Parsing Morrison: International Women’s Day

Against health advice, again, I have parsed another Morrison speech; this time his address as an honorary woman on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021. Excerpts from Morrison’s speech are in italics, and the speech is reproduced in full below if you really want to check that he said these things.

Buckle up.

Trigger Warning: sexual assault

Morrison: I would normally like to speak of the many things that Janelle has already made reference to, which we can, of course, be very pleased about…

…but I’m not a woman and I’m the Prime Minister, so I’m going to talk about something else. Can you guess what?

So I just wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about the very issue that brings us here together today, and that is women.

I can’t even. Women are an issue? Perhaps for Scott Morrison they are. I suppose we should be grateful he didn’t share with us his thoughts, or even his own personal thoughts about the “issue” of men, although, wait, isn’t that exactly what he should be thinking on?

Apparently not. Men aren’t an issue, but women are, and despite the many things IWD could be about, it’s now going to be about the Prime Minister’s personal reflections on the other half of the human race. In fact, his entire speech does not contain a single instance of the word “MAN“!

Really.

As a reminder, every time I do mention MEN I’ll do it in bold capitals just to redress this farcical imbalance.

So let’s keep reading Morrison’s own personal thoughts about women, but believe me, it’s under protest.

This has been a very traumatic few weeks for the people who work in this place […]

Oh no! Are we at war, Scott? Has there been (yet) another (alleged) rape? A bashing? Some other violent assault? Has a MAN been attacked? Kitchen out of milk again? … No?

How did we segue so smoothly from International Women’s Day to Australian Parliament Day, and what has caused the trauma?

Oh, ok. Media headlines. Traumatic headlines. That’s serious. I hope your empathy consultant was there for you, Scott. I hope you don’t also learn of the women killed by domestic violence, the bushfire victims still without aid and the refugee children locked away on Christmas Island, because I fear the trauma would be too much for you to bear. There’s only so much traumatic news of other people’s suffering a Prime Minister can bear, after all. Perhaps a Hawaiian holiday?

[…] but even more traumatic, obviously, for those who are the subject of those issues

That’s a fair point, Scott. Being (allegedly) raped is almost certainly more traumatic than (allegedly) hearing about it two years later. To be honest, being a woman raped by a MAN sounds considerably more traumatic than being the “subject of an issue”, but a forum on women is hardly the place to talk about the topic of MEN raping women, or to call that act by its name, is it? Quite unsuitable. Women are so easily upset.

The three points I want to make to you today are about respect, protect and reflect

Oh, Scott, Scott, Scott. How quickly you’ve forgotten where you are and what you said you were going to do. You were going to share. Share your thoughts. Not “make points to you”. How quickly the language of command, instruction and debate permeates your speech, Scott. Sharing is caring, Scott, while pointing is rude. But point away.

My hope is that we will live in a society where we can truly say that women are respected.

Scott, all of us can hope. It’s a very human thing to do. Even women hope. All I can say about your “hope” is that I hope, were I Prime Minister instead of you, I’d make it my goal, I’d strive and labour and exert myself to achieve that society. I wouldn’t sit on my fat arse hoping, saying “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I hope we will live in a society where women are respected”. I’d announce programs, I’d talk about the concrete steps I’d taken, and will take. I’d do, not hope—I hope. But you do you.

It all starts with the failure of respect for women.

I’ve analysed—at length—the various mechanisms Morrison uses to airbrush MEN out of the conversation completely. As I mentioned, this entire speech does not contain a single instance of the word “MAN“. The entire discussion is about women, and this sentence is a perfect example.

Morrison could have, and should have said “It all starts with MEN‘s failure to respect women.” Because, let’s face it, although some women may not specifically respect others of their gender, all the problems—like murder, rape, assault, right down to unequal pay—suffered by women are overwhelmingly the responsibility of MEN.

However, as usual, Morrison hides behind passive verbs, abstract verbs, reflexive verbs, anything to avoid saying “MEN don’t respect women”. It’s not an accident. It’s the misogynist’s answer to the problem of talking about MEN‘s lack of respect for women without ever mentioning who it is that lacks respect (that would be MEN).

I won’t drill down into Morrison’s thesis here—that everything stems from a lack of “respect”—because our society is rife with examples of inequity, exploitation and dominance where Morrison, I’m sure, would claim that there’s no lack of “respect”, but that’s a different argument. I’ll simply note that I don’t agree with his assumption, so I won’t agree with anything that flows from it.

I could stop here, really, because you couldn’t find a better example of disrespect for women than to never once mention the cause of the problem—MEN—but let’s press on. Because it gets worse, of course.

Now, I believe if we want to create a culture of respect for women, it must draw from a deeper wellspring in our society and our community of respect for one another.

Straight away, here it is, straight from the “Black lives matter? No, all lives matter!” playbook. How more insulting could Morrison be than to deliberately deny the suffering of a specific group—the group that he’s talking to—by pretending that it’s commensurate with the suffering of all of society?

The logic of this “belief” doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, anyway. Morrison’s saying that MEN can’t respect women if they can’t respect other members of society as well. Fair enough. Of course, using his tortured language he can never say “MEN“, he has to say “one another”, but given that society is very largely composed of either MEN or women, it’s not hard to translate.

One another? That would be, uh, let’s see, that would be MEN and women, wouldn’t it? You’re saying MEN and women can’t respect women if they don’t also respect MEN? Right?

But Scott, what about a hypothetical situation where MEN and women do respect MEN, but MEN don’t respect women? Wouldn’t that bring us back precisely the situation you’re trying to ignore, the situation you’re trying to pretend is part of a larger problem and hence isn’t so serious?

Not according to Morrison, who now proceeds to give many other examples of groups of people whom we can respect. From memory these include: Left-handed red-headed alto saxophonists; People over thirty-two who have never used a microwave oven; Former members of political parties that no longer exist; and Politicians who refuse to talk about MEN when discussing rape. Ok, strike that last one, I have no respect for them. And so on.

By enumerating a long and irrelevant list of other sections of society, Morrison diffuses the very specific problem of MEN‘s lack of respect for women into some vague equivalence with “respect of dark-haired soccer players for admirers of Hegel’s philosophy” which apparently is just as important. In any case, we’re now clear that MEN not respecting women isn’t the only problem, or even the main problem, and he’s managed to explain that without even mentioning MEN.

Respect […] respect […] respect […] respect […] respect […] respect […] respect […]

Scott, your speech writer—most probably a MAN—undoubtedly knows about anaphora, but frankly your repeating the same word until it starts to sound funny in your head is not going to make your argument any more compelling. In fact, you’ve given so many ridiculous instances that I’d almost believe that you were asked for a five hundred word essay on rape, and ran out of things to say without mentioning MEN. Like the rest of the speech before it, it’s an insult to the topic and an insult to the audience.

whether dealing with the very traumatic and difficult issues that this place has been openly discussing

If you’ve mislaid your Morrison decoder ring, I’ll just remind you that “issue” means “a MAN (allegedly) raping a woman”, and “openly discussing” means “Never ever saying the words ‘rape’ or ‘MAN’“.

the next national action plan in relation to violence against women

The next action plan? Quite obviously the previous one didn’t work, otherwise a new one wouldn’t be needed. And “violence”! My goodness Scott, you’ve slipped there, shouldn’t that be “issues against women” or something like that? Of course, you could have said “violence against women by MEN“, but that would never do.

And what I love saying about that is it is the next one. It’s not the first one. The first one started under the previous government under Prime Minister Gillard.

Ah, ok, now we understand. The previous one was started by a Labor government, and under someone who wasn’t a MAN.

And that work has been respected and continues

In respect of “respect”, Scott, can I respectfully suggest that if you respect much more you might lose the respect of your audience in just about every respect. Respectfully…

Ok, so I’m confused. We have a national plan; it was, yes, respected, and it’s continuing—but we need another plan? Why? Unfortunately Morrison isn’t telling us, except by implication that, clearly, it hasn’t worked, because here he is, a MAN, mansplaining women about their Day.

Now, I said protect. And I know many in this room would rightly say to me, that protect, what are we protecting against? Well, I can tell you what we’re not protecting against.

So near, and yet so deliberately far. Morrison knows that we know the answer to his question: MEN. Morrison knows that we know that he knows the answer to his question. MEN. Morrison knows that he has specifically and deliberately avoided saying MEN here, and he knows that he’s avoided saying MEN in the entirety of his speech, so right now he’s just giving us all the finger.

Well, I’m not sure what your electoral chances look like with around fifty percent of the population returning the favour, but who knows. Not all of them heard this speech, perhaps.

We need to protect against those who would disrespect women […] The problem is the lack of respect and the actions that are perpetrated against women, whoever they may be perpetrated by. Whoever.

Well, Scott, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If you’re going to thumb your nose at the audience by refusing to say MEN then you’d better make sure they all understand just how deliberate it is. Those circumlocutions couldn’t be more clumsy if you’d tried… Well done. Also, strictly speaking, that should be “by whomever they may be perpetrated,” but this speech certainly has larger problems than that.

And so protecting must be a key part of our actions if we are to respect women

Great rhetoric relies not just on great writing, it must also be built on inspiring ideas and compelling argument and logic. Alas, all are missing in action here.

I hope it’s obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. Morrison has mentioned, once or twice, that he believes the key to the problem is respect. If we respect women—if MEN respect women—or even if we all respect each other, then the problem is solved. It’s lack of respect that creates the problem. So what must we do to engender respect? Protect.

What?

How does protecting something make you respect it?

This is politics 101. If you have absolutely no grounds for an argument, just assert it’s true and move on. We’ll also move on.

and protect against the consequences of disrespect

Ah… My Morrison decoder ring says “consequences of disrespect” is MEN doing bad things to women.

Note, once again, how this discussion is framed entirely with women as the topic, the focus, the only actors in the picture. Morrison is describing a situation in which women have no role except to be the victims of bad actions by MEN, but it’s women who are the only people visible. Even the exploitation, the assaults, the rapes and the murders of women have disappeared under a coating of “consequences of disrespect”, things that happen with no actor in sight, no apparent cause.

Now I have no problem with society recognising that, right now, MEN do violence to women, and whenever we fail to stop a MAN doing that violence then there will be a woman suffering, if she’s not dead. As a society we should support those victims. However treating the symptoms is not a cure, and being proud of supporting victims is simply congratulating yourself for doing your basic civic duty, Scott.

The problem here isn’t mopping up the blood, Scott, it’s stopping MEN from attacking in the first place.

Let’s consider, for a moment, the deliberate reframing of the problem implied by “protect”. “Protect” assumes and presumes an attack. It says, in effect, “let’s assume that ‘respect’ doesn’t work very well after all” and that some people in society—victims—need protection. What’s more, most of this “protection”, as described by Morrison, actually takes place after an attack—sorry, “consequence of disrespect”—so it’s a strange notion of “protect”.

Importantly, note also that these victims could be any member of society: old, young, tall, short, black, white, there isn’t a single distinguishing feature that allows you to predict who the next victim of the “consequences of disrespect” will be! Oh, except one. They’re all women. So we’re now committed to “protecting” half the population, after they’ve been disrespected, with its consequences. “Protected” against what? The “consequences of disrespect”, silly. Ok, but protecting half the population against whose disrespect?

The other half!?

I suppose it could be that bad, but it’s a bizarre notion that our best response to the knowledge that some fraction of MEN are abusing, raping and killing women is not to address that—hopefully—minority, but rather to pretend that we should focus on protecting every single potential or actual victim: half of society. Yet again, the language places all the focus on the victims; the aggressors, the perpetrators, the MEN are nowhere to be seen, except in the abstract.

Since Morrison hasn’t proposed a single, concrete action for “respect” except to say we ought to do it, it follows that the only “solution” for all these MEN who don’t “respect” women—that is, abuse, bash, rape and kill them—is to deal with the women after they become victims, deal with the aftermath, but instead of calling this “recovery” or “repair” or simply “too late” he’s calling it “protect”.

Reducing the gender pay gap […] Protecting against that.

There’s a lot more of this kind of rhetoric, but this single example serves. Ignoring the fact that he actually means protecting against not reducing the gender pay gap, what a distorted meaning of “protect” this is. In the interests of using this emotionally laden word “protect”, a word that in any case makes no sense as a partner with “respect”, and means even less when used to described something that happens after an attack, Morrison is trying to tell us the women require “protection” against being paid less.

No they don’t, Scott. They just need to be paid the same as MEN.

What a rhetorical and logical tar-pit you’ve created by trying to avoid saying one word, trying to avoid some blindingly obvious truths, and trying to perpetuate some obviously false myths.

[blah blah blah] rule of law [blah blah blah]

To be honest, I’m not sure what Morrison was trying to convey here. My takeaway was “This is a wonderful country because we have laws and if you don’t have laws terrible things happen to women yet terrible things still happen to women here and we must do better.” But I could be wrong. I think there might have been a subliminal message that if you’re raped you should jolly well go to the police, but I might just be imagining that.

In conclusion, let me talk about “reflect“. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this, as we all have, I think, in the last couple of weeks and for much longer periods. I reflect on the examples […]

Scott, if you smoked then we’d have both smoke and mirrors, but on reflection a mirror maze is a pretty good metaphor for this speech and your “policies” for women.

I turned to Kathryn Campbell […] I turned, Josh and I turned to Jenny [Wilkinson] […] I turned […] to Christine Morgan […] I turned to Caroline Edwards […] And all of the women, Rosemary who is here, of course, Frances is here […]

Again, Morrison’s intention in declaiming this roll call of competent senior people in government—who also happen to be women—is unclear, unless he is genuinely, seriously concerned that we might think that there are no women in government whatsoever, or that we should think perhaps that there are, but that none of them is competent.

The condescension, in that case, is staggering, until you realise that Morrison would be hard put to name this many competent MEN in his front bench and maybe that’s his yardstick, but perhaps I’m being over-critical. In any case this is gratuitously insulting, for a man to think he needs to publicly affirm that some of the people in government he thinks are competent are women. But it gets worse.

I think about a dear friend of mine who I celebrated her 50th birthday very recently and one of her greatest achievements, I have no doubt, together with her husband, they have raised their amazing son to respect women.

People of Australia, this is your Prime Minister. In a nationally televised speech to mark International Women’s Day, he’d like to celebrate the fact that he knows a woman, and that woman has raised an amazing son to respect women.

Bravo. Only one, so far, so we need about twelve million more MEN like him, but it’s a start.

Words fail me.


Prime Minister: Thank you very much, Janelle, and thank you also to Debra. Can I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and can I acknowledge you, Aunty Violet, and thank you for your very warm welcome to the country today. And challenge accepted, I was just trying to check what round Sharks and Rabbitohs meet. I know it’s not the first one, we’ve got the Dragons that is only two and a half weeks away. Looking forward to that. But hopefully you’ll be there on some other occasion. We’re all looking forward to that. But thank you for your welcome, on every occasion you are always so warm and provide the right settings. So thank you for that.

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, both past, present and emerging. Can I also acknowledge any veterans in the room today, particularly our serving members of the Defence Force and particularly the women in the Defence Force and the amazing job they do all around the world for us and here at home. I have no doubt the CDF is very aware of, as is the Minister for Defence.

Can I acknowledge, of course, my many colleagues here today, too many to mention by name. But of course, can I acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition, can I acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Greens. But can I particularly acknowledge Marise Payne, my dear friend, Minister for Women. She is in other ministerial portfolios, but particularly in this respect I acknowledge her today. Can I acknowledge Penny Wong, can I knowledge Larissa Waters. But the many other colleagues who join us here each and every year for this event.

This event we normally gather and I would normally like to speak of the many things that Janelle has already made reference to, which we can, of course, be very pleased about. But, of course, the events of the last couple of weeks I think provide me with a great opportunity this morning to share with you some of my own reflections.

This has been a very traumatic few weeks for the people who work in this place, but even more traumatic, obviously, for those who are the subject of those issues. So I just wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about the very issue that brings us here together today, and that is women.

The three points I want to make to you today are about respect, protect and reflect, but even more traumatic, obviously, for those who are the subject of those issues. So, I just wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about the very issue that brings us here together today. And that is women.

The three points I want to make to you today are about respect, protect and reflect.

My hope is that we will live in a society where we can truly say that women are respected. That is what we are trying to achieve, because from the disrespect of women or failure to respect women, all the other challenges flow. Violence, discrimination, deprivation, abuse, assault, lack of recognition, not hearing. It all starts with the failure of respect for women.

Now, I believe if we want to create a culture of respect for women, it must draw from a deeper wellspring in our society and our community of respect for one another. In this place, we deal with so many of the consequences that start with a lack of respect. Respect for the elderly. Respect for Australians who live with the disability. Respect for Indigenous Australians. Respect for elders. Respect for youth. Respect for one another. Respect is where changing the culture, whether it be of this building and all of us who work here, or outside of this building where we deal with the many consequences which stem from a lack of respect in the first place. Respect is where it must start.

Specifically, it stems from respect for shared humanity. A respect for the aspirations, the protection, the safety, the opportunity of each and every Australian. Particularly in relation to respect for women. Respect for the contribution. Respect for the recognition. Respect for the understanding that has brought the experience, the world view, the community view, the household view. Respect for the opportunity. Respect for the choices and agency. Respect.

So it’s my hope and commitment that particularly as we move forward, whether dealing with the very traumatic and difficult issues that this place has been openly discussing these last few weeks, or indeed, the important work we have to do in addressing this culture of respect and that is in the formation of the next national action plan in relation to violence against women.

And what I love saying about that is it is the next one. It’s not the first one. The first one started under the previous government under Prime Minister Gillard. And that work has been respected and continues, and it’s not just the work of our Government or our Parliament, it is the work of every government in this country. It is a national plan which is shared right across our great commonwealth. And at the heart of that must be fostering a culture of respect for women.

Now, I said protect. And I know many in this room would rightly say to me, that protect, what are we protecting against? Well, I can tell you what we’re not protecting against. We don’t need to protect against the vulnerability of women. That’s not the issue. We need to protect against those who would disrespect women. That’s where the perpetrators are. That’s what we have to protect against, it’s not about – thank you – it is about understanding that vulnerability is not the issue here, or arguably, not even present. That is not the problem. That is not the issue. The problem is the lack of respect and the actions that are perpetrated against women, whoever they may be perpetrated by. Whoever.

And so protecting must be a key part of our actions if we are to respect women and protect against the consequences of disrespect. Now, that protection must take many forms. For the safety, for the safe shelter and housing, for the support that is necessary, for the equality of opportunity. I could speak of the Women’s Economic Security Statement. I could speak of 1800Respect. I could talk of the Safe Houses programme. I don’t intend to, only to mention them in passing because the protections that need to be in place are about bridging that gap that currently exists. And that should be the aim of the protections we put in place, whether it is the support for women, in particular, who may be victims of sexual assault and how they can speak up and take those matters forward and the support that is wrapped around them, or in any other set of circumstances in the workplace. Reducing the gender pay gap, creating the opportunities for women to forge forward in areas and industries where sometimes they don’t have that opportunity, oftentimes. Protecting against that.

But it’s also about ensuring that our rule of law and the way we administer the rule of law in this country is respected and protected as well, because there is no greater defence for the liberties and safety of every single Australian than the fact that we live in a country that is governed by the rule of law. And you only need to go not too far from this country, not too far to see when the rule of law does not operate in a country and it is not respected and its processes and those who are authorised and have the authority and the experience and the ability and the training to deal with these sorts of issues. Where that isn’t present, those who suffer most are women.

We must in this country understand that one of the key protections for women against the disrespect of women in this country is the rule of law. There is no substitute for it. There is no alternative justice system. There is no alternative law enforcement system. There is only one, and we must redouble our efforts to make sure it is as effective as possible.

In conclusion, let me talk about reflect. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this, as we all have, I think, in the last couple of weeks and for much longer periods. I reflect on the examples of women and in this last year, there have been many women, most, not least of all my own members of my own Cabinet, so many of them here today who I acknowledge, including Linda, who was not with us today, who would love to be with us today. And I want to thank all of those members of this place, from all sides of politics, who I know have reached out to Linda, particularly in these last 24 hours. I spoke to her last night and she is very appreciative of the support she’s had from across the Parliament.

But I think of Kathryn Campbell. Secretary of the Department, of Anne’s Department. In the middle of the pandemic, as we saw the lines of those stricken by unemployment and desperate about their future, I turned to Kathryn Campbell, of course, through Anne and Stuart Robert, about how we were going to get the support to those Australians who needed it. And Kathryn, one of the finest public officials in our public service, was up to the task and she did an amazing job in completely reinventing and developing our systems at rapid speed to ensure that we could get that support.

Jenny Wilkinson, another Deputy Secretary at Treasury, one of the key designers of JobKeeper. I turned, Josh and I turned to Jenny and sought her advice and it was outstanding and she was recognised in the honours list this year.

I turned, of course, soon after I became Prime Minister to Christine Morgan, who has advised me over these many months on how we can do more to prevent death by suicide in this country. And she’s been a constant source of expertise and strength and insight and understanding.

I turned to Caroline Edwards, the Associate Secretary of the Department of Health, and for much of that time during the early phase of the pandemic, the Secretary of the Department of Health. And I’ve often spoken to you about Professor Murphy or Professor Kelly. But I can tell you, Caroline Edwards has been an absolute champion of the work that has been done to ensure that Australia has one of the best records in the world on the health response in the pandemic. And all of the women, Rosemary who is here, of course, Frances is here. Strong women who know what they’re doing and making an enormous contribution to this country.

I reflect on Leila Abdallah, whose gracious act of forgiveness at a time when her children were stripped from her from an act of terrible violence and her capacity to process that and express forgiveness.

I think about a dear friend of mine who I celebrated her 50th birthday very recently and one of her greatest achievements, I have no doubt, together with her husband, they have raised their amazing son to respect women.

I reflect on that because, as difficult as the issues that we’re dealing with, the progress is occurring. We become despondent because of our failures. But let’s not forget the progress and those who are leading it.

Let’s not forget that during the middle of the pandemic where we surged support into organisations like Lifeline, but particularly 1800Respect. That the work of protecting against domestic violence continued in the middle of that, done by amazing people.

Let’s not forget the amazing work, particularly of women serving in the front lines of our health systems, our emergency services systems, and thank them and reflect on the fact that we are a nation that is blessed by strong women over our history.

And finally, I reflect on my own responsibilities, as each of us in this place must. I can comment, others can comment on what each of our responsibilities should be, but the best contemplation is when we reflect on our own responsibilities and we consider what we, each of us can do, to make Australia a better place to live. A place where women can truly grow and feel respected.

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