We all have a key role to play in contesting and changing the tone, quality and focus of current political debate in all of its dimensions. We need to make the most of the information contained in A Switch in Time and do what we can to redirect negative, destructive undercurrents into a more productive,respectful and civil political discourse. And we should do this now, before it’s too late.
For a start, we need to resist the de-stabilising of our minority government by challenging those who promote the idea that it has no legitimacy. Second, we need to 'out' the sexism and misogyny that are being directed towards the nation's first woman prime minister. Such attitudes are degrading of the person who is holding the top job and who is performing with skill and effective leadership under demanding political circumstances. Sexist insults also degrade the office of prime minister. And by extension, they degrade all women and girls in this country. Do we truly believe in a fair go? Are we signalling to the next generations of women and girls that,when push comes to shove, they really don't have a place in key power positions?
The stark reality is that sexual assault and family violence is highly gendered… the overwhelming majority of sexual assault and family violence perpetrators are male. Women know intimately how they order their lives to reduce the risk of male violence that stems from an unhealthy and anti-social masculinity that depends on entitlement, intimidation, domination and control. Most men clearly reject this particular masculinity, rejecting violence in their relationships with women. The next step is for these men to realise the leadership power they have to change the cultural context that produces abusive power.
Sexism and misogyny offer no benefit to our advancement as a society. Distortions in power relations become further entrenched. Active discrimination is entrenched.
High levels of sexual assault and family violence will prevail as long as a tolerator culture persists. Men who care deeply about the women and girls in their lives – mothers, daughters, partners and friends – need to recognise that other men are violent (physically, emotionally and psychologically) towards other women and girls. Silence, defensiveness and passivity… acts as potent cultural affirmation. When men in every sphere of leadership – political, corporate, workplace and community – acknowledge the violence of other men as their issue and show they are prepared to change the attitudes and behaviours of their male peers, the tolerator fabric will wear thin. Rest assured, all of society can only benefit.
To keep quiet about sexism and verbal put-downs is to condone violence. This complicit silence is acted out thousands of times a day – the turning of a blind eye to abuse that we know deep down is unacceptable. Soft-pedalling on abuse arodes our collective capacity to exercise compassion and respect, as well as guaranteeing the safety and wellbeing of everyone, especially women and girls.