(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

Scott Morrison is boxed into a corner on gender equality, and it will take a Houdini-like performance for him or his government to escape without serious damage.

Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos, two strong and savvy young women, have managed to create a movement that just might — and certainly should — change the course of history.

The clue to that was in Monday’s marches. In Sydney and Brisbane and Canberra and elsewhere, people rallied against an inequality that has been ignored for too long, as well as a prime minister whose inaction is perpetuating it.

But it wasn’t just the number of protesters that signalled how this might play out at the ballot box; rather, it was the breadth of people who left their homes and offices and schools to make this protest count.

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Women and men. Students in full school uniform, accompanied by teachers and school principals. The very young and the very old. Professionals and tradies. Those with daughters, and those with sons. Mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters. Liberals, as well as those who have never voted for Scott Morrison’s side of politics.

This wasn’t children at a climate change rally he could send back to school. And that’s why the prime minister should be wary of the rapidly-moving comet headed in his direction.

The impact of what is now unfolding in schools and workplaces and on our streets is magnified by the fact that this is an issue that requires nuance and leadership and consultation and respect.

Scott Morrison just doesn’t have the skill set.

He hasn’t been helped by a ministry of men and women whose actions and comments also seem to show a disconnect between those in power and those feeling powerless.

“Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country. This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place.”

That was the prime minister’s actual response to the hurt and anger of tens of thousands of Australians who braved sun and wind and rain to be heard.

Yesterday he was quick to claim that he had been “egregiously misrepresented’’, but that’s how it was read — and shows up how this issue has exposed his weakness as a leader.

Scott Morrison could act here. He could act like a prime minister.

He could find a new attorney-general. And he should. But he won’t.

He could find a new defence minister. And he should. But he won’t.

He could apologise to Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and the thousands of other young women who have been raped or sexually abused. And he should. But he won’t.

He could lead the charge against the victim-shaming that is being allowed to run as an unsavoury undercurrent in this debate. And he should. But he won’t.

He doesn’t know how to sack a non-performing minister.

He doesn’t know how to say “I’m sorry”.

And he doesn’t have the ability — despite his alleged expertise in marketing — to shut down the ignorant attacks on young women brave enough to put their hand up.

The everyman with cap routine won’t work this time. Indeed, it will cost him dearly.