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Buttrose pulls 'offensive' Q&A episode in Aunt Lydia-style censorship

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 Mona Eltahawy (left) challenged the patriarchy on Q&A, resulting in ABC Chair Ita Buttrose removing the episode from the air (Screenshots via YouTube)

If you were labouring under the belief that women are free to express ourselves in 2019, the ludicrous theatrics inspired in some by last week’s episode of Q&A on the ABC should disabuse you of this dangerous misapprehension.

The panel consisted of five women and one non-binary person and was chaired by veteran broadcaster and presenter, Fran Kelly. The ABC apparently received over 200 complaints about bad language and what was interpreted by some viewers to be an incitement to violence.

This “incitement” was, in fact, Egyptian-born feminist, journalist and writer Mona Eltahawy asking a rhetorical question about how many rapists we have to kill before men stop raping us. Hardly an incitement to violence, more a profound expression of intolerable frustration at the unwillingness of governments and institutions to adequately protect women and children from sexual assault.

There have been calls for Kelly to be sacked after she allegedly failed to control panel members perceived to be advocating violence as a preventative measure. For example, Indigenous screenwriter Nayuka Gorrie wondered when people were going to start burning stuff — a question upon which this writer has also occasionally speculated.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson declared there would be an investigation into whether the program had breached editorial standards. Chair Ita Buttrose has confirmed that the episode will be pulled from all platforms and will not be repeated. Quite why Ms Buttrose would make this arbitrary decision prior to the commencement of an investigation is something of a mystery.

Let’s note here that the objections were not to the violence of a repressive patriarchy, but rather to the women naming it.

The episode has been pulled from ABC iview, however, it appears to have been restored on the Q&A website. It is by far the most interesting and honest episode of a program that has come to be known in some quarters as "The Bad Show" — and it is well worth watching.

Generous use of the expletive, “fuck”, by Eltahawy and suggestions by her and Gorrie that it might be time for women and First Nations people to fight back against a repressive violent patriarchy also inspired complaints from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Fletcher said he thought an investigation into a possible standards breach was entirely appropriate. 

Let’s note here that the objections were not to the violence of a repressive patriarchy, but rather to the women naming it. Time and again we see this reaction to those who protest against injustice. It is not the injustice that offends the complainants, but the manner in which the injustice has been called out. Civility and decorum sadly remain core Western values and are required responses, even in the face of unrelenting savagery. That nobody ever dissuaded a rapist from achieving his goal by being civil and decorous is apparently irrelevant to the repressive and controlling societal demand that women be nice under all circumstances.   

Then there’s the maxim “violence begets violence”, which was most satisfactorily debunked by Gorrie, who pointed out that this piece of faux wisdom assumes a level playing field. However, the struggles of women and First Nations people against privileged, masculinist hegemony are not conducted on a level playing field and never have been.   

What cannot be ignored is that the ABC pulling this episode on the strength of a mere couple of hundred complaints precisely proves the points the panellists were making about repression and violence against women. What the national broadcaster has done, is attempt to silence and de-platform powerful feminist views, and to police the tone in which such views are expressed. When we talk about violence against us we must speak nicely, otherwise we will not be given the opportunity, is the message conveyed by the ABC’s action. This insistence that women speak in a particular manner or be silenced is further violence against us, on top of the existing violence to which we are attempting to give voice.

Are the overlords so afraid of women’s fury that they must censor a panel show? It is most disappointing that Ms Buttrose led the charge to silence. However, without Aunt Lydias to enforce their techniques of control, the patriarchy could not function. I am not the first to observe that without the support of female collaborators, the patriarchy wouldn’t last a week.

It is astounding that the actual violence against women governments and institutions do little to prevent is not the focus of outrage, but rather a sweary woman speculating on the possibility of killing rapists as a preventative. Women are slaughtered every week in Australia, thousands more and their children are desperately harmed every day, and yet a woman dares to even consider taking physical action against rapists and she is silenced by the national broadcaster for inciting violence. This is the patriarchy in action, just as the panel described it. Thank you, Ms Buttrose, for proving all the points.

We live daily within systems of appalling violence, much of which is perpetrated by the state directly, or indirectly by its unwillingness to adequately intervene. Civility, as the panellists agreed, will not stop violence against us and never has.

The decision by Ms Buttrose to censor challenging and difficult discussions by women is craven, cowardly and contemptible. Everyone has the right to view this discussion and to engage in the debate it inspires. The ABC has engaged in an outrageous act of censorship of women’s voices and perspectives, on the strength of a mere 200 as yet uninvestigated complaints. As Mona Eltahawy would undoubtedly observe, Fuck you, Aunty. 

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

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