Right now there seems to be a shift in how issues of sex, consent, and assault, are perceived in Australia. I say seems because I remember all too well when the St. Kilda Football club sex scandal happened, saying to my husband, “If we have boys, I don’t ever want them to play football.” I still feel vaguely ill when I hear Wayne Carey introduced to commentate an event and say to my husband, “But, I don’t understand. Isn’t he the guy that glassed his girlfriend. Is that not as important as how he handled a football? More important?” And I don’t even like AFL! But for a long time, I’ve felt that in Australia at least we value sporting prowess over the wellbeing of women. It doesn’t seem to have changed much.
And now we hear, almost daily, about sexism, mysogyny, assault and rape taking place in the offices of Parliament. Where our laws are made. Where our country is governed from. The only thing that’s surprising is how surprised I am.
How do we talk about all this with the young men and women, the boys and girls, our own children, that we have relationships with? To be honest…I’m still coming up with an answer to that. When I lost my virginity I was 18, and there was no such thing as ‘enthusiastic consent’, there was only the binary of yes or no. In my case I said no, no, no, and then under pressure said yes. All in about ten minutes. Consent but certainly not enthusiastic. (Was my partner a rapist. No. Was he a selfish asshole. It’s an enthusiastic yes from me). My point is, many women of my age are having to learn and change their feelings as much as men are.
For me, I think we need to change the terms of reference from it being a ‘women’s issue’ to it being a ‘human rights issue’. I know that there are people who will disagree with me, and for good reason. In the majority of cases of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, the perpetrator is male and the victim is female. Shifting the focus from gender can dilute the genuine needs of services that only deal with women. It’s certainly not my intention to imply that gendered violence doesn’t exist. However, men are more likely than women to be threatened with or experience an violent attack, or to be violently robbed (outside of sexually motivated crime). First Nations people are more likely to experience violent crime than non-Indigenous people. Members of the LGBQI+ community experience violent crime. Men also experience rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The issue of violence and sexual assault in the Australian community goes much further and deeper than it being a gender issue.
As I said, I’m still figuring out the best way to have discussions around this with my own children. I have two boys. I want them to be safe, I want them to be respectful, I want them to watch out for their friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, and be watched out for. I have many questions. So do they.