‘Cultural misogyny’ and why men’s aggression to women is so often expressed through sex


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Xanthe Mallett, University of NewcastleAs the country watches Scott Morrison grapple with the sex scandals rocking our federal parliament, it is worth wondering what has really changed since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now-famous 2012 “misogyny” speech.

The power of that speech is undeniable, and it resonates loudly today.

Gillard spoke to the imbalance of power between men and women and the under-representation of women in positions of authority. Her speech raised serious concerns about how some politicians saw women’s roles in contemporary Australia.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Scott Morrison attempted to address the most recent shocking allegations of lewd behaviour by some coalition staff – the allegation being a group of government staffers had shared images and videos of themselves undertaking lewd acts in Parliament House, including in the office of a female federal MP.

These stories raise the question as to why some men participate in sexually denigrating women – both those in authority as well as those in positions of submission in hierarchical organisations. And why is male aggression towards women so often expressed through sex rather than through other means?

As a criminologist, I interpret men’s sexually aggressive behaviour – whether it is desecrating a women’s desk by videoing himself masturbating on it, or a sexual assault – as an activity born of a need for power and control.

When some men feel challenged, or want to dominate someone to fulfil an innate internal inadequacy, they can feel the need to do so sexually. Often, the subjects of their rage about feelings of inadequacy are women.

From lewd comments, to being groped, through to sexual assault, the attacks on women in the workplace continue.

Research suggests heterosexual men who are more socially dominant are also more likely to sexually objectify women. When these men are placed in positions of submission to women at work and their dominance is challenged, the levels of sexual objectification of women go up. This supports the assertion that some men increase their dominance by sexually objectifying women, and this objectification can become physical.

This conversation around how we address this has been building for some time.




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In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral, as women started to share their negative sexual experiences via social media. The discussion initially focused on women being sexually harassed by their bosses in the media and entertainment industry, but it soon became obvious the problem was much wider than that. It permeates every industry in every country.

Sexual harassment and assault are more common than many people might believe, or want to believe. A 2018 study surveyed 2,000 people in the US. It found 81% of women and 43% of men had suffered some form of sexual harassment or assault. Further, 38% of the women surveyed said they have suffered from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The picture is mirrored in Australia. A 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission report found 23% of women said they had been sexually harassed at work in the previous 12 months.

In 2021, we are still having the same debate.

One big question is where these bad male behaviours originate from?

Social Learning Theory might help us to understand what is going on in relation to some men’s need for sexual domination of women. It is based in the premise that individuals develop notions of gender and the associated behaviours by watching others and mimicking them. This learning is then reinforced vicariously through the experiences of others.

Combine this learnt behaviour with cognitive development theory, which suggests gender-related behaviour is an adoption of a gender identity through an intellectual process, and we can see how misogynistic behaviours can be identified, remembered, and mimicked by subsequent generations of males.

This could be termed “cultural misogyny”.

How do we change the dynamic?

The only way to shift the framing around appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and society more generally, is to continue to break down gender stereotypes. Women need to be elevated to positions of power to reduce male domination in all aspects of life. We must challenge the undermining of women’s and girl’s autonomy and value when boys exhibit it, to break the chain of passing on these negative attitudes.




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We are only now beginning to the hear the breadth of stories from women speaking out about their own negative experiences.

As a woman in academia – a very hierarchical structure – I have been sexually harassed, and I just accepted it as part of my working world. My experience was with a very senior member of a previous university, and I would never have considered challenging him or reporting it, as I was very well aware of the power he had over me and my career. I even considered changing organisations to avoid the unwanted behaviours.

The brave women who are now speaking up have changed the way I view my own experience. The more we raise our voices, support each other and encourage change in the attitudes around us, the more we will all benefit.The Conversation

Xanthe Mallett, Forensic Criminologist, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Memo Liberal women: if you really want to confront misogyny in your party, you need to fix the policies


Michelle Arrow, Macquarie UniversityOne group of women was strikingly absent from the March4Justice rallies last week: Coalition MPs. Admittedly, there are not many of them (only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female), but the refusal of the minister for women to attend the demonstration was a remarkable abrogation of responsibility.

One female Liberal MP, Tasmanian Bridget Archer, attended the demonstration, assuming – wrongly – it would receive bipartisan support. Like many who marched, she was motivated to attend by what she described as “a deep-seated rage”.

Women across Australia have expressed similar feelings: March4Justice events held across the country attested to a resurgent feminist anger. This rage has been sparked by overwhelming evidence of a misogynist culture that ignores and downplays sexual assault and enables perpetrators to escape justice.

Very few of the LNP’s female ministers spoke out against their party’s culture of toxic masculinity in the wake of the news about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape. Like most players in this awful story, most seemed focused on establishing their lack of knowledge of the incident after it allegedly took place.

How extraordinary, then, were the events of Monday evening. Reports broke that male Liberal staffers had exchanged videos featuring themselves engaging in sex acts in Parliament House. In particular, the revelation that one male staffer had filmed himself masturbating on a female MP’s desk seems to have finally prompted some reticent female MPs to comment. Liberal MP Katie Allen declared on Twitter:

Nationals MP Michelle Landry told reporters she was “absolutely horrified” by the story, but added: “The young fellow concerned was a really good worker and he loved the place. I feel bad for him about this.”

That these reports of lewd behaviour in Parliament House are now drawing the comment of otherwise silent female Liberal and Nationals MPs is telling. If these MPs were serious about confronting a misogynist culture in their party, they would have to deal with the impact of the Coalition’s policies on women.

A Liberal male staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk is merely a symptom of something very wrong in the party’s attitudes to women, not the sum total of it.

Let’s start with JobSeeker. Women form the majority of 2 million JobSeeker recipients affected by the federal government’s decision to replace the $75-a-week Coronavirus Supplement with a $25-a-week permanent increase in JobSeeker. The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) warned that rolling back the supplement would have a “devastating” impact on women. The government did it anyway.




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The government consistently failed to recognise the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. During the COVID lockdowns, women lost their jobs at a faster rate than men and were offered fewer supports. They also shouldered far more of the unpaid care work associated with childcare and home schooling.

Yet government ministers failed to consult the Office for Women on the big policy responses to the pandemic, including JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Free childcare was the first policy to be wound back in the pandemic “snapback” last year.

Childcare was the first support to be rolled back during the COVID pandemic.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The mismanagement and neglect in aged care is a feminist issue. Two out of three residents in aged care are women. Almost 90% of the aged care workforce is female.

The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care called for much stricter regulation and improvements to workforce conditions. Yet, given the government has consistently rejected calls for greater regulation of the sector, the future looks bleak for those who live and work in residential aged care.

Women also bore the brunt of the massive fee hikes to university courses that formed the centrepiece of the government’s Job-Ready Graduates Package in 2020. The steepest fee increases (up to 113% in some cases) were for humanities and social sciences courses: in 2018, women comprised two-thirds of enrolments in these subjects.




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On domestic and family violence, the government has reduced supports for survivors, who are overwhelmingly women. The telephone counselling service 1800 RESPECT, previously managed by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, was outsourced to a private health insurer in 2017. There was a corresponding decline in the quality of service offered to those in need.

The government’s recent merger of the Family and Federal Courts reduces the resources available to women and their children for settling complex family law matters. The government was even considering allowing domestic violence survivors to access their superannuation early – effectively funding their own meagre safety nets – to escape violent relationships, an idea it has since abandoned.

Of course, the ALP is not immune from making policies that harm women. On the day Julia Gillard delivered her famous misogyny speech in parliament in 2012, the Labor government also legislated to move thousands of women from a parenting payment to the lower Newstart payment.

But the far wider breadth and depth of successive LNP governments’ attacks on women through policy are, frankly, breathtaking.

Feminism, LNP-style: Julie Bishop’s red shoes.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

LNP women’s attitude to feminism might be best summed up by Julie Bishop’s sparkly red shoes. She wore them on the day she resigned as foreign minister, her leadership aspirations defeated by men in her own party, whom she only now identifies as the “big swinging dicks”. The shoes today sit on display in Old Parliament House.

Bishop’s brand of glamorous, individualistic one-woman celebration took her all the way to cabinet. Until, that is, it couldn’t take her any further. A “feminism” premised on a single white woman’s empowerment, rather than a movement that works to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all women, is not up to the demands of the present moment.

All the quotas in the world won’t change the culture of the government if none of the women who are elected are prepared to stand up for women’s rights.


Correction: this article originally said “only 23% of the government’s MPs are female”. It has been changed to “only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female”.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.