The recent Four Corners report “Inside the Canberra Bubble” generated a whole lot of debate about whether the story was in the public interest or not?
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, much of the commentary was divided down gender lines.
A lot of women say yes, it is a matter of public interest, while many men believe what happens in a dark corner of a bar between a minister of the Crown and an employee is no one else’s business.
But this is not about sex.
This is about male privilege and workplace cultures that protect men and discourage women from speaking out.
This is also about power imbalance.
My hunch is women say it is in the public interest because most women have seen or endured, or at least know of a woman who has experienced unacceptable workplace behaviour.
I certainly know what it feels like…
A man’s lips rushing towards mine to greet me (I almost give myself whiplash to get out of the firing line).
A man lifting my dress over my head on the dance floor.
A man following me into the bathroom and pulling out his penis.
All work associates. All more senior and older than me.
Everyone has the right to feel safe, secure and comfortable in their workplace or in a work situation – or frankly, anywhere.
So yes, when your workplace has a culture of disrespect towards women, where in some cases women are treated like playthings, it is absolutely a matter of public interest.
I didn’t always speak out about sexism during my career because it’s hard carving out a career in a male-dominated field, especially in the early days. The last thing you want to do is rock the boat when it involves a ‘revered’ man and a whiff of controversy.
I knew that by turning a blind eye to darker elements of sporting culture, I was compromising my values but it was a conscious decision to just get on with it and kick career goals. I didn’t feel great about it. I still don’t.
Let’s face it, women who speak out about sexism, discrimination and inequality are labelled troublemakers, killjoys and uptight, and retribution can be swift.
Two of the women featured in the Four Corners story know about that. Kathleen Foley, the Melbourne barrister who described Attorney-General Christian Porter as “deeply sexist” and a “misogynist”, lost her bid for re-election to the Victorian Bar’s governing council. She just happened to also be a staunch advocate for changing the profession’s attitudes towards women. Former senior ministerial advisor Rachelle Miller, who has made an official complaint about the way she was treated by her boss at the time, government minister Alan Tudge, was demoted after their affair ended, and she may lose her new job with a defence contractor after her Four Corners appearance.
Conversely, both men have continued on their merry way, hypocritically espousing ‘family values’ – while Tudge was also a vocal advocate of traditional marriage during the same-sex marriage debate.
Can you imagine if a woman with the same views about marriage was outed as having an affair with an employee? She’d be crucified. Just think about what happened to Labor MP Emma Husar, who lost party endorsement for her seat and was pursued relentlessly by the media, amid unproven allegations of sexualised workplace misconduct.
An appalling example of double standards.
This is why women bury their own values, and go along with things.
The sad reality for girls is that this kind of pact with the devil starts early. Although society’s tight grip on gender stereotypes is slowly loosening, as girls become older the pressure to accept intrusions and impositions and insults without causing too much fuss – especially when they’re made by men in powerful positions – is always there.
Women and girls can absolutely make a difference by challenging the status quo, but there’s a limit to how much can be achieved when your views aren’t equally respected and you don’t have the same decision-making clout.
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to wave that will get rid of deeply entrenched sexism.
The solution lies in men respecting women and treating them as equals.
I’m sick and tired of women shouldering the conversations about basic decency and respect.
Men have to step up.
Men have the power to smash the paradigm, if the will is there.
Men have the opportunity – and I’d say responsibility – to fix things.
A good starting point for all men is to stop enabling sexist or demeaning comments, un-asked for gropes, kisses and drunken lunges. Men need to stop viewing women as a score card. All this stuff adds up and creates the culture of the place where you work.
The only way forward is for all of us to speak out.