First published by The Hoopla, 8 March 2015
The traditional March 8 greeting of “happy International Women’s Day” feels like a particularly false note to sound this year.
The headline story on Sunday on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website was about a woman who was assaulted in an alley behind a nightclub by the nightclub owner’s son. “Was a sick night – took a chick’s virginity,” the convicted man sent in a message to his friend.
Meanwhile a prominent female surgeon – a surgeon – is making headlines across the country for a radio interview where she suggested surgical trainees should accept unwelcome advances, because not to do so could “ruin” their careers.
Dr Gabrielle McMullin was referring to a case from 2008, where a trainee won a sexual harassment case, but was subsequently vilified and has not been able to secure work at any Australian public hospital.
“Realistically, she would have been much better to have given him a blow job on that night,’ said Dr McMullin.
Not surprisingly, her comments were met with outrage by advocates for sexual assault and rape victims. But for anyone who has thought long and hard about these issues, the reminder that there are still many people who think it is wise to give in to assault and remain silent about abuse is stark evidence of just how far we still have to go.
There is a stubbornly, shockingly, persistent notion that women will be blamed and shamed for men’s behaviour. But perhaps even more shocking is that some people still seem to believe that we must accept the current state of affairs.
On Monday morning, Fairfax media was reporting that a doctor, “who asked not to be named for fears it would damage her career”, said surgeons called her a “dumb bitch”, and said that women were “f—ing useless” and men should be hired instead.
The Fairfax report said: “On one occasion, a consultant surgeon told her to ‘get some knee pads and learn to suck c–k’, which was laughed off by colleagues who were present. She said that a senior colleague inappropriately touched her on several occasions and that she was ostracised after she rebuked him. ‘They think they own you, a lot of these guys. As soon as you stand up, you cop a lot,’ she said.”
These stories come on top of an already bleak year for women, including the recent release of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, revealing the gender pay gap is 18.8%: up 1.4% from last year, and the worst since records began being collected in 1994.
But most appalling of all is the dreadful record so far this year of 17 women murdered in Australia in domestic violence incidents. The grim statistics are being collected by the Counting Dead Women project, an initiative of the Destroy the Joint movement.
The deaths of two women per week should be viewed as a national emergency. And there are some signs that the conversation about domestic violence is finally taking the main stage, with speeches in parliament, commitments to bipartisan approaches, and Q&A specials tackling the topic. Queensland has held a taskforce into the issue, Victoria is holding a royal commission, Mike Baird is promising a domestic violence offenders register in NSW, and the Abbott government is promising a national intervention order register.
There is one notable reason to cheer this year though: the record number of women elected to parliament in Queensland, where Annastacia Palaszczuk and Jackie Trad lead a glass ceiling-smashing cabinet where eight of the 14 ministers are women.
It’s a small flashback to not that many years ago, when the country was ruled by a female prime minister (Julia Gillard), a female governor general (Quentin Bryce) and a female attorney general (Nicola Roxon). In NSW briefly in 2011, women could add to that list a female premier (Kristina Keneally) and a female governor (Marie Bashir).
It’s a long way from 2015, where our current Minister for Women is Tony Abbott, a prime minister who last week stood up in parliament to justify a LNP International Women’s Day lunch in a men’s-only club.
We still need an International Women’s Day. But what we really need is a whole lot more to celebrate.