Words || Erin Christie
ABC’s popular panel program, Q&A, held an exclusive episode on February 15th to address the #MeToo movement and its surrounding controversy. The ABC ignited a controversy of its own when announcing the original planned panel would include Australian barrister Charles Waterstreet.
Waterstreet had recently been accused of sexual harassment by a 21-year-old paralegal who had worked in his Sydney chambers, leading many to believe his invitation to appear on the panel was deeply inappropriate. This decision by the ABC created much anxious anticipation in the lead up to the airing of the live episode. However, in the days before the show, the NSW Bar Association advised Waterstreet to pull out of the panel. The remaining panelists were lawyer Alex Borstein, frontwoman of The Preatures, Isabella Manfredi, columnist Janet Albrechtsen, and Macquarie’s own Professor of Media, Catharine Lumby.
The growing public outrage aimed at sexual crimes and misconduct, spurred by #MeToo, has also seen the release of The Red Zone Report on Monday. The 200-page investigation was completed by the End Rape on Campus organisation, and looked into the ritualistic hazing occurring at Australian residential colleges, and the sexual assault and harassment connected to this behaviour.
Grapeshot revealed in 2016 that a closed Facebook page called ‘Village Party Central’ contained photos of residents of Macquarie Village engaging in acts of sexual misconduct.
In the face of all of this, when Grapeshot sat down with Catharine Lumby, she spoke about the importance of the #MeToo movement, calling it a “watershed in feminist history” that she compares to the early 70s second-wave marches due to the collective voice that has been created.
“Previously women told their stories in single file… and what we’ve had in this hashtag #MeToo movement is a visibility of the collectivity of women’s experiences with sexual harassment and assault.”
Lumby believes that this aspect of the movement makes women feel supported when coming forward. “It’s started debates right around the world on these issues” she commented, following on to describe how now organisations must review their policies and protocols, and the way they educate people in individual spaces in order to live up to the momentum of the movement. These reviews, spurred by the movement, will hopefully bring the beginning of the end of the ‘sexual harassment epidemic’ that Lumby refers to.
When asked about the controversy surrounding the ABC’s intention to have Charles Waterstreet on the Q&A panel, Lumby says, “I had a lot of questions to ask him,” a desire most likely shared by the majority of the audience. Lumby opted instead to discuss Harvey Weinstein, and the problem with men like him, who respond to allegations with a “mea culpa”. Referring to the age-old excuse that they “are men of a certain era, I made some mistakes, I have regrets,” Lumby reiterated her disgust, stating that she didn’t buy this as an argument, “because sexual harassment is still epidemic.”
However, controversy was not completely avoided with the removal of Waterstreet. Conservative columnist Janet Albrechtsen made some comments that seemed problematic in nature. Referring to her time working as a waitress during university, she stated that she “knew not to go into the cool room with certain people,” and that this knowledge came down to “common sense.” In response to this, Lumby stated “I don’t think it should be a young woman’s responsibility … I don’t believe that’s how it works.”
This attitude was confronting to encounter in the face of, as she states, the epidemic nature of sexual crime. Considering this, Lumby highlighted how “sexual harassment and sexual assault are the only two crimes … where a whole range of people will still ask – well, how did the woman contribute to this?” This is highly problematic, and can be found in many stories given within the #MeToo movement. “It is the most under-reported crime with the lowest rates of conviction. So, our legal system is broken around this still.”
Those suffering from the most from these attitudes are perhaps the victims referred to in The Red Zone report.
In her foreword for the report, Lumby writes “how can there be educational equity for women, members of the LGBTI community or any male regarded as not appropriately masculine if they have to face harassment and assault on campus and in their residences?”
The question remains on the lips of many, including the crowds who have protested on campuses across NSW this week. Author of the report, Nina Funnell, addressed survivors at a Sydney University protest, saying, “I believe you, what happened to you was not okay … and we will continue to fight for an education free of sexual violence as this is no more or no less than you deserve.”
Grapeshot will be continuing its coverage of The Red Zone report. If this article has raised any issues for you, please visit mq.edu.au/respect.