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Letter 53: Gender and #MeToo in Australia: Where Do We Begin?

April 11, 2018

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The more this Letter grows, the more the conversation will deepen.

Now for your answers to our questions about #MeToo in Australia, gender and where it’s heading next, followed by stories of the week, and a call from our food critic for restaurant recommendations in Perth.

We Need More Female Leaders

I think the #MeToo movement in Australia — which has gone after a couple of high-profile media personalities — has not been as visible or vocal as in the U.S.

You mention the defamation laws, which is one reason why, but I also believe it’s because we don’t have a strong female leader advocating for women’s rights. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent investigative journalists exposing serious issues (Tracey Spicer, Kate McClymont etc.), but we don’t have a Rose McGowan or Ashley Judd — someone who is willing to speak out not just about their own experience but about the broader discrimination and harassment issues facing women.

As a result the #MeToo movement relies on investigative media stories for attention and when the news moves on, #MeToo gets left behind.

I think the other constraining factor is a cultural one. Many Australians like to say ‘we’re nothing like the U.S.’ For example we’re not (or at least we think we aren’t) as litigious, we don’t love guns and our politics isn’t as brash or cultlike (I’m thinking of all the clapping when a politician gives a speech).

This gives Australians an excuse to say #MeToo is really an issue for Americans, not us. I don’t believe this, but it’s a belief that sits below the surface for many. A local leader of the movement could address this.

Gender progress here is the same as everywhere else. The #MeToo movement has brought to light the unacceptable and appalling behavior of many men. However, this reflects only what’s above the surface. It’s what’s below the surface that needs to be addressed if we want real, long-lasting change.

And what sits below the surface is the gendered way we treat girls (and boys) from the day they are born. We accept and excuse certain behaviors for boys (I’m thinking of boisterous loud and aggressive behaviors).

If as a society we can look at a behavior and say it is acceptable or not, and take the gendered bias away, then we would have a fairer world. Girls and boys will grow up expecting the same behavior from each other, and call each other out when they don’t.

Alas, I have grown up in a world that hasn’t done this, and I see my 6-year-old daughter facing the same bias.

— Pip Nagy

Ripples Not Tidal Waves

If the world thinks of us as a particularly macho country, it’s the inertia of our popular cultural image. It’s a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ vision of Australia as rough-speaking, rugged, rural and masculine. But Australia is changed and changing, shedding its caricatures.

Today, more than a third of Australians were born overseas. Two-thirds of us live in capital cities and women outnumber men in all but one of them. Not to mention Paul Hogan hasn’t lived in Australia since last century.

There will always be Australians who maintain and proclaim our so-called macho image. However for many, and for the majority of younger people, this image is an anachronism. Gender progress reflects this change, demonstrated in the #MeToo and Time’s Up conversations flourishing in Twitter feeds and public spaces.

The global wave of accountability has had an impact beyond public panels and television specials.

#MeToo has played first fiddle to several falls from grace in Australia, among them an iconic entertainer and a high-profile politician. It has infiltrated debates about national and institutional policy and civil and criminal law.

If the ripples in Australia have not matched the tidal wave seen in the States, it may only be a matter of time until a critical mass of Australian voices joins the global conversation. For the moment, whether our hopes are too high or expectations too low depends on who is being asked the question.

— Jill Masters

#MeToo and Regional Australia

What Francesca observed is the two Australias.

Australia is a largely progressive, politically engaged, compassionate nation — #auspol is one of the most active Twitter discussions in the world. The community is highly reactive to issues of the day, cares a lot about public perception and the ‘pub test,’ and egalitarianism / equality (to the point of suffocating ambition and achievement, cf. ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’) is one of Australia’s strongest national values.

We got right on board with #MeToo. We were primed to do so by a strong debate around domestic violence that had been riding high since Rosie Batty was Australian of the Year. In a way, our shift in psyche was not as severe as it was in other countries.

Tracey Spicer trying to claim credit or ownership of it, and last week implying that it was a thing that happened in America to differentiate it from her Now campaign, has actually been quite infuriating and insulting to the many hundreds of thousands of Australian women who said #MeToo, including myself.

But there are other parts of our culture, particularly in rural areas, that mitigate that liberation, and the fight against sexual and domestic violence. The tolerance of such violence parlays into the tolerance of Barnaby Joyce. I come from New England — it’s my home electorate — and I know every square inch of it well. The University of New England has the highest rate of sexual harassment and assault of any university campus in the country.

Smaller towns in the area like Inverell have domestic violence and sexual/indecent assault rates as much as two and half times the state average. There are few local supports for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. The communities are so small and social pressure so high that most crimes of this nature remain unreported.

In the city, and even larger coastal towns, there is a refusal to accept such behavior; support services are provided; and #MeToo resonated strongly. #MeToo was heard in places like New England, but they didn’t join in — to do so would have meant social death.

With such small populations, spread out over such vast land spaces, you need your neighbors, you tolerate abuse, and you don’t speak out about such troubles. You keep the peace so you can stay living in your town — the next town might be two or three hours’ drive away, not 10 minutes, and there’s certainly little to no public transport to get you out of town if you needed it.

Given that, you won’t be surprised to learn that more young women than young men leave their rural communities and do not return.

— Raphaella Kathryn Crosby

The Perils of Feminism?

The change in the role of women due to second-wave feminism in the 1960s is the key cause of Australia’s negative birthrate and the aging of the population. On this basis feminism is biologically dysfunctional whilst patriarchality is biologically functional. Therefore the promotion of feminist sexual equality in politics, business and society in Australia is not the way for the greatest number of young women to find happiness in marriage and children or in the best interests of Australia.

So how do we change our currently biologically dysfunctional culture to one in which the maximum number of young women can find happiness in marriage and children and restore a positive birthrate? I don’t know the answer, but if there is one, I suspect it will come from women, not men — and from women born in the 21st century.

In the interim, helping Australians understand the negative impacts of feminism and not supporting or promoting it further would seem a prudent course.

When a society uses its young women for wealth creation, rather than procreation, it eats the seed corn of its future. As a result of feminism women are no longer pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen but now are increasingly well heeled and childless in the boardroom.

— Paul McFadyen

Gendered Everything

I am a junior in college in the U.S. and am currently studying in Australia for the semester, in Brisbane.

Before I left, I was under the impression that the cultural norms of gender would be similar to what I had experienced in the U.S. — not perfect but actively seeking ways to improve itself for the most part, or at least in my opinion. News such as the legalization of gay marriage and the extent of the #MeToo movement here along with other stories you had mentioned convinced me of this.

But the first thing I noticed when I got here was how gendered everything was. The floors of my dorm were gendered, my orientation week consistently paired people only in opposite genders, the police officer who came in to talk about sexual assault proposed that the girls play up their feminine stereotypes to trick the assumed sex-obsessed males in order to prevent rape. In my residential college of over three hundred people, I can only name one person who is openly gay.

During dinner, one of the freshmen asked me if it was true “if the United States really had people who didn’t believe in male or female, and called themselves they instead” as the rest of the table snickered.

In general, I find that the men are overwhelmingly masculine and the women are overwhelmingly feminine in a polarizing sort of way. This is all while I take classes at the university in anthropology in which we talk openly about the same topics in gender and sexuality as I did in those classes back home.

To summarize, I have found through living here that the external culture and internal culture of gender and sexuality have not quite aligned in the way I had assumed. This might just be the demographic I am most exposed to, or the city I am living in, but it truly has been quite surprising.

— Ann Bisognano

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Trump’s Lawyer in Trouble

Photo

Michael Cohen after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Capitol Hill in Washington in September.Credit Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Federal investigators in the United States raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer this week. You probably already knew that.

But this piece explains why the raid matters — and what it says about what prosecutors already know and think they can prove.

It’s the best bit of explanatory context you’ll find anywhere.

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Royal Wedding Bells!

Photo

Illustration by Tracy Ma/The New York Times; Getty Images (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle)

I’m watching “The Crown” at the moment, so maybe I’m a bit biased, but I love how the Styles desk found a way to completely geek out on royal wedding details.

If this doesn’t answer every question you have about the Meghan-Harry nuptials, well, that’s on you. They came up with 60 questions and answers!

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Facebook, in Context

Photo

For years now, people concerned about data privacy have been simultaneously right and wrong.Credit Illustration by Jon Han

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Beyond the scolding, there are three pieces you should read for a deeper understanding of what this all means and where it could be heading.

• Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of international law and of computer science at Harvard, explores the regulatory and legal fixes that could be on the way.

• John Hermann, one of our tech reporters, looks at the data boom that defined the past few years, and the bust that may be coming.

• Noam Cohen, a regular New York Times contributor, asks if Facebook can develop a conscience, and concludes that Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress suggests it cannot.

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Australia This Week

Photo

Rugby star Keith Murdoch, third from left, was sent home from London after a late-night altercation in 1972. He never made it home, changing planes for the Australian Outback.Credit George Stroud/Daily Express, Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

In a Proudly Diverse Australia, White People Still Run Almost Everything: Just 5 percent of the country’s top leaders in business, government and academia have non-European backgrounds, a comprehensive study found.

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Elon Musk Likes It Here. Will Other Tech Innovators Follow? The Australian rust belt city of Adelaide wants to replicate the same innovation model that has revived American cities like Chattanooga and Pittsburgh.

Keith Murdoch, Rugby Bruiser Who Vanished in the Outback, Is Dead at 74: While on tour, he was sent home to New Zealand over a hotel fracas. But he “went bush” instead, disappearing into remotest Australia and into legend.

For the Birds: A Sydneysider rediscovers her wild home through the eyes and ears of a New Yorker.

Australia Shudders Amid Talk of a Chinese Military Base in Its Backyard: A report that China approached Vanuatu about establishing a military presence in the island nation has raised alarm bells in the region.

Australia Shocked by Death of 2,400 Sheep on Ship to Qatar: Many critics of Australia’s live animal trade said the deaths were not likely to result in regulation of the industry.

Australia’s Prime Minister Just Can’t Win an Opinion Poll: A respected poll has found for the 30th straight time that Malcolm Turnbull’s governing Liberal party is less popular than the opposition.

Russell Crowe Holds a ‘Divorce’ Auction (‘Gladiator’ Stuff Included): There were life-size prop horses and a trove of guitars, paintings and jewelry among the 227 lots put up for sale at Sotheby’s Australia on Saturday.

Facebook Removes Popular Black Lives Matter Page for Being a Fake: The page, which had 700,000 followers, was run by a white man in Australia and raised at least $100,000.

Review: 1920s Australia Is No ‘Sweet Country’ for Aboriginal Australians: The movie tracks the fate of an Aboriginal stockman forced to flee after killing a white farmer in self-defense.

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… And We Recommend

Besha Rodell, our Australia Fare food critic, wants to know where to eat in Perth!

Here’s a message from Besha:

I’m heading to Perth in the upcoming weeks to seek out fodder for our restaurant review column, Australia Fare. As always, I’m looking for restaurants and food that tells a story about the area, the community, the history of the city, or an aspect of Australian life that is fascinating and underexplored. I know what’s on all the “top 10 restaurants in Perth” lists, but what is unique in the city? What tells a story? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Email [email protected] with suggestions and “Australia Fare” in the subject line.

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.

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