Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pot, Kettle, Black: David and Sarah Deserve Each Other.

Pot, Kettle, Black: David and Sarah Deserve Each Other.

I’m sorry, I can’t go on. I have to say something. This past week we have been subjected to one of the sorriest examples of a confected beat up argument we have ever seen. I refer of course to the escalating stoush between Senators David Leyonhjelm and Sarah Hanson Young. While some may have been entertained by the melodrama of it all, far too many people have taken the bait and treated the imbroglio as if it is actually important. I regret to inform you that we have all been taken for a ride, as we were unwittingly caught up in this scenario, and made to feel as if we had to choose a side.

Clearly, the popular, fashionable, and not to mention politically correct side to choose was that of Sarah Hanson Young. However, a quick perusal of social media will show any observer that David Leyonhjelm also has a band of supporters, smaller in number perhaps, but strident in their defence of his right to stand up to what the Senator has described as a double standard. So, before proceeding any further, in the interests of fairness and clear minded analysis of the dialogue at the heart of this matter, let’s ask one simple question: Before he shot himself in both feet by using coarse and offensive language, did David Leyonhjelm actually have a point?

As you no doubt recall, the saga began during the debate in the Senate, more than a week ago now, when a motion was put before the Senate by Senator Fraser Anning, once a member of One Nation but now aligned with Bob Katter’s Australia Party. Senator Anning proposed that the Government should relax the importation restrictions on such items as Tasers and pepper spray so that women might arm themselves against attacks in public places. Greens Senator Janet Rice was speaking against the motion, arguing that it should not be incumbent upon women to arm themselves just to walk home at night, when Sarah Hanson Young apparently interjected.

 It’s at this point that the waters become muddied because whatever her remark was, it was not recorded by Hansard. Senator Leyonhjelm has consistently claimed that Senator Hanson Young’s words implied something to the effect that “all men are rapists.” On this basis, he seems to have taking it upon himself to defend the honour of “all men” by becoming a loathsome troll and calling out to his opponent that, if that’s the case, she should “stop shagging men.” However, while we have a reasonably clear idea of what David Leyonhjelm said, very few media outlets have been prepared to publish a direct quote of whatever it was that Sarah Hanson Young originally said to inspire such a rabid response.

The only exception I have found anywhere was a report in The Guardian which claimed that Senator Hanson Young said, in support of the argument put forward by Senator Rice, “Men should stop raping women.” It is impossible to verify if these were the exact words or not, but in subsequent media interviews, Senator Hanson Young did not dispute the suggestion; rather she argued that it is not the same as saying that “all men are rapists.” Indeed, she insisted that it was vastly different. Whatever the exact words, Senator Leyonhjelm chose to interpret them as a slur upon men generally, rather than a comment on the small proportion of men who are perpetrators of crime.

Semantically, he may have a point.

If Senator Hanson Young did indeed say “men should stop raping women,” the sentence structure is general in nature. It implies men generally and collectively, not a specific subset of men. Imagine for a moment if the exact same sentence structure was used in a different context. For example, if it was said that “women should stop being manipulative,” it would rightly be construed as a slight upon all women. Now let’s take the example to extremes: if somebody should say “black people should stop stealing cars,” you can imagine the outrage. It would rightly be condemned as a racist statement. Again, if somebody said “Muslims should stop blowing things up,” the condemnation would be both swift and righteous. And yet, it is exactly the same syntax as saying “men should stop raping women.”

This is an unfortunate example of how modern gender politics has become divisive and in many cases downright abusive. There is no doubt that feminism has come a long way, and I sincerely believe that women in our society today are vastly better treated than at any time before. Within my lifetime, women were being refused the right to borrow money if they were unmarried and did not have a man to support them. That is an example of real prejudice, and real disadvantage. Today, women are in a much stronger position that ever before, although it is sadly true that there is still more that needs to be achieved. There is still a genuine pay gap between genders, there are still some members of society who cling to old attitudes about the role of women, and there are still challenges faced by women on a daily basis of which many men are blissfully unaware.

However, I feel that there has also been a change in the rhetoric of some of those who consider themselves feminists, with a cavalier willingness to use generalised language against men. A perfect example would be the phrase that Sarah Hanson Young is alleged to have uttered: men should stop raping women. Even if those are not her exact words, they echo the words of many other feminists in print and in the electronic media. Somehow, the argument has been put forward that the problem of violence against women is the responsibility, if not the fault, of all men. It is suggested that men need to be better educated to respect women, and this education should begin as early as possible while those men are still boys. On the face of it, this is an argument that is hard to resist.

It is, after all, true that men are, generally speaking, bigger and stronger than women. It would seem obvious that men can often be more aggressive than women, and more prone to asserting their will by force of one kind or another. It might even be argued, although the scientific evidence is scant, that men and women think differently. But these are generalisations, and they certainly don’t tell the whole story. Even accepting the idea that there are differences between men and women, in the end we are all people. The fact is both men and women are likely to attempt to assert themselves, and to act in their own interests, using whatever tools they have at their disposal. It’s just the human thing to do. For men who have physical strength, it seems obvious they will rely on that strength to advance their interests. For women who have the ability to play upon the emotions it is equally obvious that they will do so.

Now, in reading those last two sentences, you probably just started screaming about stereotypes and gender-normative prejudices. You would be absolutely right, and that’s the point. If you look carefully enough, you will see that the more militant feminists among us, who are demanding that “men stop raping women,” have fallen into this precise trap of relying upon stereotypes and prejudice. The fact is that there are many women who are physically strong, there are many men who are emotionally weak, and very few of us actually fit any stereotype. The flaw of the argument put forward by the well-intentioned feminists is that in seeking to enlist the support of men, they have instead insulted and confused them.

These are the same feminists who have expressed their indignation when well-meaning police officers have urged them to take care about ensuring their personal safety. Over and over again, police officers and other officials have been caught out in this well-concealed trap when they have suggested that women should take reasonable steps to stay safe, such as try to avoid walking alone at night, avoid certain areas, try to avoid drawing attention, and so on. There is no doubt that the police officers who have offered this advice have done so with the best of intentions, and some would say that it really only amounts to common sense. However, some feminists have instead chosen to be offended.

It is insulting, they argue, to tell women what they already know. Women already travel at night exercising as much caution as they can. They are already acutely aware of the danger that could confront them at any time without warning. Women already take every precaution they can, but rather than give up their right to actually live a life, sometimes all the precautions in the world will still leave them vulnerable when the lift they were expecting suddenly isn’t available, or the friend who was going to walk with them is called away. It is easy to see why women might consider the advice to take precautions as an insult to their intelligence. However, the feminists who start lecturing men about “not raping women” are guilty of delivering a similar insult.

Men, generally speaking, already know not to rape women. They already know not to abuse women, or to belittle them, or to take advantage of them or to hurt them in any way. All men have, or had, a mother. Most men learn from this to respect women, and sometimes even to revere them. Many men have sisters, many have daughters. To instruct those men, from a lofty perch of some self-appointed position of moral superiority, that they should stop hurting women is gravely insulting. To women I say, the vast bulk of men want to be on your side, and would willingly defend you against harm. However, instead of enlisting men to the cause, the more strident feminists are pushing them away.

This is the danger of generalisation. The fact is that most men and women get along just fine, without being instructed by the moral arbiters of the world. What we all need to remember is that we are not just women and men, and let’s not forget people who are transgender, the bottom line is we are all people. We all deserve respect, and we all deserve to be safe. It’s not just women who get attacked in the street late at night. In fact, statistics show that men are far more likely to be assaulted by a stranger, while women are far more likely to be assaulted by somebody that they know and trust. But either way, we should all have the right to be safe, whether we are in a public space or we are at home. If we can’t be safe among our own species, it is a sad indictment on the state of civilisation.

All human beings have primitive urges, related to survival, sex and self-gratification. Whether we are men or women, it is a mark of civilised behaviour that we contain those urges and manage them in a way that is not harmful to others. The argument that men must change their behaviour is not only insulting to decent men, it is counter-productive and misleading. It distracts us from the real problems that are confronting us in the modern world. We forget that we are all in this together, and if we don’t get it right we will all suffer. That’s why David Leyonhjelm and Sarah Hanson Young are both wrong.

It’s easy to climb on the bandwagon of popular outrage against David Leyonhjelm. After all, he didn’t just let the matter rest in the Senate. After his interjection, Sarah Hanson Young approached him to register her discontent. Senator Leyonhjelm told her to “F*** off.” This is hardly an erudite argument in support of his case, and is really a clear case of offensive behaviour. To compound his foolishness, David Leyonhjelm then embarked upon a series of media interviews in which he expanded considerably upon his original suggestion that Sarah Hanson Young should “stop shagging men.” He went on to refer to rumours and scuttlebutt about the alleged sex life of Senator Hanson Young, prompting her to respond with the accusation that he was “slut-shaming” her. And yes, that was the expression she used. Obviously, given the lurid nature of Senator Leyonhjelm’s ongoing statements in the media, Senator Hanson Young has every right to complain.

However, it raises the phenomenon of “slut-shaming,” which is an intriguing concept in itself. Senator Hanson Young claims to be offended by the suggestion that she might actually have sex, possibly with an unspecified number of different partners. Now, to be clear, I have no interest in the Senator’s sex life whatsoever, however I am happy to defend her right to have one without it being the subject of public comment and scrutiny. The same should apply for everyone, male, female, and transgender. However, if I were to speculate, I would suspect that most adults have some kind of sex life, presumably some more satisfactory than others. That being the case, my question is a simple one: What is the shame in being a slut?

Yes, of course I know it is a pejorative and denigrating term. But why? To be insulted by somebody saying that you should “stop shagging men” implies that there is something inherently wrong with shagging. It has long been observed that there is a double standard that allows men to be promiscuous, and even be admired for it, while women are not granted that luxury by society. To be blunt, it is purely a social construct, which is a remnant from the outmoded idea that women are the property of men. In such a paradigm, a woman who sleeps with another man is reduced in value. This disgusting kind of objectification has been the cultural norm for so long that many people simply accept it as the natural order. However, in the modern and enlightened world, where men and women are supposed to be equal, this concept should no longer apply.

Women, it should not need to be said, not only have the right to sleep with whomever they please, whenever they please, but they have been doing so since time immemorial. In the past of course, it was rather important not to get caught because the consequences in a patriarchal society could be dangerous in the extreme. But are we kidding ourselves when we claim that we live in more enlightened times? The liberated woman should enjoy the same freedom as any man... remember, we are all just people... and so there should be no shame in enjoying a healthy sex life. The word slut has been used as verbal weapon to put women in their so-called place, but what does it really mean? If we were truly liberated, it would mean nothing, because there is no shame in men and women enjoying each other’s company.

In the case of David Leyonhjelm and Sarah Hanson Young, as far as I know, he never used the word “slut.” She did. It was clearly an attempt by her to further escalate the furore. Both she and Senator Leyonhjelm are not just conducting a personal battle, but a political one. Do not be under any illusions. Both are politicians, both are prosecuting their ideological agendas, and both are looking for votes. They are both right, they are both wrong, and they are both as bad as each other. They are both self-centred, self-serving ideologues caught up in grandstanding over an issue that is distracting us all from mush more important matters. They deserve each other, and with any luck neither of them will survive the next election.

The plain cold hard fact is that this whole argument is a wagonload of bulldust that is distracting the nation from far more important matters. While we have been consumed by this debacle for more than week now, the nation continues to struggle with such trivial issues as wage stagnation that has seen almost zero real wage growth for the last four years. The nation continues to spend more than it earns. Health services continue to struggle to meet demand. Education is at a crossroads, with universities resisting the urge to change their curricula to suit the whims of private donors. Low income earners in hospitality have just lost even more of their penalty rates, while politicians and CEOs keep collecting pay rises.

And that’s without even beginning to look at the bigger picture. While we have been arguing about gender politics, Palestinian children have continued to die. It doesn’t matter whether you blame Hamas or the Israelis, they’re still dead. Syrian civilians have continued to die. Asylum seekers are still imprisoned on Nauru, despite the fact that it is not illegal to seek asylum. Yes, I know plenty of Australians don’t want them here, but that does not justify the blatant disregard of fundamental human rights. The Russians have demonstrated that they have no compunction about interfering with the politics of other nations, and the communist government of China is doing much the same. In fact, the totalitarian dictatorship in China has an appalling record of imprisoning and torturing political and religious dissidents, but we do nothing. The dictatorship in China has annexed the South China Sea and turned it into a military zone, and we are doing nothing. The dictatorship in China is building the foundations for a political hegemony in the Pacific, complete with potential future military bases, and yet we are doing nothing.

Why? For two simple reasons: one, they are much bigger and more powerful than we are, while our good buddy the United States has introduced something called the “America first policy;” and two, Australia makes a truck load of money from trade with China, and nobody is prepared to upset that applecart. There are some very big and serious things going on in the world, but here in Australia, all we can do is argue about Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Sarah Hanson Young and their silly disagreement.

Oh, and plastic bags in supermarkets.

Don’t get me started.