in the Australian Liberal (conservative, neo-liberal, right-wing) Government stood in front of the National Press Club on Wednesday and declared that she was not a feminist. She doesn’t reject the term, but she feels no need to self-describe herself that way. Her main argument was that she doesn’t define her success or failures through a prism of gender. Bishop also does not acknowledge the glass ceiling and says for her, she ‘will work hard and set her mind to it and if it comes off that is great.‘ If it doesn’t, she will try to understand if she was ‘competent enough or whether she worked hard enough or if the breaks went her way.’ She doesn’t look at this as gender specific.
Julie Bishop also spoke of feminism in the past tense, the role that it (feminist movement) has played,’the barriers they faced and the challenges they had to overcome. This further re-enforces her position that feminism is no longer a necessity in today’s society. That we somehow have all ‘made it’
If we contextualize Julie Bishop’s stance of non-identification as a feminist, we need to understand her position in society. Julie Bishop is a white woman, raised in South Australia, went on to study law, practiced law, became a partner in a law firm at 26, married a property developer and has had relationships with a senator and former Lord Mayor (source: JulieBishop.com.au).
Is it justified to say that she holds this view, because she is a woman submersed in an environment of privilege?
Julie Bishop doesn’t believe it is a big deal. However, as a woman in Australia, I feel it is a big deal for any politician not to identify as feminist. They are the policy makers. It is their ideas, beliefs and experiences that lead them to policy decisions. Even people who are from positions of privilege attempt to engage with women from all walks of life, so they develop an understanding of barriers, discrimination, injustice and inequities women face and take a feminist position and advocate for equality for women. If someone doesn’t truly value equality for all women and identify as a feminist – someone who advocates for equality for women, then where does this leave us in terms of policy development, towards a more equitable future?
One of the main themes I heard in Julie Bishop’s narrative that I found concerning, was that feminism is irrelevant as because it is ‘all about her’ She never spoke of other women, only her own personal situation. Feminism is about inclusivity of all women.
If Julie Bishop could de-contextualize herself from her personal situation, upbringing, background and privilege; I wonder if she was another women in another situation, would she self-identify as a feminist?
Would Julie Bishop as an Indigenous woman, when faced with cuts to Indigenous Legal Aid Services, contemplate a future of staying in a violent situation, because maybe she didn’t work hard enough?
Would Julie Bishop as a teenager, faced with pregnancy discrimination and terminated from her traineeship, self attribute blame that maybe she wasn’t competent enough?
Would Julie Bishop as a woman returning from maternity leave, and missing out on training and development opportunities still not acknowledge the glass ceiling?
Would Julie Bishop as a woman and a victim of rape in our justice system, experiencing accusatory questioning and double the length of questioning than for other assaults, or as an Indigenous woman experience significantly worse questioning, with racist imputations being made in court – would she still not look at this through the ‘prism of gender?’
Would Julie Bishop as a woman working in two casual jobs, in a lower paid traditional woman’s field of work and experiencing non-secure work and a gender pay gap of 17% still truly believe that the feminist movement should still be spoken of in the past tense?
Would Julie Bishop as a woman seeking Asylum and fleeing from sex slavery, rape, sexual abuse and attack, fear of honour killings, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, one-child policies, discrimination due to sexual orientation or feminist political activism, children being under threat, general religious restrictions on women, sexual harassment, denial of education, forced marriages, slavery, trafficking, and imprisonment – and then sent back to that situation, due to poor policy on the processing of women and the legitimate attempts to understand their history and claim for asylum, still shrug and reflect on “if the breaks went her way?”
Would Julie Bishop as a retired woman discovering that she has substantially less superannuation than her male counterparts due to breaks in work, lower paid work and casualisation of work; or as an indigenous woman realise that as one of 40% of Indigenous women, who actually has no superannuation at all – still not feel the need to self-identify as a feminist and advocate to right this wrong?
Does Julie Bishop, as Julie Bishop reflect that 64% of law graduates are women, however only 22% of women hold senior positions in law firms. Only 16% of women are on the bench in the Federal Court of Australia. Does she truly believe that all of these women simply just did not work hard enough?
Does Julie Bishop, as Julie Bishop try to understand if there are inequities within the Australian Liberal Party for pre-selection of candidates, such as questions about parental and marital status? Or does she truly believe that she is the only woman of calibre and of suitable merit in the Liberal Party, capable of a position on the front bench?
Does Julie Bishop also stand with the Prime Minister and Minister for Women, hand on her heart and truly believe that “Women do not suffer legal discrimination in Australia?”
I see Julie Bishop’s announcement that she does not self-identify as a feminist a huge gap in policy decision making in Australia. Increasing the representation of women in Parliament should lead to a new perspective and a diversity of contributions to policy-making and to priorities of development, and it gives the female population a role in deciding the future of their country and the rights and opportunities for their gender. However, if one is not in touch with the inequities present in contemporary society for all Australian women, policy development towards equity will be very slow and still permeated with male voices and perspective.
Many people have touted Labor of late as ‘Liberal-Lite’ however, this is an example of a very stark contrast between the Liberal National Party and the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party has a policy platform on equality for women in Australia. They understand that equality for women is not only good for the economy, but essential for the progress of our country. Recently in my hometown, Bill Shorten gave a very powerful speech on the necessity of equality for women. Tim Watts, Member for Gellibrand as a male politician, advocates very strongly on domestic violence issues, as does Claire Moore. These are only two notable MP’s amongst many. Similarly, the Greens also have a strong platform for women, with Senator Waters a very proactive advocate for women.
What we hear on the Liberal’s side of the fence in terms of equality for women is silence and symbolic gestures from the only woman on the front bench, that ‘feminism is in the past’ and “is not a useful term today.’
As former Prime Minister Mr. Keating famously said about Tony Abbott (and I’ll extend to the team he leads) – “God Help Us, God Help Us!”
A) The sources for the claims for legal discrimination and discrimination by default in this post, can be found here
B) This post is not intended to take away from or de-legitimize any of Julie Bishop’s personal achievements or successes,
but to decontextualise her position, as a women in a position of privilege, to attempt to challenge her position on feminism and what it means for our country.
I was in the audience at ABC’s Q & A (Monday 06/10/2014) and I listened to the question from Ms. Stevens to Bob Katter about denying /homosexuality and the links to stigma and mental illness. Everyone cheered. The feeling of everyone’s passion to overcome injustice and to recognise individual rights in that one space was emotionally overwhelming.
Dr. Louise Byrne’s response about overcoming stigma and explaining to others what her job was, which exposes her illness, speaks to the face of real action on reducing stigma.
Every time I see anti-burqa posts on my newsfeed, in letters to the editor, on forum posts, my heart sinks. I believe that narrative shapes society. What we choose to express, publish and share and how we position ourselves in conversation, shapes society.
I find that all such anti-burqa posts and comments advocate stigma.
Ms. Stevens put to Katter, “that your reluctance to address homosexuals as well as their civil rights is quite detrimental to their mental health”. This question can be used again and again, replacing homosexuals with other marginalized groups and the answer should be that it is unequivocally unacceptable.
Hundreds of women are being vilified, ostracized and attacked violently in Australia, simply for wearing religious/cultural coverings. Women in particular are being targeted for attacks; women who deserve a space in our society, the same as everyone else. Why are sections of our community intent on condemning, vilifying and advocating violence against such a small minority of women; when there is no evidence that the wearing of any cultural/religious covering has threatened our security or way of life?
Growing up in the very racist 70’s and 80’s and working in community mental health in the 90s, has shown me that stigma has the negative consequences of denial of freedom of expression, mobility, achievement, integration and community contribution.
I have followed the burqa debate for a number of years and the same arguments pop up. On the issue of security, the same concern is not expressed about men in full faced beards and hats or men in suits, beards and sunglasses; but only of women expressing their individual freedom to pay respect to their religion or culture.
Then there are those who post snippets from the Koran as ‘evidence’ and boast ‘they have read the Koran.’
I think people who have a misplaced fear of women who wear any cultural religious covering, should refrain from expressing their bigotry and hatred and step away from studying parts of the Koran and go to the library and read the following books:
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Stigma; notes on the management of spoiled identity – Erving Goffman
Witch Hunts: A graphic history of the Burning Times. Rocky Wood, Lisa Morton and Greg Chapman
Maybe these bigots and advocates of hatred and violence may want to publish their thoughts and interpretation of each book below and if it has affected their thinking on civil rights and freedom in our society.
image sourced from: http://annamariacom.blogspot.com.au/2010/09/ban-burqa-mural-in-newtown.html
I am concerned that as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women, your narrative suggests a very poor understanding of women’s issues in Australia……..This is a letter I have sent to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women today. I have published this as an open letter as I would appreciate feedback and discussion on these points. Many things have occurred in Government since this statement was made, but I haven’t forgotten the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women’s comments on 3AW in September and I am posting this to bring this back into the minds of people who care for and fight for equality for women. I will update you with a response, if I receive one.
Update: International Women’s Day 8th March 2014. I sent this via land mail to PM & Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, cc copies to Senator Moore and Senator Cash on 12 December 2013. I received an in-depth response from Senator Moore within two weeks. To date as of 08/03/2014 almost three months later, I still have not received a response from the Tony Abbott, Minister for Women or Senator Cash, Minister assisting the Minister for Women.
4th June, 2014: After assistance from Senator Larissa Waters of the Greens, I have now received a letter from Mikaela Cash on behalf of the Prime Minister for Women. My question of would he publicly apologise for stating on 3AW that “Women do not suffer legal discrimination in Australia” was not addressed.
Dear Prime Minister
I am concerned that as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women, your narrative suggests a very poor understanding of women’s issues in Australia.
On Friday, 27 September, 2013 Neil Mitchell (Radio 3AW) asked you, “Do you believe women do suffer discrimination in Australia?”
Your response as Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Women was
“I don’t think women suffer legal discrimination and I don’t think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don’t have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that’s going to change very soon under the Coalition.”
Yet women in Australia do experience both legal discrimination and discrimination by default. Your comment above appears to be very short-sighted in terms that you view discrimination against women as ‘accidental’. Comments such as above will continue to enable our society to view discrimination against women as non-harmful and ‘nothing to really worry about’ and not as an ingrained, enabled and supported societal construct that urgently needs to be addressed.
It is also my concern that you appear to take the view, from your comments above, that a paid parental leave scheme is a panacea to eradicating existing discrimination against women. Many areas of discrimination will not be addressed by a paid parental leave scheme, regardless of the avenue of funding. In fact, some of the personal concerns from women detailed across various social media forums indicate otherwise. These women have expressed that they may be further discriminated against if an employer paid parental leave scheme was introduced. I have taken the time to list many of my areas of key concern; however, this is not an exhaustive list.
The Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) (SDA) makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly because they are pregnant, potentially pregnant, breastfeeding or have family responsibilities. It includes both direct and indirect discrimination.
The Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) (SDA) makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly because they are pregnant, potentially pregnant, breastfeeding or have family responsibilities. It includes both direct and indirect discrimination.
It is reported that women are more likely to have postgraduate degrees than men and score higher academically. The statistics indicate that women are discriminated against in terms of accessing the appropriate training for progression or are discriminated against covertly during the recruitment and selection phases of appointments for leadership roles.
It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the attributes of the person.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding
“Rape laws which do not specifically exclude the application of sexist, discriminatory, and Ill-informed attitudes and beliefs in determining outcomes of sexual assault cases tacitly condone rape, condemn women to suffer in silence, and perpetuate and compound this harm consequent on a sexual assault. Law and education play a fundamental role in challenging assumptions and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault” (Source – The Australian Institute of Criminology)
Although an apology has been given to the Stolen Generation by the previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd; there are a myriad of serious effects on those who were stolen and on birth mothers and fathers, and so much more work needs to be done. The extent of the abhorrent discrimination towards this group, by our Governments and services requires urgent attention.
As the Prime Minister of this country, your speech suggesting that there was too much reference to ‘Indigenous heritage’ in the History curriculum (Tony Abbott, National Press Club, September 2013); only serves to permeate in our society, a narrative that continues to discriminate against the Stolen Generation and their future generations. This narrative also seeks to exclude all people of Australia from the truth.
My other concern is if changes to our history curriculum are approved, future leaders will make policy and decisions based on truth built from ignorance; and the mothers, the women, men, girls and boys of the stolen generation, will never see an end to discrimination and disrespect on our Government’s behalf. Adequate compensation in dollar terms and the continual development of support services for this group will be an issue that will forever remain silent.
It is concerning that not only are women under-represented in Australian politics, but Australia is ranked number 43/142 countries for women in national parliaments.
The Australian Government Office for Women, which is part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; aims to ensure a whole-of-government approach to providing better economic and social outcomes for women. However, the analysis by Waring et. al. of the Inter-Parliamentary Union of women in politics; would indicate the Australian Government Office for Women is not well placed to achieve these aims, due to under-representation of women in Parliament, and an absence of a system to redress the imbalance.
I have outlined the reasons below:
In the current Government we are now faced with very little representation of women in Government. Margaret Fitzherbert’s lecture (APH, 2012) outlines many reasons why the Liberal party lags behind in representation. The main reasons are:
Margaret Fitzherbert sums up with, “It’s time for the Liberals to take a lesson from the past – acknowledge the problem, and stop relying on a blind faith in ‘merit’ to somehow provide a sudden increase in numbers of female MPs.”
Although both men and women are discriminated against through lack of legislation supporting marriage equality; my focus for the purpose of this letter is to discuss points of discrimination, particular to women. I will address two areas, discrimination through legislation and discrimination by default through exclusion in society.The Subsection 5(1) of the Marriage Act 1961 defines marriage as ‘…the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’ The definition of the marriage act, merely states that this is a union voluntarily entered into for life. There are no specific parameters which specify what a union means. This is defined in Mary Case’s journal article, “What feminists have to lose in same-sex marriage litigation’
A marriage certificate now allows heterosexual couples to have an open marriage, to live in different cities or in different apartments in the same city, to structure their finances as they please, without having their commitment or the legal benefits that follow from it challenged (p. 1203).
As there are very little restrictions relating to the private behaviours of the marital union, this act is discriminatory purely on the grounds of sex. This is only for persons who identify with having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are distinctly characterised as male or distinctly characterised as female. Therefore, Marriage as defined as a union between a man and a woman, itself is discriminatory based on sex alone.
Women are discriminated within this act as it focuses on ‘sex’ and not ‘gender. This act excludes all persons who identify with a gender, that isn’t normative to their physically or biologically recognised ‘sex’. This act discriminates against all persons who identify as inter-sex. This Act excludes all persons on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
Women are also discriminated against, through legislation informing a society, which excludes understanding and valuing the experiences of unions that are not specifically between a heterosexual man and woman.
Various academic journals discuss that marriage is ingrained in the patriarchal notion that women are subordinate in society. Although this notion is not as entrenched within our whole society today; a quick search of Google for ‘subordinate wife’ will return over six million hits, with a high volume supporting the subordination of women/wives, particularly in a religious context. Through legislating marriage as it currently exists, many women are discriminated against and are exempt from marriage, simply because they choose not to have a union with a man and some because they view marriage as placing women in a subordinate role to men.
Mary Case also highlights in her article, that before becoming pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger advocated for a normative view on gender in relation to subordination of women. This is an excerpt of his 2004 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.
“This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality……… While the immediate roots of this second tendency are found in the context of reflection on women’s roles, its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one’s biological conditioning. According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution.”
My concern is, if we do not allow same-sex couples to just ‘be’ as others are allowed to just ‘be’, our social fabric will always be woven by those in a superior position and superior privilege. Unless our social fabric allows for equal contributions from all, how will we ever have a full understanding of each other? How can our social fabric ever be complete, when we are unconscious to a discourse that is currently silent about family, love, understanding and togetherness as experienced by all?
In a journal article published in the journal of Refugee studies, “Marginal Women, Marginal Rights: Impediments to Gender-Based Persecution Claims by Asylum-seeking Women in Australia”, McPherson et. al (2011) have identified two barriers to women’s claims of Gender Based Persecution: Emergence Barriers, and Assessment Barriers. Emergence Barriers speak to the factors impeding articulation of a claim. Although the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship has responded to the authors of this journal article, the following were not addressed:
This article also highlights that
“The bases upon which clients of our interviewees made asylum claims included sex slavery, rape, sexual abuse and attack, fear of honour killings, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, one-child policies, discrimination due to sexual orientation or feminist political activism, children being under threat, general religious restrictions on women, sexual harassment, denial of education, forced marriages, slavery, trafficking, and imprisonment” (p. 331)
It is my concern that your hard-line stance on Asylum Seekers and ‘turning back the boats’ has become instrumental in ensuring that the reasons women seek asylum remain silent, through the absence of leadership highlighting the atrocities asylum seekers are fleeing from, particularly women. It is also my concern that your hardline stance and popularity on the issue, has become instrumental to the increase in expressions of hatred and vilification of asylum seekers, particularly noticeable across social media forums. Once again, your leadership highlighting reasons women flee asylum is absent and you make no move to challenge this growing discourse. This only serves to further oppress and harm women, fleeing abhorrent levels of violence which ordinary citizens in Australia could never imagine. It can be summed up by this quote:
“Before atrocities are recognized as such, they are authoritatively regarded as either too extraordinary to be believable or too ordinary to be atrocious. If the events are socially considered unusual, the fact that they happened is denied in specific instances; if they are regarded as usual, the fact that they are violating is denied: if it’s happening, it’s not so bad, and if it’s really bad, it isn’t happening (MacKinnon 2006: 3, cited in McPherson, et. al, 2011).
The Hon Judi Moylan MP states in her article “Desperation, Displacement and Detention: Australia’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers Past and Present” Prison Service Journal (2013) that:
“It is axiomatic that tough deterrent policies have not stopped boat arrivals and it is unlikely that any civilised jurisdiction can invoke penalties so harsh, that they stop people escaping unimaginable brutalities. Managing the human dimensions of refugees fleeing war and civil unrest will require a return to regional processing, including ‘effective protections’ and a commitment to resettlement by participating host countries as indicated by UNHCR”
It is my concern that there is a plethora of research which highlights that this Government and the former Government’s stance on off shore processing, only seeks to place those seeking asylum, particularly women seeking asylum under more hardship and harm and as the Prime Minister and Minister for Women, your policies encourage this.
Thank you for reading my letter and taking the time to view my concerns. Would you now consider publicly retracting your original response to Radio 3AW and would you publicly advise the citizens and particularly women of Australia, how your office will address the above areas of discrimination outlined? It would be appreciated if each point could be addressed individually. I ask this, as each point affects women differently and each point deserves individual attention and not an ambiguous collective response, nor a response that disparages any former Governments. My interest is what are your commitments on these issues for the women of Australia?