Human rights

Scott Morrison's sickening promotion of rape culture

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Scott Morrison, not exactly a positive role model for women's rights around the country (Image edited by Dan Jensen)

The Prime Minister's recent comment made about Pamela Anderson's plea to bring Julian Assange back home was abhorrent, yet the media have been silent about it, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON'S communications on every media platform, including social, have been closely scrutinised since he took office at the end of August 2018.

Interestingly, the one comment that seems to have avoided much analysis is this one, made during a radio interview on the Gold Coast:

Morrison was reacting to an appeal by former Baywatch star Ms Anderson on behalf of Julian Assange. Anderson sent a message to the Prime Minister, urging him to consider bringing Assange home to Australia and treating him with fairness and respect once he got here.

Morrison responds to Anderson’s approach with an unsavoury “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” reference to her career as a television sex symbol. In Morrison’s opinion, Anderson needs a “sorting out” that could be provided by his specially appointed male mates, whom, he implies, are well qualified to perform this service.

There can be little doubt as to what such a service entails. It isn’t political. It isn’t ideological. It isn’t sage advice as to where Ms Anderson might more usefully focus her social and political concerns.

The “sorting out” Morrison implies Anderson needs to set her straight, is sexual.

The Australian Prime Minister, when approached by a woman on a political issue, responds by recommending that the woman receive a sexual “sorting out” by several men of his acquaintance.

Or, to put it more crudely, Morrison responds to a woman’s political and humanitarian concerns by implying that she needs a good fuck by a few of his mates.

Which is gang rape.

Speech such as this from Morrison has the potential to provoke terror in a woman. It is menacing, even more so because we know it will be framed as a “joke” and we will be framed as humourless when we don’t find it funny.

Anderson isn’t a human being to Morrison. She isn’t a woman who may be frightened by his words. Her consent isn’t necessary for him to think and speak of her in this way. Morrison doesn’t consider whether or not Anderson wants his mates’ attentions. Her consent isn’t necessary for his mates to “sort out the issue” with her. She is, to Morrison, solely a sex object and there’s only one way his mates will sort out a sex object who has the audacity to voice political opinions.

The Australian Human Rights Commission offers this definition in its explanation of sexism and sexual harassment:

‘Innuendo, suggestive comments or jokes and insults or taunts based on sex can amount to sexual harassment.’

Morrison is asserting his belief in his alpha male superiority by sexually denigrating Ms Anderson. Morrison is apparently unable or unwilling to engage in reasonable discussion on the topic of Assange, at least with Ms Anderson, towards whom he clearly has a negative attitude based entirely on her expression of her sexuality. He uses his perceived male supremacy to belittle and silence her opinions, and, not content with that, suggests he has a band of mates to back him up in a shared wish to humiliate and dehumanise her.

There are circumstances in which Morrison’s comments about Anderson could be interpreted as threatening to her. Many women, myself included, would feel intimidated and very uneasy at hearing a powerful man speak in such a way about us. The implication is clear: “I’ll set my mates on you. They’re begging for it.”  

This is one of the ways men control women, with public speech that makes us feel intimidated. Morrison addressed his comments to Pamela Anderson, but many women heard them and many of us took note of this prime ministerial speech act.

Many of us have also taken note of the lack of critique by mainstream media of the Prime Minister’s aggressive sexism.

Morrison’s intended audience was clearly male. He spoke about a woman in derogatory terms in an attempt to appeal to a type of masculinity, usually referred to as toxic, that believes itself to be superior to women and perceives women primarily as objects of sexual titillation and gratification. To such men (and some women, toxicity is a state of mind and crosses gender), Pamela Anderson forfeits the right to voice political and social opinions because of the manner in which she expresses her sexuality. She is nothing and no one outside of that sexuality, therefore it is acceptable to humiliate and threaten her if she attempts to escape the confines of that role.  

Morrison’s language functions as a form of social action — he uttered a public statement, on the record, denigrating a woman and suggesting her political opinions could be changed for the better, in his terms, by the unsolicited attentions of a pack of his special mates. In other words, Morrison, in his role of the country’s Prime Minister, is suggesting that such action may be legitimately taken against women who move out of our designated sexual role – be it Madonna or whore – and mouth off. This is what he thinks. This is what he believes. This is what he advocates. This is what he warns. This is what he threatens.

No matter what your opinion of Pamela Anderson, or Julian Assange for that matter, there is nothing that excuses Scott Morrison’s rapey innuendo. That it has been largely unremarked upon by journalists only goes to prove that as a society, we are inured to sexism and harassment of women by powerful men, and that male superiority is an unquestioned given in the core institutions of Australian politics and media.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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