Passing on the baton

January 29, 2022
March for Women, Brisbane, 2021. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Former Liberal NSW government minister and sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward claims that Grace Tame represents a failed generational baton-change for the women’s movement “in which neither generation really gets the other”.

She’s dead wrong!

Goward was part of a chorus of misogynistic attacks on the former Australian of the Year after photos of Tame not smiling next to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on January 26 went viral.

Goward also served under conservative PM John Howard as director of the Office of the Status of Women. Her “feminism” was, at best, a “feminism” for the 1%.

Her article in the Australian Financial Review began pretending to praise Tame, but quickly morphed into an attack.

In fact, Tame has used her year in the spotlight to highlight the systemic nature of sexual abuse of women, including how young women are groomed into accepting sexual abuse as normal.

Tame appeared in the #LetHerSpeak campaign, created by Nina Funnell, along with 16 other brave survivors. The campaign called for laws to grant all survivors the right to publicly self-identify without having to go through the financial and emotional cost of a Supreme Court application.

The Grace Tame Foundation’s seven goals, if enacted, would tackle systemic abuse. They include: developing education strategies to raise public awareness of sexual abuse in institutional settings; improving workplace policies and procedures relating to sexual abuse in the workplace; collaborating with government to prevent sexual abuse and better support victims of sexual assault; and developing support services, including counselling.

Tame has used her year well, but no one individual was ever going to be able to pull this off in a year. System change, of the scale required, needs ongoing, mass resistance.

Goward was part of a generation driven by anger at entrenched discrimination. We were all angry in the 1970s, she said. She then alleges that Tame is just “an angry young woman” rather than “a woman angry about sexual violence”.

But Tame and her generation have a right to be angry. A rape survivor, Tame watched on as Morrison used last year to protect rapists in parliament, and even after tens of thousands of women took to the streets to say “Enough”, still nothing was done.

The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s forced the Whitlam Labor government to enact anti-discrimination laws. But as women joined the government and the bureaucracy in a bid to make women’s lives better, the movement on the streets subsided.

Goward pays lip service to the need for institutional, or systemic, change. But she is a vocal proponent of the conservative mantra that it’s all about “individual responsibility”.

Goward speak approvingly of her generation learning how to “put up with low level sexual violence and focused on their main game — power and career advancement”.

“Sexual assault could be brushed aside for the sake of the job,” she said, adding, “many women still make those same trade-offs rather than risk their careers and distractions.”

This is nothing more than excuse making. What exactly is “low-level sexual violence” anyway?

Tame’s experiences as a young woman being groomed and abused are more prevalent than most people think. There are many more sexual assaults than the statistics record. Even the federal government admits that it is a “major health and welfare issue in Australia and worldwide” and that “the effects can be wide-ranging and lifelong” including “physical injuries, long-term mental health effects and disruption to everyday activities such as eating and sleeping habits”.

Tame has helped put the issue squarely back on the national agenda and in doing so has given many people — young and older — great hope.

The legitimate anger of youth helped drive reforms in the 1970s. Tame and other outspoken younger feminists represent a successful passing on of the baton. People like Goward are trying to scuttle that baton change by winding back the conversation about the need for structural change.

Our response has to involve maintaining our rage, but getting better organised so we can keep up the street heat until they are forced to act.

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