CW: Sexual Assault, Sexism
My best friend once told me that I was a shit guy, but good for humanity – I have a big enough ego and a good enough dirty look that I had to agree with her. So, consider this column a space where I can air my grievances, confront cultural cringes and try to tackle issues – all at once. I want to instigate discussion and tear friendships apart. Well, maybe not… but you get the idea. Thanks for joining me.
I read the article on my phone, in between Hancock and that funny looking science building on my walk to Gods.
Is it just me, or do certain, otherwise insignificant moments in history, become ingrained in our memories when we learn about certain events? In our university’s history, reading Alexandra Lewis’ article is one of those moments.
With the plain title, ‘Sexism in Residential Colleges’, the ANU’s gaze was focused squarely on the disrespect, harassment and assaults of women on campus.
Like a maggot eating away at an apple core, too many men have been able to hide behind too many regressive college regimes – regimes valuing their reputations over their women.
This isn’t an article about sexism in colleges. I am a man, and as such, have little to add bar the things I’ve seen and been told – the things I’ve been appalled by. This article, therefore, is about the responses to Alex’s story that I have witnessed.
We have colleges to be proud of, for sure, but I think that at some residences at the ANU, our mindsets are twisted, as if we live in some sort of US college frat house.
For every person I have spoken to who genuinely related to Alex and her cause, I have also spoken to another who has accused her of “overreacting”, “complaining”, “lying” and “being a bitch.”
I was told by one man that if he had his “mooeys” photographed, he would have felt flattered, not “unsafe” or “powerless” as Alex said she did. Another man asked me why, if Alex had felt unsafe, she didn’t leave the college instead of “ratting on the boys”. I even had one man tell me, that I was being “hysterical” for suggesting that this was a case of sexual harassment.
It was not just men with these reactions either – I had a woman tell me that this was a case of “feminists complaining”. This was the one that really felt like a kick in the guts – do we have a culture so toxic, and so perverse, that these men have actually been excused?
Shockingly, nearly every negative response I heard about the article was directed at Alex, and not at the issue itself. The parochial mainstream do this all the time to women who speak out. Jill Meagher, for example, had her rape and murder attributed to her wearing a revealing skirt. Julia Gillard too, was ‘complaining’ and ‘overreacting’ when she cried foul.
Revealing dresses, overreactions, just a complaint… It sounds similar to Alex’s treatment, doesn’t it?
This is not an isolated case, because this is not an isolated issue.
What about the woman who came to me and revealed that she has to continue to watch the perpetrator of her sexual assault strut around her college, remain as present and as popular as ever before, because her principal, despite being informed, had done nothing?
What should we say of the principal who excused a sexual assault, blamed the survivor, and then defended the perpetrator with the comment that, ‘If she wore expensive jewellery, she should expect to be robbed’.
But it is not all bad.
I overheard one conversation in which a guy from Johns said that “he’d felt suppressed by those guys”, that “they dominated, had support and were respected because they were popular.” He’d felt “pissed off” for being “under their thumb.”
A female resident also told me that the event – Alex’s stand – had started a conversation – a movement where women could, finally, speak out at Johns. I hope this is the case.
I also hope that I am an outlier. That I was the only one who was overwhelmed by foul reactions. But I know from my own conversation with Alex, that this is a false hope.
Alex has told me that it was about the next woman – that #changeiscoming. And maybe it is…
I think we’ve trained ourselves to hold our tongues, to never agitate for change, to suck it up. We isolate these women, we vilify them, and we challenge their stories. We delegitimise their experiences, and call them hysterical.
We are so much better than that.