Scott Morrison may have had some difficulty communicating with Australian women recently. But there is one very specific set of voters with whom the PM maintains a strong connection. He clearly has the ear of a large number of Australian men.
While polling shows approval for the PM dropping sharply among women recently, his approval rating among men remains high. It’s hardly surprising, with so much of his political persona carefully crafted in the mould of the average Aussie Bloke.
And this is where the PM has missed a crucial opportunity in the past few months, again highlighted in his address to this week’s National Summit on Women’s Safety. Among the thousands of words spoken and written about the rolling crisis of sexual harassment and assault engulfing political parties and Federal Parliament, there has been one glaring omission in the messages coming from the top.
There‘s a simple imperative here. Australia doesn’t have a “women’s problem”, it is very clearly a men’s problem. Men built the system, we still largely hold the power and set the culture. The responsibility for behavioural and structural change lies squarely at the feet of men.
A National Summit on Women’s Safety would be completely unnecessary if men got their act together and addressed the problem.
Wouldn’t it be great to see Scott Morrison spend some of the substantial political capital he has banked with men? To talk directly to us about how we can stand beside women and start to address the violence and deep cultural barriers faced by women in Australia.
Picture the scene. It’s late Sunday afternoon. ScoMo is wearing his favourite Sharks jersey, with their dressing room as a backdrop…
Here’s the message I’d love to hear the PM send to the men of Australia:
“Today, I would like to speak directly with the men and boys of Australia.
I have reflected deeply on the events of the past few months, on my reactions, and the response of my government. We have been found wanting.
I ask you to join me in acknowledging that – for too long – we have turned a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a cold heart to the unacceptable discrimination, harassment, and violence faced by Australian women.
The evidence is clear. The statistics are shocking. 85% of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. One in six women have experienced sexual assault at least once since the age of 15. One in six.
The vast majority of reported sexual assault and sexual harassment is perpetrated by men. Men who may be our dads, brothers, sons, mates, colleagues, and yes, even ourselves.
The responsibility lays squarely with men. With ALL of us.
Addressing this crisis starts with respect. It’s as simple as that. We need to see beyond the roles of wife, mother, daughter and recognise women as fellow humans.
And respect starts with listening.
Let the voices of women with lived experience of discrimination, harassment and assault sit with you. And all of us know women who have experienced this, even though we may not all realise it.
Recognise the pain, the sheer exhaustion at having to deal with this every single day. And acknowledge the remarkable courage of survivors to keep doing their jobs, living their lives in the face those challenges.
Women are having a go, day in day out. But they aren’t getting a go. Not by a long shot.
For many of us, this will not be an easy thing to do. It will be confronting, it will make us feel defensive, even angry.
We should not shy away from that discomfort. Weigh it against the very real trauma, exasperation, and justified anger of women in Australia at what they have suffered for too long. We have to resist the urge to defend and deflect, and look to constructive paths forward.
I have been listening. And as the prime minister, I want to send an unequivocal message of zero tolerance to my colleagues and staff.
As the lawmakers and elected representatives of our nation, we should expect to be held to a higher standard of behaviour. In fact, we should set the high bar.
There are clear community expectations and standards of acceptable conduct. If you can’t uphold those standards, there is no place for you in the Parliament and you are not welcome in the party. Harassment and violence will not be tolerated.
This is just the start of what requires concerted effort at all levels of government. But we all have role to play in breaking down the cultural and social barriers women face every day.
We must help our sons, brothers, mates, and colleagues to do better. We must hold ourselves, and each other, to a higher standard. Call out bad behaviour and refuse to tolerate disrespect and violence. And we must centre our response with the women on the receiving end of the violence, harassment and discrimination.
We don’t question the bloke on the receiving end of a head high tackle, we punish the guy who hit him. What women wear, or whether they’ve been drinking is irrelevant. Women will truly feel safe in this country when violence and harassment ceases to exist, not because we find a way to protect them from it.
This demands deep reflection and a rejection of deeply ingrained behaviours and attitudes. Those behaviours and attitudes have long past their use-by date. This will not be easy for many men.
But the Australian character is not founded on taking the easy option. We should be inspired by the courage and conviction of survivors, and the perseverance of so many women to overcome the barriers they face.
Change starts here and now. This is our moment to stand up and stand beside the women of Australia.
By making Australia a safe, inclusive place where women can thrive, our nation will be a better place for ALL of us. Thank you.”