The announcement by US President Donald Trump that the month of April is national sexual assault awareness and prevention month was greeted with hollow mirth by many, and described by some as “ironic.”
There’s nothing ironic about this announcement. It is a calculated display of contempt for women, particularly women who endure sexual assault. It’s the most powerful man in the western world demonstrating to the women of his country that he can toy with them, as and when he chooses, in case they haven’t already worked that out.
Contempt isn’t irony. It’s far more dangerous, and we’re seriously underestimating the danger if we misread it.
Trump’s announcement is similar to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign aimed at encouraging men to “respect” women as a means of preventing sexual and other violences perpetrated upon us. However, Turnbull simultaneously ripped federal funding from community legal centres, and frontline services such as refuges and crisis counselling.
The “irony” of Turnbull’s scathing indictment of men who abuse women, and his own abuse of us by withdrawing resources we need when we are attacked, apparently escaped the PM. Except that it wasn’t irony: it was reckless disregard, born from contempt, for the safety of women and children under threat.
Turnbull acts from the same deep-seated contempt for women as does Trump: he is better at disguising it, or rather, Trump doesn’t care about disguising his contempt, while Turnbull needs to maintain at least the appearance of interest and concern to preserve both his self-image, and votes.
Yesterday I read this account of how Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee forced a prisoner to give birth while her hands were shackled. When during her labour she needed to go to the toilet, her ankles were also shackled. She was not permitted to move into positions that eased her pain or aided the delivery of her child. Her baby died at birth. It is customary in Clarke’s jail, for pregnant women to be shackled.
Last week I read many accounts of former politician Mark Latham’s attacks on women, enabled by much Australian media, up until he called a young man who spoke about feminism “gay.” For gay, in this instance read feminised, and therefore a suitable target for Latham’s misogyny.
It is no coincidence that misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. For Latham, obviously a proponent of hydraulic male sexuality, the most toe-curling aspect of love between men is the assumption he makes that somebody has to be “the woman.”
There’s barely a day without attempted or successful attacks on women’s reproductive rights somewhere in the world. In Queensland and NSW abortion is still a crime for both women and doctors. Male politicians, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and right wing senator Cory Bernardi, continue to imply that women who seek abortions are morally corrupt. Bernardi describes abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”
Just yesterday in Iowa, legislation that could force women to continue a pregnancy to term after the foetus has died, was passed.
Women’s access to contraception is continually under attack.
There is no irony to be found in any of this. There is unrelenting hatred and fear of women, expressed in… let me count the ways.
That our governments, state and federal will not, and it is will not, it isn’t cannot, provide adequate frontline services for women and children fleeing violence tells us everything we need to know about the contempt in which women are held in this country.
The contempt for us is so great that state and federal governments enable violence against us by refusing practical options that will give us an escape route, while at the same time launching ludicrous campaigns to “raise awareness” of that violence. This is not irony. This is full-fledged misogyny, and it is murderous.
So next time you think feminism is about female CEOs, or the choice to enlarge your breasts, or more women in parliament, remember that your governments hate you so much they will not provide a refuge for you and your children, they will not provide accessible legal assistance for you, they will not ensure you have housing if your home is too dangerous.
More female CEOs has not changed this. More women in parliament has not changed this. It’s difficult to see how becoming part of the system can ever change the system. Feminism’s ambition used to be to destroy an abusive system, not to be subsumed by it.
Where it actually matters and where it actually counts, governments have turned their backs on women, while engaging in expensive and useless campaigns to convince us otherwise.
Hatred of us is normalised. And now it’s so normal we’re calling it “irony.”