I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Australia’s Me Too movement isn’t moving forward. It lacks direction, inclusivity and government support.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the alternative, that change is afoot. We’ve had women coming forward en masse to disclose their allegations of sexual assault. Students have called out harassment and abuse in high schools. Universities have introduced consent courses. Laws gagging sexual assault victims have been overturned. We’ve had an inquiry into Parliament’s workplace announced. The Australian of the Year is a sexual assault survivor.
With tens of thousands rallying in front of parliaments across the country, there’s a new energy spreading like wildfire. It’s kindled by rage and chants of “enough is enough”.
But how much of this anger and energy is leading to long-lasting societal and policy change?
What has changed in the past few weeks since Brittany Higgins came forward? Or in the past few years since the Me Too movement started trending on social media? Or in the past nine years since Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech?
This latest wave of feminism has focused on the symptoms of a societal illness, but not the disease. It focuses on women — their experiences, their wellbeing — and on individual men, but rarely on how a society cultivates sick behaviour. Its focus has been on soliciting stories, raising awareness, offering support — but not creating change.
The movement has also been led by powerful white women, often putting their faces at the front. While Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse voices have been added, it’s often as an afterthought. As experts have told me, focusing on sexual violence instead of the societal drivers behind it (including power and poverty) goes against what these communities fight for.
Distinct from previous feminist movements, Me Too lacks both government support and specificity. The closest Australia’s movement has come to having specific demands is the latest petition presented at March4Justice — but even here there’s no direct policy change.
Petitions and anger can only get a movement so far. There needs to be work behind the scenes to address the drivers of inequality, sexual violence and our response to it. There needs to be a greater community feel that we, society as a whole, want change — not just the scalps of sleazy men.
This massive reckoning risks fizzling out, moved off course by a distraction or a tokenistic gesture. But on the ground for women, things will stay the same. Unequal division of labour. Women shouldering unpaid work. Women on visas trapped in violent situations. Sex trafficking. Paltry domestic violence funding. The murder and abuse of Indigenous women.
Over the next few days, I will explore how the movement has focused on awareness-raising, calling out harassment and soliciting stories — the first few steps in a long march to justice. But I’ll also look at how it has yet to demand targeted change, and how it focuses on the stories and experiences of a select few.
We need to work together as a community to demand equality, led by the women of colour who have been fighting this fight for decades. I’ll ask what needs to change, and how we can keep this movement in momentum.
Unless change happens soon, we may well be doing this all over again. We’ll rally and shout, again and again, as a new generation wonders why we put up with so much and did so little.
We better have a good excuse.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Read the next part of #MeTooWhere? here.