This is part four of #MeTooWhere? Crikey’s examination of the past, present and future of the Me Too movement. Read the whole series here.
What do we want from the Me Too movement? Change, of course. A culture shift. Women to be believed. Men to be held accountable.
But the Me Too movement must be more than just a mood board. A specific plan of action — from what legislation we want to be changed, to which report recommendations we want to be implemented, and what policies must be introduced — needs to be put forward not just by violence prevention and gender equity groups but by all those participating in the wider movement.
In previous feminist movements, campaigners found sympathy with the government — easier said than done considering the current cabinet. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been eager to put the burden of addressing change on women, seen in his demand that Brittany Higgins contact him instead of the other way around, and the creation of new roles for female cabinet ministers to address men’s behaviour.
Naturally this is a two-way street, but women and allies must rise to Morrison’s insistence on haplessness and ignorance and meet the government with specific key demands.
Sympathy with the government
Aside from some tears in a press conference (which quickly turned into a spat in which Morrison weaponised cases of sexual violence against the media), women have yet to receive much sympathy from the government. In fact, apart from tokenistic gestures announced in this week’s cabinet reshuffle, women have been largely shunned. It’s been eye-opening for many — even Morrison, who seems surprised his popularity is plummeting.
Blunder after blunder by ill-informed male ministers has been excused as blokes not always getting it right. Thousands at the March4Justice rally were snubbed by our leaders belatedly feigning “security risks”. Demands for more funding for domestic violence organisations have gone ignored.
Government sympathy was key to the success of previous feminist movements. In 1972 Gough Whitlam introduced feminist reforms including equal pay for work of equal value, the removal of the sales tax on contraceptives, and access to preschool education for all Australian children under the age of five. Whitlam did this without any female politicians in his cabinet. More change came under the Hawke government which in 1984 implemented the Sex Discrimination Act.
Women today in some ways have more work to do than women in the ’70s thanks to the dismantling of government policy architecture, from the Howard government cutting the scope and relevance of the Office for Women, to then-minister for women Tony Abbott abandoning the women’s budget statement in 2014.
As Macquarie University historian Dr Michelle Arrow told Crikey, “we’re now seeing the long term impacts of what happens when you remove those kinds of gendered checks and balances on policy”.
Past movements featured not just protests and demonstrations, but also private meetings, policy proposals and submissions, says academic Eva Cox. “Some people were outside [protesting] and the rest of us would be inside wearing our high heels talking to the minister, saying ‘we’ve got a solution for you here’,” she said. (Cox believes March4Justice organiser Janine Hendry did the right thing by refusing Morrison’s invitation for a private meeting).
The recent success of the LetHerSpeak campaign, which overturned laws gagging survivors from speaking about their assaults, came down to its specificity and the measurability of its mission to amend section 194K of the Tasmanian Evidence Act. This change allowed Grace Tame, later named Australian of the Year, to share her story.
Campaign creator Nina Funnell told Crikey that the work “didn’t just involve ‘making noise’”, it included researching viable solutions, engaging relevant stakeholders, writing a best-practice paper, making policy submissions, meeting with the government, pre-empting and neutralising counter-attacks through risk and inoculation strategies, and providing legal support to survivors.
Australia’s Black Lives Matter movement has achieved more than its Me Too movement thanks to campaigners’ specific goals, says Yuin woman and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Wollongong Dr Marlene Longbottom.
When Indigenous woman Tanya Day died in police custody after being found asleep on a train and arrested for public drunkenness her family didn’t just start a rally to raise awareness about her death, they sued the state government, campaigned for CCTV footage to be released during the coronial inquest, advocated for the offence for public drunkenness (which is disproportionately applied to First Nations peoples) to be revoked, and pushed for a criminal investigation into police handling.
Embers of change
None of this is to say the Me Too movement hasn’t been positive or achieved great things — it just has a lot more to do.
While being “empowering and emotional”, it must work harder, chair of anti-violence against women group Our Watch Natasha Stott Despoja told Crikey.
“The key to so many social justice movements is eternal vigilance. I feel a rage permeating the country and one that we have rarely seen,” she said. “I hope we can harness this mood for change, and channel the inspiration and bravery … We not only need changes in structures, politics and practices but also wide-ranging cultural change.”
Cox agrees. “I want to harness that energy… but we also need to connect it up with trying to recreate a sense that we are citizens and we’ll get back to the social contract,” she said.
“[Without focusing on policies] it’s going to sort of fade away again until the next angry crowd turns up so it might be a much nastier, vicious cycle.”
What must the Me Too movement do next to affect real change? Send us your thoughts by writing to email@example.com. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Next: there are real solutions to Australia’s culture of sexual violence, but is there any hope the government will support them?