Sexist abuse has a long history in Australian politics – and takes us all to a dark place



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With some foul-mouthed words to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator David Leyonhjelm has turned a debate about the safety of women into a sleazy political sideshow.
AAP/Mick Tsikas/Sam Mooy

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In one foul-mouthed phrase, Senator David Leyonhjelm has turned a debate about the safety of women into a sleazy political sideshow.

Claiming – without a shred of factual support – that he had interpreted Senator Sarah Hanson-Young as having said words to the effect of “all men are rapists”, Leyonhjelm called across the chamber that she should “stop shagging men”. Confronted by her afterwards, he told her to “fuck off”.

It is one more example of the debasement of political debate in Australia, aided and abetted by elements of the media, in this case Sky News. Its Outsiders panel of Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron gave Leyonhjelm a platform on which he repeated his offensive remarks, and sat back obligingly while he did so.

Only when the network was deluged with complaints did Cameron apologise for the pair of them, and the network took its own action – suspending not Dean and Cameron but the nameless and faceless young female producer who put up a caption at the foot of the screen bearing Leyonhjelm’s words.




Read more:
Madonna or whore; frigid or a slut: why women are still bearing the brunt of sexual slurs


Sexism and sexual innuendo are nothing new in politics. Cheryl Kernot, one-time leader of the Australian Democrats who had an affair with Labor’s Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans and defected to Labor in the late 1990s, was the butt of some crude slanging on the floor of the parliament.

But since June 24, 2010, when Julia Gillard deposed Kevin Rudd as Labor Prime Minister, these phenomena seem to have got palpably worse.

The reasons are necessarily speculative, but over the intervening eight years there have been a series of developments that might help to explain it.

One has been the explosive arrival of social media and its adoption as a tool of propaganda by all who want to make themselves heard, regardless of taste, harm or substance. Facebook, launched in 2004, went global in 2006, the same year that Twitter was launched. YouTube appeared in 2005, Instagram in 2010 (acquired by Facebook in 2012) and Snapchat in 2011.

Whatever benefits they have brought – and there are many – they have also brought trolling.

During the prime ministership of Julia Gillard, a vast amount of trolling was directed at her. It was gross in its extremism and vulgarity. Much of it was crude pornography. There was incitement to violence and unbridled misogyny. Research by Anne Summers for her 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture at the University of Newcastle, revealed just how vile this online assault became.

The poison seeped out into the wider public discourse, where inevitably elements of the mainstream media magnified it.

Notable contributors to this were commercial radio talkback shock jocks Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Chris Smith. Their depictions of, and remarks about, Gillard were disgustingly offensive. Not only were they sexist, extremist and malicious, but in Jones’s case involved encouragement of the idea that the prime minister should be dumped at sea.

And then, of course, there was the infamous question about the sexual orientation of the prime minister’s partner.

Portrayals of Gillard by other elements of the mainstream media, especially the newspapers, were generally less grotesque, but raised important ethical issues just the same.

The most common, and in some ways the most difficult to pin down, concerned the passively neutral way in which they covered the grossly disrespectful public attacks on her, just as Dean and Cameron did on Sunday.

An egregious example was the coverage of the rally outside Parliament House in 2011 when the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, gave legitimacy to sentiments such as “ditch the witch” and “bitch” by allowing himself to be photographed in front of placards bearing those words.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addresses a crowd in front of crude signs referring to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in March, 2011.
AAP/Alan Porritt

A more recent development, also made possible by the internet, has been the rise of the #metoo movement, in which women who previously felt powerless to speak out about sexual harassment are now doing so, bringing down some powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein in the process.

This has produced a backlash consisting of a complicated mix of male dubiety about the exact nature of sexual harassment and irritation by some feminists at what they see as an apparent weakening of women’s agency.

The fact there is a backlash at all doubtless encourages those who wish to say that attention to sexual harassment is overdone, and we should get back to a bit of good old-fashioned slagging of the kind epitomised by Leyonhjelm’s remarks.

A further factor might be that the boundaries of privacy have shifted, so sexual references that would have been deemed off-limits a decade ago are now shared on social media. Perhaps this is having a desensitising effect on standards of public taste.

Trends in public standards influence editorial decision-making. Stories are published that previously might not have been, or might have been toned down.




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View from The Hill: Parliament should care about its reputation even if Leyonhjelm doesn’t value his


As professional mass media try to keep pace with developments in social media, editors may feel they will be left behind if they don’t swiftly adapt to these changing mores and become more libertarian in their decision-making.

In these ways, boundaries in public taste and decency shift over time. However, Leyonhjelm has clearly put himself beyond the pale. Sky News obviously recognised this and felt an apology was necessary, even if Leyonhjelm himself does not.

Meanwhile, it is sobering to reflect on the worst consequences of disrespectful attitudes to women. The shocking rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne last month – which gave rise to the debate in which Leyonhjelm made his disgraceful interjection – has rightly led to an outpouring of community outrage and grief.

The 2018 report of the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network, which draws on data from all the coroners’ courts in Australia, stated that between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2014 there were 152 intimate partner homicides across Australia that followed an identifiable history of domestic violence.

The ConversationOf these, 121, or 79.6%, were women killed by men.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Madonna or whore; frigid or a slut: why women are still bearing the brunt of sexual slurs



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Sarah Hanson-Young on David Leyonhjelm: “He is — for lack of a better word … slut-shaming me”.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Eva Cox, University of Technology Sydney

Senator David Leyonhjelm’s sexist slur on Senator Sarah Hanson-Young during parliamentary debate raises many issues about how women’s credibility can be undermined by implications that they are sexually more active than is deemed “acceptable”.

This is a long-standing tactic, based on sexist assumptions that women can be classified as either Madonna or whore, frigid or slut: something Australian feminist Anne Summers wrote about so powerfully in her book Damned Whores and God’s Police. In it, Summers quoted Caroline Chisholm’s belief that the colony needed “good and virtuous women”. The misuse of female sexuality has more recently been rebadged as “slut shaming”, which in turn created its own feminist protests by women engaging in “slut walks” as a means of reclaiming the term as a positive.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Parliament should care about its reputation even if Leyonhjelm doesn’t value his


As academic and author Jessalynn Keller has written:

The phrase [slut-shaming] became popularized alongside the SlutWalk marches and functions similarly to the “War on Women,” producing affective connections while additionally working to reclaim the word “slut” as a source of power and agency for girls and women.

In this spirit, Hanson-Young has hit back. Leyonhjelm has refused to apologise for his comments, and Hanson-Young is now seeking further action. “I have a responsibility now, I have a responsibility to call this for what it is,” she told ABC radio. She said Leyonhjelm had suggested she was “sexually promiscuous”. She continued:

He is — for lack of a better word, and I really apologise for this, I’m thankful that my daughter is home in bed still and not up for school — he’s slut-shaming me.

This conflict arose from one of the many debates raised by the astounding successes of the #metoo movement, which has exposed women’s widespread experiences of sexual harassment and bullying.

The wider debate records what are obviously very long-standing differences of criteria applied to women’s behaviour as opposed to men’s. Despite it being nearly 70 years since publication of another classic feminist tome, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, women are still seen as Other, and defined by powerful male criteria.

Whereas men’s virtues are often seen as multiple and universal, those seen as relating to women are still tied to outdated moral codes that assume our sexual behaviour is the primary indicator of who we are.

While sexual prowess and multiple “conquests” may be indicators of men’s approved masculinity, women may lose legitimacy if they are deemed promiscuous by having multiple partners.

There is no doubt men’s active sexuality is deemed acceptable and often excused as driven by physical needs, but women are still criticised for leading men on or astray. In other words, not only can’t women win in terms of their own sexuality and how it is somehow tied to their moral character, they are often asked, implicitly or explicitly, to take responsibility for men’s sexual behaviour too.

The so-called sexual revolution, catalysed by the availability of reliable female contraception in the 1960s, does not seem to have freed women in the same way it freed men. Interestingly, there is still no male pill that would reduce the risks for women, so we still carry that responsibility far too often.

All of this raises questions of how far real equality for women has come. I often quote a 1970s badge that read “women who want equality with men lack ambition”. We wanted to change what was valued and by whom, to balance the emphasis on macho material goals, tastes, attitudes and ambitions.

Current evidence suggests that, despite having more women in the senior ranks of most institutions, these are still there as parvenus, subjected to male criteria of what they think matters.

So women who do not fit the designated behaviour of Madonnas or whores are likely to be targeted for sledging. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard copped it and there is no evidence the culture has improved.

For his part, Leyonhjelm is unrepentant. When asked whether his reaction was too personal, regardless of what he thought Hanson-Young, he said:

I think you’re being way too precious. If you’re a woman of 36, unless you’re celibate, it might be a reasonable assumption that you’re shagging men occasionally. It’s a legitimate assumption and I simply made that assumption.

This just reinforces the idea that she is promiscuous, which he must know will reduce her wider credibility. It is an oddly puritanical comment, given he claims to be libertarian.

The ConversationMany politicians have taken issue with Leyonhjelm’s comments, though it is perhaps in part a result of the general debasing of parliamentary debate in recent years. Let’s hope the public outrage over this particular incident will create some push-back against vocal sexist slurs against women, in parliament and in broader society.

Eva Cox, Professorial Fellow, Jumbunna IHL, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Parliament should care about its reputation even if Leyonhjelm doesn’t value his


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If David Leyonhjelm hasn’t apologised to Sarah Hanson-Young by the time parliament resumes next month, the Senate should tell him to do so.

The recalcitrant Liberal Democrat senator might tell his upper house colleagues to go jump, but the Senate needs to take a stand for the sake of its own reputation.

The outraged Greens have already flagged they’ll move a censure over Leyonhjelm’s smearing of their senator.

This matter goes beyond the actual stoush between the two. It raises the issue of when parliament should call out unacceptable behaviour by its members. It has also triggered questions about the media’s role.

Let’s go back to the start. Last Thursday Hanson-Young told the Senate that during a motion relating to violence against women, “senator Leyonhjelm yelled an offensive and sexist slur at me from across the chamber.

“After the vote on the motion was complete, I walked over to the senator and confronted him directly. I asked whether I had heard him correctly. He confirmed that he had yelled, ‘You should stop shagging men, Sarah.’

“Shocked, I told him that he was a creep. His reply was to tell me to ‘f… off’,” she said.

Earlier, Greens leader Richard Di Natale had approached Senate president Scott Ryan about the incident. Ryan spoke to Leyonhjelm. Leyonhjelm wouldn’t apologise.

Subsequently, Leyonhjelm gave his version in a media statement, saying during the debate Hanson-Young had interjected “something along the lines of all men being rapists. [She says her interjection was ‘putting more tasers on the streets would not make women more safe from men’].

“I responded by suggesting that if this were the case she should stop shagging men.”

Adding more provocation, Leyonhjelm said in his statement that while not prepared to apologise “I am prepared to rephrase my comments. I strongly urge senator Hanson-Young to continue shagging men as she pleases.”

The incident has blown up especially because of what followed at the weekend. Leyonhjelm was interviewed on Sky and on 3AW on Sunday morning. On each program he cast a particular slur on Hanson-Young’s reputation.

On 3AW he was challenged by the presenters. On Sky’s Outsiders it was a different story. He fitted the vibe of a program, that stretches to breaking point the limits of the permissible. A strap line was put up of his words, “SARAH HANSON-YOUNG IS KNOWN FOR LIKING MEN THE RUMOURS ABOUT HER IN PARLIAMENT ARE WELL KNOWN”.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Within hours Sky apologised to Hanson-Young for “broadcasting appalling comments … and for highlighting them in an on-screen strap”. It said a producer had been suspended, ahead of an internal investigation.

Multiple Sky presenters distanced themselves in tweets. Hanson-Young announced on Monday that she was seeking legal advice. Letters have been sent to Sky, 3AW and Leyonhjelm. She could only sue in relation to what happened outside parliament.

Ryan – who did his best on the day – has explained that he doesn’t have power to force an apology.

He said on twitter on Friday: “As the comments were not part of the formal proceedings of the Senate, they are not recorded in Hansard and therefore I have no authority to require a withdrawal, nor do I have the power to demand an apology from any senator or apply a sanction such as suspension.”

Leyonhjelm, who is railing against misandry (hatred of men) told Fairfax Media it would be easier to apologise but that would be “insincere… because I don’t think I have anything to apologise for”.

If Leyonhjelm really believes that, he is totally out of touch with reasonable standards of behaviour, let alone how ordinary people think their representatives should conduct themselves, whatever their disagreements.

His conduct is at the extreme end of the discourteous, sometimes boorish, discourse that too often is characterising political exchanges. And politicians then wonder why so many people are angry at them.

As for Sky, its response has been less than convincing – some might say it is hiding behind a petticoat.

Di Natale opined that Sky’s “apology rings hollow when the man who made the offensive comments goes unpunished, the male producers who booked him go unpunished, the male executives who set the tone and pay their salaries go unpunished and the only one held accountable is a junior producer who also happens to be a female member of staff.”

Suspending a producer, over the strap line, is tokenism. The fact the strap line “highlighted” what was said is hardly the point. Leyonhjelm himself said on Monday “the producer was not responsible for my comments” and pointed to Sky fears about losing sponsorship.

Forget the producer – wasn’t it for the the hosts, Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron, to challenge, or stop, Leyonhjelm? Yet Cameron wound up the segment with the words, “senator David Leyonhjelm, we appreciate your advocacy of the individual to be defended against the sludge of the collective”. (Later in the program – presumably after someone twigged – Dean started the damage control, saying Leyonhjelm’s views “are not the views of Sky News”.)

There was not a word about the presenters in the Sky apology – which was not issued in anyone’s name.

As for an internal investigation, is that needed? Aren’t things pretty obvious? Leyonhjelm was invited on to be controversial. He did exactly what was wanted but when it didn’t work out too well, Sky failed to confront the real issue for the network – a low rent program.

The ConversationCameron and Dean on Monday night admitted that a line had been crossed and they disassociated “ourselves from the use of unverified rumour and innuendo”. Pity they didn’t see the line when Leyonhjelm crossed it in their plain sight.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

INDIA: CHRISTIANS BREATHE EASIER AFTER ELECTIONS


How Hindu extremist BJP will respond to surprising defeat, though, remains to be seen.

NEW DELHI, May 21 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in India are heaving a sigh of relief after the rout of a Hindu nationalist party in national and state assembly elections in Orissa state, a scene of anti-Christian arson and carnage last year.

The ruling centrist party won a second term, but concerns over persecution of minorities remain.

A local centrist party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), took charge of the government of the eastern state of Orissa today, and tomorrow the new federal government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be sworn in, representing a second term for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the left-of-center Indian National Congress, commonly known as the Congress Party.

“The election result is a statement against the persecution of non-Hindus,” Vijay Simha, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Compass.

“There were a string of incidents against non-Hindus, which were principally enacted by right-wing outfits,” added Simha, who reported on anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district of Orissa in August-September 2008. “Since the vote went against right-wing parties, the result is a strong rejection of extremist religious programs.”

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “defeated not by Christians or Muslims, but by secular Hindus.”

Over 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people in India are Hindu. Christians form around 2.3 percent of the population, and Muslims about 14 percent.

The Times of India on Saturday (May 16) quoted Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Congress Party, as saying that his party’s victory was a rejection of politics of caste and religion and acceptance of “clean and honest” policies symbolized by Prime Minister Singh.

“Internal criticisms within the BJP have brought out that it is losing popularity among youth as well as among the urban middle classes, two segments where it had been strong earlier and which represent the emergent India of the 21st century,” stated an editorial in the daily.

Crossroads

The BJP’s defeat at the national level is expected to compel the party to decide whether it turns to moderation in its ideology or more extremism in desperation.

“The BJP now faces a dilemma … Its appeal based on Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] and divisiveness stands rejected by the electorate,” wrote Prem Prakash of ANI news agency. “Where does the party go from here? … The party seems to be waiting for the RSS to provide answers for all this . . . The time has come for it to clearly define what kind of secularism it accepts or preaches.”

Hopes of Christians, however, abound.

“I am hoping that the BJP will learn that it does not pay to persecute minorities, and that civilized Hindus are disgusted with divisive antics of the RSS family,” said the AICC’s Dayal.

Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese is also hopeful.

“Let’s hope that the new government would work harder to protect all minorities, particularly the constitutional guarantees with regard to religious freedom,” he said.

Father Babu Joseph of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India said, “The Indian Catholic bishops are confident that the Congress Party-led UPA government will keep its promises of safeguarding the country from communal and divisive forces and restore confidence among all sections of people, particularly among the religious minorities for providing a stable, secular and democratic government.”

Threats Continue

The defeat of the BJP, however, may not bring much respite to those facing persecution at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.

“One would expect a lessening in persecution of Christians and other non-Hindus – however, extremist groups often step up activities to garner funds and patronage when they are on the retreat,” warned journalist Simha. “So, one could also see a rise in anti-minority activities.”

The BJP, which began ruling the federal government in 1998, was defeated by the Congress Party in 2004, which, too, was seen as a mandate against Hindu nationalism. Prime Minister Singh said during his swearing in ceremony in May 2004 that the mandate for the Congress-led UPA was for change and “strengthening the secular foundation of our republic.”

After the BJP’s defeat, however, Christian persecution did not stop. According to the Christian Legal Association, at least 165 anti-Christian attacks were reported in 2005, and over 130 in 2006. In 2007, the number of incidents rose to over 1,000, followed by the worst-ever year, 2008, for the Christian minority in India.

Forsaking its extremist ideology could also be difficult for the BJP because there was a leadership change in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist conglomerate and the parent organization of the BJP, a month before the elections. On March 21, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, formerly general secretary, was made the head of the RSS.

On March 22, The Hindu quoted an anonymous leader of the BJP as saying, “Mr. Bhagwat has clarity in ideology; he is a quick decision-maker; he takes everybody along; and he expects 100 per cent implementation of decisions.”

A day before his ascent to the top position, Bhagwat had sent a message to RSS workers across the country to come out in full force and “ensure 100 percent voting” in “the interest of Hindus” during this year’s elections, added the daily.

Further, after the BJP’s defeat in 2004, sections of the cadre of the RSS and affiliated groups broke away from the conglomerate as they felt the organization was too “moderate” to be able to establish a Hindu nation. Among the known Hindu splinter groups are the Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), which operates mainly in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh and the western state of Maharashtra, and the Sri Ram Sene (Army of Rama, a Hindu god), which recently became infamous for its violently misogynistic moral policing in the city of Mangalore, Karnataka.

Furthermore, there are pockets, especially in the central parts of the country and parts of Karnataka in the south, where the BJP remains a dominant party.

Embarrassing Defeat

Results of the general elections and state assembly polls in Orissa and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which were held simultaneously between April 16 and May 13, were declared on Saturday (May 16).

Of the 543 parliamentary constituencies, 262 went to the UPA. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, got 160, while the Third Front, a grouping of smaller and regional parties led by communists, bagged only 79.

The Congress Party alone won 206 seats, whereas the BJP’s count was 116 – a strong indication that a majority of the people in Hindu-majority India are against Hindu extremism.

The UPA has the support of 315 Members of Parliament, far higher than the 272 minimum needed to form government.

The embarrassing defeat for the BJP came as a surprise. Hoping to gain from its hardcore Hindu nationalist image, the BJP had made leader Narendra Modi, accused of organizing an anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, its star campaigner.

Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, spoke in around 200 election rallies, out of which the party could win only 18 seats outside Gujarat.

In Orissa, where the BJP had openly supported the spate of attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district following the murder of a Hindu nationalist leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by Maoists on Aug. 23, 2008, the party won not a single parliamentary seat – not even in Kandhamal.

The BJP candidate for the Kandhamal constituency, Ashok Sahu, contested from jail, as he was arrested on April 14 for making an inflammatory speech against Christians. Sahu hoped to gain the sympathy of Hindus by going to jail.

The BJP was sharing power with the ruling BJD in Orissa until March 17. The BJD broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP over its role in the violence that lasted for over a month and killed more than 127 people and destroyed 315 villages, 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, besides rendering more than 50,000 homeless.

Even in the state assembly elections in Orissa, the BJP faced a debacle. Of the 147 seats, it won only seven. The BJD swept the polls with 109 seats. The Congress Party managed to get 27.

The seven assembly seats won by the BJP include two from Kandhamal district. The BJP’s Manoj Pradhan, who is facing 14 cases of rioting and murder in connection with the Kandhamal violence, won the G. Udayagiri assembly seat in Kandhamal. In the Balliguda assembly constituency, also in Kandhamal, BJP sitting legislator Karendra Majhi retained the seat. Both G. Udayagiri and Balliguda were at the epicenter of the last year’s violence.

Even in Andhra Pradesh state, where Hindu nationalist groups have launched numerous attacks on Christians in the last few years, the BJP had a poor showing. Of the 42 parliamentary seats, the Congress Party won 33. The BJP’s count was nil.

In assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress Party won 158 of the 294 seats, gaining a majority to form the state government for another five-year term. The BJP did not get even one seat.

In the northern state of Uttarakhand, where the BJP is a ruling party, its count was zero. The Congress Party won all five parliamentary seats.

In Rajasthan state, also in the north, the BJP could win only four seats. The Congress Party, on the other hand, won 20. The BJP had passed an anti-conversion law in 2006 when it was a ruling party. The bill is yet to be signed by the state governor.

In the 2009 election, the BJP got 10 seats in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, where the Congress Party got only one. In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP won three of the four seats.

In the eastern state of Jharkhand, the BJP bagged eight seats, and the Congress Party only one. In Gujarat, the BJP’s tally was 15, whereas the Congress won 11. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 16 and Congress 12.

Report from Compass Direct News