On Monday, women angrily marched for justice. Yesterday, we endured Mick Fuller’s ‘consent app’ idea. Clearly, we’ve evolved. Men have not.
The defining characteristic of the last fifty years is how much women have changed. If I think back to the way women were when I was a schoolgirl in the 60s and 70s, the attitudes they had about themselves, the aspirations – or lack thereof – they had for their lives and their daughter’s lives and compare them to how we are now, the change has been revolutionary.
Women today would be unrecognisable to the women of previous generations.
This change is not just about women entering boardrooms, standing for office, or getting PHDs, although all those things matter. The most revolutionary change has happened in the last few years, since the #Metoo explosion in 2017. It is the refusal by women to take the blame for men’s bad behaviour anymore. At last, we have turned our anger about sexual humiliation, harassment, abuse and assault outwards, where it belongs, against the perpetrators. We are rejecting the misplaced shame we have carried, many of us for decades.
The fury of so many outwardly very different women, expressed in solidarity at marches, demonstrations and on social media, has become impossible to ignore. We have broken thousands of years of silence, smashed it to smithereens and our howls of rage echo everywhere, including into the corridors of power.
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But a fundamental mismatch remains. Women may have changed beyond all recognition, but men – most men – have hardly changed at all. That’s why so many of the responses to the recent Women’s March for Justice, particularly from men in positions of power, have been so flat-footed. Morrison’s expectation that the women demonstrating against their fundamental lack of safety, ought to be grateful that no one opened fire on them was greeted with shock and disbelief. Morrison has said nothing in reply to those howls of derision. I seriously doubt he understands what all the fuss is about. Maybe he should ask Jen.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, on the other hand, has retreated from his frighteningly naive suggestion that there be a ‘consent app’ for couples to use before having sex. He has responded to the scathing reaction from both ordinary women and experts in sexual assault by calling the app ‘the worst idea I’ve had all year’.
While it is nothing short of astonishing that a copper would not immediately realise that a man who is prepared to force a woman to have sex against her will would not hesitate to compel her into clicking on an app, it is still important that the Commissioner has listened and understood how badly he got it wrong.
As has been pointed out by much more expert voices than mine, consent is complex and can be withdrawn at any time. No always means no, no matter when it is said. Yet, if a woman, or a young girl initially clicked an app saying she consented, she may then feel compelled to comply with whatever comes next, whether she wants to or not. Women have spent centuries blaming themselves for what happened to them for doing much less – like flirting, having a drink, or wearing a short skirt.
At last, we have turned our anger about sexual humiliation, harassment, abuse and assault outwards, where it belongs, against the perpetrators. We are rejecting the misplaced shame we have carried, many of us for decades.
And this, I think, is the nub of the issue. The problem Fuller was trying to fix was the wrong one. He even said he hoped such an app would keep sexual assault out of the justice system. And if it is ever tried – God forbid – it may very well work that way, because it would protect perpetrators, not victims. Such an app would certainly work very well for men needing to prove that they had legal consent before having sex. However, we also know that false complaints are vanishingly rare, so the app is overkill. It’s taking a very big stick to a very small problem.
The much larger problem is that women don’t want to keep the crimes committed against them out of the justice system. What they want is a justice system that is not rigged against them, that does not try to paint them as vicious liars and/or shameless whores because they insist on their right to bring their abuser to court.
Women are no longer prepared to be assumed to be guilty until proven innocent.