December 10, 2003 | Graham

Man-handling O.K., woman-handling not?

Apparently Senator Natasha Stott Despoja has made some comments about the Bartlett affair. Anonymous sources are quoted in The Australian today saying she claimed that the principal issue was “violence against women – which is neither negotiable nor excusable”. Maybe she didn’t say it quite like that, but it set me thinking.
Last weekend I was part of a panel talking about political correctness at the Writers Muster held at Sydney Uni. One of my fellow panelists was Catharine Lumby who claimed that PC didn’t really exist anymore. We disagreed, politely and enthusiastically. I think I am right and one proof of that will be the first email that points to my use of the word “fellow” in the last-but-one sentence.
Another proof could well be Senator Stott Despoja’s reported comments. One of the aims of the feminist movement, which I endorse wholeheartedly, is to put women on an equal footing with men. Are they on an equal footing if we regard violence against women as some special form of violence which is different from violence against men? By violence against women does she mean only violence by men against women, and if so, where does this leave violence by women against women? Surely violence per se is wrong, and the size of that wrongness hinges on the actual, rather than stereotypical, vulnerability of the victim. A large woman against a small man ranks with a large man against a small woman.
Stott Despoja’s comments say being a victim is a characteristic of being female and as victims are never equal, this analysis assumes that inequality is inherent in being female. Inequality in this sense is not a characteristic that appears to arise out of social conditions or usage, but solely from the fact of being a woman.
I think her analysis is probably the one that is generally operating in the media coverage and the views of ordinary Australians. What would the reaction to Bartlett’s action have been if it was Bill Heffernan that he had fronted? I suspect Bartlett would be much more secure in his leadership of the Democrats than he is now. Which raises the questions of just how equal women are in this society, how we draw on stereotypes to tell our truths and just how deeply ingrained a belief in female inequality really is, not to mention the ways in which inequality can be turned into a strength.

Posted by Graham at 2:47 pm | Comments Off on Man-handling O.K., woman-handling not? |
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