Thursday, November 26, 2015

A ribbon won't fix it

Mean (2010) Kodakotype by Pants

Yesterday was Try Not To Bash A Bird Day here in Australia. Our record on domestic violence is so appalling that we now have a dedicated day to angst about it whilst festooning our lapels with yet another little piece of folded satin ribbon to demonstrate our commitment. The Government has even pledged $100 million (or $41 million or $30 million, depending on the media source), for a campaign to educate men that beating up on women and children is 'just plain wrong.' Perhaps we should be spending money on the more obvious problem - if that message needs spelling out, it would indicate a lack of innate morality.

It's not that men don't know it's wrong, more that they're conditioned to believe that it isn't really their fault. This view is supported by the unlikelihood that they will be charged and convicted if they batter a partner or children. It's just as likely that they'll end up with control of the family home and custody of the children, having rendered the woman homeless. We all know that cheating on our tax 'is wrong' but many of us do it because the chances of getting away with it are quite high. This is not an attempt on my part to be flippant. Violence against women and children in this country is as casual as slipping a few extra magazine subscriptions and taxi fares into the tax return for some men. Through convoluted moral manipulation, we can kid ourselves on that it's our right, perhaps even a duty, to play the system. All the better if society tosses us a nudge and a wink.

Occasions like White Ribbon Day afford little more than the opportunity for some public hand-wringing and possibly even a sob as 'we all know someone who has been deeply touched by domestic violence'. But that's all we'll be getting. A website, an app, an ad campaign suggesting that biffing birds is not in keeping with the Anzac spirit, yadda yadda. We can expect to be bombarded with motherhood statements suggesting that being nice to women is good for the economy or perhaps an imperative involving a deus ex machina - 'this violence must stop' - as if violence is somehow externally controlled. It may even be counter-productive as it offers justification for the sufficiency of a token gesture.

Donning little ribbons and chucking some small change at a systemic problem is standard operating procedure in Australia. The $30 million or $41 million or even $100 million supposedly pledged is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that has been withdrawn from women's support services like emergency housing and legal aid over the last couple of years. 

The 'findings' of yet another report into violence against women and children seem to have come as a bit of a shock to our urbane and debonair Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull who appears horrified to discover that his hail-fellow-well-met-countrymen tend to be more Wolf Creek than Downton Abbey. He rather naively thinks the problem is to be solved by ordaining that,

'Women must be respected. Disrespecting women is unacceptable...'

Sounds rather like Lord Grantham issuing a decree that black tie is not permissible at table under any circumstances.

Yes, it would be nice if all the violent men in the country suddenly adopted the silver-tailed etiquette of our prime minister, but in the meantime, perhaps the Government should be considering the consequences of its own enabling actions. Did it not occur to these people that women who have no place else to go might have no choice but to stay with a violent partner? Or that a woman with no access to legal assistance might be shy of going up against her violent partner representing himself in court? 

The other day I was listening to the radio and heard a first-hand account by a bi-polar woman who had had a baby and had to go off her regular medication. Despite warning the doctors several times that she was at risk, nothing was done to assist her. She eventually had a psychotic episode and was hurled into a psychiatric ward with two schizophrenic males in the throes of heroin withdrawal. A male nurse watched on while she showered. Now, that's what I'm talking about. Try not doing things like that, eh?

The hypocrisy mounts. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was keen to nail his little white ribbon to this particular mast, conveniently forgetting that he is personally responsible for placing hundreds of asylum-seeker women and children at risk of rape and violence in offshore detention centres. I have no doubt that most of the people who participated in yesterday's worthiness are genuine in their desire to see an end to the festering violence happening behind more and more of our closed doors. But misfires abound. Despite criticism from women over years that Walk A Mile In Her Shoes efforts are misguided, male officers of a government department yesterday walked to work at Parliament House in an array of nonsensical shoes.

I'm sorry to have to say it but the behaviour and attitudes are so entrenched in this country that the men don't even appear to know when they're contributing to the inequality deficit. It's no good saying, 'oh well, at least they tried to help', as if they'd merely applied their ineptitude to the washing up and it can all be thrown into the dishwasher later. There are times when the wrong something is a lot worse than nothing.

I'm not sure if it's cluelessness or low animal cunning but men have found a way of maintaining the status quo whilst performing apparently credible caring-shaped actions. They support progressive moves towards greater equality when it suits them. We're encouraged to celebrate 'gender fluidity' but I only see the benefits flowing one way. When men drape themselves in garish versions of women's attire and call themselves women whilst acting out pantomime vanity, it's all women who reap the ridicule of that. That behaviour is attributed to women and it perpetuates the stereotypes of narcissism and silliness that have plagued us since Marie Antoinette's passion for shoes sparked the French Revolution

When gender fluidity results in more women in boardrooms and a woman prime minister who is allowed to govern free from bullying, I might start to see it as a good thing. Right now, it more resembles identity theft from this side of the gender divide. I'm not having a go at transgender people - well I am a bit. I'm just saying, don't let down the sisterhood, otherwise you start to look like a double agent.

It's worth considering domestic violence in context of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that has been running for the last couple of years. It has been burbling away in the background, routinely uncovering sexual abuse of children in church and institutional settings as well as schools. A recent case involves a school counsellor in a posh Brisbane private secondary school who was allowed to abuse children unhindered for nearly two decades. And then there's the case of the gun-toting priest in a Melbourne Catholic primary school, whose reign of terror had a similar tenure.

These phenomena have so many elements in common; the threats, the victim blaming, the power trip and the capacity to operate with impunity. Hiding in plain sight as the titular leader in any social context appears to afford an abuser seemingly endless cover. The fact that we, as citizens, almost always believe the testimony of the most powerful appears to be the fault in our stars. That is some motivation for a violent opportunist, and it's the rotten core of the problem that needs to be exorcised

I know I'm always saying this but I do truly believe it - this nation won't overcome violence until it comes to terms with its brutal and oppressive foundations. That's the bitch of it.