One hundred years after women like Emmeline Pankhurst fought for women’s equality, men cannot fully grasp women’s inclusion in the professional world, writes Paul Donoughue.
In Australia, at the turn of the new year, you can pop into your local cinema and see Suffragette, a Hollywood-ised telling of the story of the suffragette movement, the sometimes violent struggle in Great Britain a century ago to grant women the vote.
Or, you can try something different: you can type “news” into your nearest search engine and find a few days’ worth of conduct that – shockingly, 100 years later – feels eerily close to that period.
What a start to the year we’ve had, right, Men of Australia?
We enter 2016 minus a Minister for Cities, because he did not understand how to act around a female colleague. We start the first working week of the year with a Minister for Immigration calling a female journalist a “mad f**king witch” – because, presumably, she had the gall to do her job. And we start the year in domestic cricket with a Melbourne Renegades player openly propositioning a female sports reporter by the side of the pitch.
Who were the targets? A female diplomat, just doing her job. A female political reporter, just doing her job. A female sports reporter, just doing her job.
In none of these three instances did the women call for these men to be punished, let alone sacked. The female diplomat – whose privacy, the Prime Minister said on Monday, remains paramount, lest other women in her situation come to fear speaking out – made a formal complaint, quietly, through the appropriate channels. Samantha Maiden, a veteran reporter and clearly adept at the argy-bargy of political journalism, laughed it off on television the next day – and even included “mad witch” (expletive deleted) in her Twitter bio. And Mel McLaughlin, when the social media storm was brewing on Monday night, let Chris Gayle’s actions speak for themselves.
Some men, despite their power and influence – or perhaps because of it – cannot, consciously or unconsciously, accept women’s place in the world of work, a place equal to their own. They let sexual attraction cloud their professional interactions. And when called out, they seek to spread the blame, to push it back on the other party.
The men here have power, influence, and – in Gayle’s case – 2.7 million Twitter followers, many of whom would be young, impressionable cricket fans both in Australia and overseas. These are men who have risen to prominence in their fields, whose decisions change the course of sporting events, change the course of a country’s policy, change lives.
In Suffragette-era Britain, they would be the – well –men. The men who had the vote, for the themselves alone, and wanted to keep it that way, because they liked the way the country was headed and felt that only those with genitals exterior to the body could keep it on its solid course. Men like Ben Whishaw’s character in Suffragette, Sonny Watt, who considers a woman to be one thing, and one thing alone. “You’re a wife, Maud,” he tells the young agitator, played by Carey Mulligan. “You’re my wife, and that’s all you’re meant to be.”
In Australia, a century later, the Men of Australia, at least as shown by those wielding power and influence, seem incapable of moving beyond that one-dimensional view. It’s a view that, like the actions of Briggs, Dutton and Gayle, cannot remain unchallenged. And the ones that need to challenge it are other men.
It’s our responsibility to call out our friends, our male family members, our colleagues and our teammates, when actions or words are inappropriate; to set the kind of example that is clearly not being set by men of prominence.
Orginally published on The Drum on January 6, 2016.