Violence against women: the Price is wrong

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Jokes about violence towards women are indicative of systemic misogyny that normalises the oppression of women, writes John Passant.

ON ABC’s Q&A a week ago, shock jock Steve Price pontificated about violence against women.

Nothing to do with me, he said, as he defended Eddie McGuire’s comments about drowning female sports journalist Caroline Wilson.

It was the classic defence: "Just a joke." He also interrupted Van Badham’s reasoned response 13 times and ended up calling her "hysterical". Her reply, "It is probably my ovaries making me do it, Steve", is one of the great put-downs.

Yet, a put-down will not stop the likes of Price continuing to use language that belittles women and then mansplaining those women who object to this treatment — as Van Badham recognises. Nor will it stop physical violence against women.

A question by a Q&A audience member, referencing the murder of his sister, prompted Price’s tirade against Badham’s attempted response. Price’s outburst is not a one off. Another shock jock, Alan Jones, made comments about putting Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a chaff bag and dumping her out at sea. Then Opposition leader, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, stood at Parliament House with protesters against Julia Gillard’s government in front of a sign that screamed 'Ditch the Witch'.

And of course, just four weeks ago, Collingwood chairman and former CEO of Channel Nine Eddie McGuire made his infamous "joke" about drowning Caroline Wilson. The compulsory string of half-hearted apologies followed until pressure from the public and Collingwood sponsors saw McGuire offer an almost believable one.

Violence against women is not a joke. It is a reality. According to Destroy the Joint, already this year 36 women have been murdered in domestic violence attacks by men known to them.

In my opinion, this violence flows from something deep within society, deep within the structures of capitalism and the profit motive.

Some might argue that if only we could get more women into power, things would be fixed, right? Well, do the names Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, and Golda Meir (to name a few) ring any bells? Ah, yes John but surely what we need is progressive women in power, you know like Julia Gillard.

Julia Gillard did not improve the condition of women in Australia. Under her leadership the gender pay gap actually increased. On the same day in 2012 that Julia Gillard lambasted Tony Abbott in her famous "I will not be lectured about misogyny and sexism by this man" speech, the prime minister and then Families Minister Jenny Macklin announced they would move up to 90,000 women off the single parenting payment onto the Newstart Allowance and into further poverty. As I wrote at the time, this is systemic misogyny.

Gillard continued the incarceration of women, kids and men in offshore gulags. She helped spread the racist Northern Territory Intervention. She attacked single parents. Her actions laid the groundwork for the Abbott/Turnbull Government to further cut funding for women in need.

It is, in my view, a mistake to image women who manage the capitalist system as somehow more caring. Indeed, the whole stereotype of caring women is designed to reinforce the role of women under capitalism as that group of people who raise kids. Those women in power are in charge of a brutal killing machine that invades other countries, exploits its own workforce here, manages the system of profit for the bosses and, as Gillard’s reign shows, attacks women, refugees and Indigenous Australians in much the same fashion as the men in power.

Being a woman in charge of a company does not change the essential nature of the relationship between women workers and their bosses: those who exploit them. The logic of capitalism forces women running capitalist enterprises to attack jobs, wages and conditions and that includes the jobs, wages and conditions of women workers.

The nature of a woman’s role under capitalism has been and continues to be to raise the next generation of workers with as little cost as possible to the capitalist class. The Harvester wage decision by Justice Higgins of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, in 1907, captured this perfectly when he ruled that the minimum wage should be at a sufficient level to provide for a worker with a wife and three children.

Since the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s women have entered what, for them, until then, was generally their non-traditional workforce in larger numbers.

The trend now is towards seeing the wage as suitable for subsistence of an individual not a family, recognising however, that even this in these times of high housing and rental costs and falling real wages, might be even more difficult. This often makes it a necessity for both couples to work and when children are born and without 24 hour communal child care, the role of full time worker falls "naturally" on the man and part-time worker on the woman.

The neoliberal experiment has also contributed to an increase in women’s participation in the workforce. With less regulation of wages and hours and work contracts employers have been able to employ more women on lower wages, part time and in more precarious circumstances.

Working class men do not benefit economically from women’s oppression. The gender pay gap – in part caused by discrepancies in pay in what are very similar jobs and lack of unions and union activity – puts downward pressure on the wages of jobs in male dominated and often better paid industries.

On the other hand, some working class men feel they benefit from the oppression of women, just as some white workers feel they benefit from racism. For some, the sense of superiority over women, or blacks, or Muslims (fill in the favourite target here) seems to compensate for the alienated lives they lead under capitalism.

However, divide and rule tactics mean that the bosses can and will use racism, or sexism, or Islamophobia, to divide workers and keep them distracted from fighting for equal pay for equal work, or for better wages for themselves, or to defend their jobs. "Stop the boats", rescue Aboriginal children, drown this woman — all are part of that top down driven divisive sexism.

The oppression of women is systemic. So called jokes about drowning women and calling women hysterical are part of the systemic misogyny of a capitalist system that puts women below men and normalises the oppression of women.

Electing women to positions of power in parliament, or having more women leading companies, won’t in any way challenge that oppression. The women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s was radical. It often took direct action. It fought for liberation, not to join the oppressors but to overthrow the system that oppressed and oppresses women.

We need to organise and fight together against each of the rotten examples of oppression of women in current society. Together, we workers, women and men – the vast majority of Australian society – can eventually create a new democratic society that consigns the Steve Prices of the world and all they represent to the dustbin of history.

John Passant is a former assistant commissioner of the Australian Tax Office. Read more by John on his website en Passant. You can also follow him on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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