Tag Archives: The Age

Rape and blame: Time to change the perception of women as provocateurs

8 Sep

It’s always unsettling to read about a woman who isn’t into feminism – it’s like meeting a child who doesn’t like ice-cream, or an old person who doesn’t like Midsomer Murders.

British columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer wrote a piece for the London Telegraph last week, published in The Age on Wednesday, which decried feminists for lambasting Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde for her remarks on rape – specifically that it can be a woman’s fault if they are the victim of sexual assault.

Like many who have a go at feminists, Hartley-Brewer uses terms such as shrill and squealing – and therefore worth blocking out, not listening to. Phrases such as “cue outraged squeals … from the Sisterhood” seek to reduce the voicing of legitimate concerns to the meaningless sounds of children or animals. (If only women had deeper voices, how much easier equal rights would be to achieve!) Even the repetitive use of the word “Sisterhood” conjures up images of the terrifying witches or “weird sisters” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, clustered around a cauldron and plotting the downfall of men.

Hartley-Brewer writes that “Miss Hynde, once seen as a strong feminist role model, had unwittingly breached the first rule of the Sisterhood club: if you want to belong, then you have to conform”. However, the widespread outraged reaction to the singer’s remarks was not due to wanting Hynde to conform to a prescribed form of feminism – it is about the fear we feel when a strong female voice reinforces the notion that women are to blame for violence against them.

It has taken years and years of work to shift this paradigm ever so slightly and to encourage victims, who too often stay quiet to avoid such censure, to report these crimes. Every time a policeman suggests that women shouldn’t walk alone in parks (such as after the murder of Melbourne schoolgirl Masa Vukotic) or dress provocatively (such as the Canadian police officer who said women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised), women are pushed further into the category of stupid provocateurs, with the implication that the aggressors simply cannot help themselves.

This needs to change.

It is difficult to talk about rape. It is a complex subject, combining violence, firmly rooted prejudices and women’s precarious role in society. Like most women I know, I always text my friends after a night out to make sure they got home safely, and encourage them to take a cab instead of walk. But there is a difference between seeking to minimise risk, and blaming the victim.

If a young man working at a 7-Eleven is punched in the face during a midnight robbery, he will always be seen as the victim – no one will suggest that he brought it on himself or was “asking for it” by working in an all-night convenience store. But if a woman is raped, the most common questions asked include: What was she wearing? How much had she had to drink? Did she take adequate precautions to protect her drink from being spiked? Was she flirting with the man? Had she given him the wrong idea? Why was she out by herself?

Blaming the victim is a horrible phenomenon that seems to occur when people are already marginalised in society. Bike riders are regarded in Australia’s car-friendly cities as inferior beings. I know this because after I was slammed into by a car, suffering fractures in a cheekbone and two of the vertebrae in my neck, the most common reaction from authority figures was: Were you going too fast? Did you have your lights on? Were you riding on a busy road? Were you wearing an adequate amount of bright yellow?

I had sought to minimise risk by riding along a quiet street on a bright sunny morning. I was struck by a car which charged through a roundabout without giving way. And yet the police refused to admit the fault of the driver, and did not even wish to discuss the matter with me. To be wrongly suspected of somehow causing a traumatic event is hugely distressing.

For Hynde to say that she took “full responsibility” for being raped, due to being drunk and high when she went with an Ohio motorcycle gang to what she thought was a party, angered and alarmed many people who are trying to make it easier for victims to report sexual violence. Comments like Hynde’s, which blame women for “enticing” rapists, support the dangerous narrative that a woman is always to blame for horrendous things which happen to her.
While Hynde may have made unwise or reckless decisions, those who perpetrate violence are always to blame, not those who are attacked.

This article was published in The Age on September 7, 2015.

Hey Teacher! Leave them kids alone

7 Jan


In the words of Pink Floyd: “Hey teacher! Leave them kids alone!”

Christopher Bantick quoted those words as he waged war on the cultural sins of the younger generation – but perhaps he should try applying them to himself. Decrying young people’s waning interest in “high culture”, Bantick blames schools for failing to instil in teens a deep and unshakeable love of fine art and classical music.

In a tone of stern disapproval, reminiscent of something written in 1964 admonishing screaming teens for flocking to see the Beatles, Bantick chooses some odd targets to crucify in his crusade against the vapid and the self-obsessed.

Taiwanese-born filmmaker Ang Lee cops the first spray, the 59-year-old Oscar-winning director being labelled self-centred for admitting he makes films to “understand about himself”.

While many of Lee’s powerful dramas have autobiographical elements, some such as his enduring adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility obviously do not.

Ironically, given Bantick’s argument, Lee’s early films such as Pushing Hands (1992), Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) explore conflicts that arise as older, traditional generations are forced to accept change.

Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke (pictured above) also faces the brunt of Bantick’s rage against Gen Y, (or possibly Gen X, or maybe just anyone who isn’t smoking a pipe and listening to Mahler on a gramophone while fingering an 18th-century engraving by William Hogarth).

Pyke is slammed for saying that at the age of 36 he has learnt to sing. Instead of being lauded for his humility in admitting that he spent three decades learning his craft, Bantick derides him as “crass”.

It seems odd that Bantick would ignore more deserving pop culture targets such as Justin Bieber who, apart from jettisoning monkeys in German airports, recently announced his retirement at the age of 19.

More painful still is that Bantick seems unaware that Pyke devotes much of his spare time to raising funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, helping indigenous children learn to read and thus enjoy the culture Bantick laments children are missing out on.

Bantick’s chief irritation seems to be that young people are not attending “concert[s] of searching classical music” or fine art shows to the extent that “grey hairs and blue rinses” are.

But worthy art and thought-provoking culture are not found only in the hallowed walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and Hamer Hall. Music, art, writing, theatre and much more are being dreamt up and hammered out in bars and cafes, countless lounge rooms and garages, studios, galleries and online, inspiring young minds to think about and challenge the world they live in.

While classical music was once the only type of music on offer, now it is merely one of countless genres. With so many artists emerging every day, is it any wonder that classical music has lost favour among young people? As a member of Gen Y, I have a selection of classical music on my iPod which I play when doing something that needs no distractions. But when I’m going for a jog, I’m probably going to choose Daft Punk over Debussy.

I am concerned that Bantick is equating “older” with “better”. For example, Banksy is “bad” because he is an artist making social commentary today, whereas William Hogarth is admirable because his social satire harks from the 18th century.

Rock icons such as Kurt Cobain who deliver pithy statements “out of an inarticulate, drug-fuelled haze” are deemed unworthy compared with those such as Romantic poet John Keats, whose opium-loving mates Byron and Coleridge wrote a good deal of their oeuvre in a drug-fuelled haze.

I agree with Bantick that elitism is still a dirty word in many pockets of society. As Australia stumbles along the slow road to independence, carving out its cultural niche away from England’s stifling embrace, it is easy to scorn high art as being entwined with English snobbery and old-fashioned, stuffy values.

Maybe when we are mature enough as a nation to stand on our own feet – without needing a portrait of the Queen in the prime minister’s office – we will be able to earnestly rediscover high culture without its problematic overtones.

Bantick’s allegations against today’s youth hurt me most when I think of my intelligent, enthusiastic and generous peers, such as my sister’s a cappella group who compose four-part harmonies inspired by the Andrews Sisters of yesteryear, and who recently organised a Christmas fund-raiser for an asylum seeker resource centre.

Or another friend whose love of writing inspired her to start a publishing company and whose latest endeavour was a heartfelt collection of refugee tales.

Next time Bantick shakes his head in disgust at a teenager pouting into a smartphone, maybe he should look around at the wonderful ways in which art is evolving, and realise that the kids really are all right.

This article first appeared on The Age online.