Protecting misogynists

 

By Clementine Ford

Australian politics continues to reveal  its inherent problem with women, with a Nationals staffer being placed on “indefinite leave” after he “accidentally” sent a misogynistic, abusive rant to the female journalist his words were targeting.

The unnamed man sent the text to News Corp’s Annika Smethurst, writing, “I thought my mum would write…no…hope her family dies of vicious cancel [sic]…I mean that…painful cancer for a vicious feminist c—t.” The text went on to say, “A c—t. Let her come to my home…slap her on her bitch face.”

There’s no universe in which this content could at all be considered acceptable or defensible, yet the Nationals have tried to do the latter in a circular way. In his response, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the text had been “accidentally and inadvertently” sent to Smethurst instead of the intended recipient, a friend of the staffer. McCormack went on to offer the standard follow up so often given in situations like these, in which “counselling” would be offered to “help deal with the issues underlying this event”. The Deputy Nationals leader, Bridget McKenzie, also offered this caveat to her condemnation of the language used: “It is my understanding the offending text was not intended for the recipient.”

Are we supposed to think it makes it better that Misogynist 1 only meant for someone who thinks just like him to see him talking about slapping a woman on her “bitch face” and hoping her whole family dies of cancer?

This wasn’t a story beat in a political satire (although it’s certainly feels like Australian politics is satire). I wouldn’t be the only person who feels worse knowing that this is how people placed in positions of enormous Federal power speak about women behind closed doors, when they think no one’s watching or listening. Because there’s Gadsby’s Line again – the one that self-fancying “good” men draw in the sand depending on which environment they’re operating in.

 We all grapple with feelings of animosity in the workplace, and we’ve all probably sent expletive ridden texts to friends complaining about colleagues or bosses or even other friends. This isn’t about blowing off steam or expressing anger. What is key here is the choice of language used. That some men can so easily resort to the most despicable of misogynistic imagery to express their rage about women is a problem that is far more widespread than many people want to acknowledge.

Every day, I field messages from men of all ages who attempt to attack me with base, disgusting misogyny. Often, these men hide behind the veil of anonymity. An increasing number of them are teenage boys. The content rarely varies. Here are just some of the things I’ve been seen in the past week:

Get back in the kitchen, bitch.

I hope you get raped, you whore.

Kill yourself, you feminazi.

You’re the load your mother should have swallowed.

 

To be clear, I don’t think it’s disagreement or even strong language that’s the problem here. We aren’t obliged to be nice to everyone all the time, and people with whom we have fundamental ideological differences are free to express those differences and vice versa. What I have a problem with – and indeed, what we should ALL have a problem with – is the form that disagreement takes. What we reach for in our moments of rage reveals far more about us than it does our opponents.

The text message sent by the unnamed staffer (and take a moment to reflect on how it is his that his anonymity gets to be preserved when the media had no problem splashing the names of two people associated with the Greens all across the papers when their ‘offences’ were so much less severe than this) wasn’t appalling because he was angry with a journalist. It was appalling because he used the fact of her gender to channel that anger through a lens of gross misogyny. Would he have written the same about a man? Absolutely not. Would Julia Gillard have copped the specific kinds of abuse she did as Prime Minister if her name had been Julian? No. Men aren’t called whores or sluts. They aren’t degraded with graphic descriptions of their bodies being mutilated or sexually violated. If rape is invoked against them, it’s usually in reference to the women who they love.

We should all be deeply concerned at how freely this kind of language is called on, against women on both sides of the political fence and by men who are similarly bipartisan. These aren’t meaningless actions. They expose men’s deep and fundamental hostility towards women, and it’s a hostility that is not dying out with age but instead transferred to future generations. It isn’t just prominent women who are spoken to in this manner. Women with no public profile face this aggression every day. Girls are dealing with it too, often from boys they’re forced to go to school with and thus downplay how violent and frightening they find it.

Misogyny is alive and well in Australia. The writing is right there, on the wall.

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Clementine Ford is an Australian feminist writer, broadcaster and public speaker. She has a regular column in Daily Life. You can follow her on Twitter at @clementine_ford.

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