Mary Crooks, the executive director of the Victorian Women’s Trust (Victorian Women’s Trust, 2012), wrote an opinion piece in the Australian newspaper, The Age, entitled Breaking The Cycle (Crooks, 2012). This article takes up the call, so often heard nowadays, for men to speak out to end the violence against women and girls.
She starts off like this:
“True story. People hovered in the chemist shop waiting area. She felt one of the guys looking her up and down. In taking his turn to speak with the chemist, he said loudly – ‘You can always tell a depressed lesbian can’t you?’ Mildly discomforted, the chemist remained silent.”
Now how about that? She was “looked up and down”. The poor thing! Not just up, but down as well.
And as for the loud statement, was that an insult? I can almost hear John Cleese, looking over the ramparts at King Arthur crying in that silly French accent “Your mother is a depressed lesbian.”
And a little translation for Americans: Chemist = Pharmacist.
Now, a quick “whodunit”, Who’s the problem, here? The man who made the loud comment? The woman?
O ye of limited vision! Clearly it was the chemist! Crooks explains:
“By choosing silence, the chemist becomes what filmmaker Abigail Disney describes as a ‘tolerator’ – someone who knows that another’s behaviour is unacceptable, but offers no resistance or contestation. The ‘tolerator’ becomes complicit in the other’s action. Without challenge, the guilty party receives tacit permission to continue behaving boorishly.”
Now I know that the chemist experienced some mild discomfort and all, but really! Fuck him, right? Fucking tolerator!
So, should the chemist have reached under the counter for his shotgun? Or perhaps given the man poison instead of his hay fever tablets?
Nothing so harsh! Crooks asks:
“Why the silence? The chemist could have said with a soft smile, ‘Mate, there’s no need to talk like that,’ sending the other man a signal that his abuse was unacceptable. Lacking social sanction, his customer might think again and even change his ways.”
In other words, a fairly uninteresting event at the chemist’s shop could have had an entirely different, yet equally trivial, conclusion.
Let me turn a moment here to discuss that noted filmmaker, Abigail Disney. You’ve heard of her, right? Me neither. I had to look her up.
Apparently Disney made a documentary about “women power” in Liberia. The Liberian women got political, wore white T-shirts, got rid of the dictator Charles Taylor (sanctions, international pressure and government bankruptcy had absolutely nothing to do with it) and elected a woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006 (PBS, 2011).
You go, girls! Right?
The fact that Sirleaf was re-elected with a Mugabe or Putin like 90.7% of the vote (CIA, 2012) doesn’t cause the likes of Disney to make another documentary. Not even when the UN declares “Liberia is a source, transit, and destination country, principally for young women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” The UN also notes that no one has been successfully prosecuted in Liberia for this trafficking since 2005 when new laws were created specifically to outlaw this practice (UNHCR, 2011).
Recently, Sirleaf was in the news again for her country’s laws which criminalise homosexuality. Sirleaf approves of the law. (Ford & Allen, 2012).
All of this is after Sirleaf has been in power more than six years. Whatever is going on in Liberia, it ain’t good. And, it ain’t Patriarchy. My guess is that’s why there’s a lack of follow up documentaries.
So that gives Disney all the credibility of the next person you meet in a bus queue. It also means she’s a “tolerator”.
Let’s get back to Crooks and the tolerating chemist. Now, of course, what Crooks wants to tell us is that it is everyday conversations like these, multiplied throughout the country, that cause an epidemic of rape and violence against women. We go from mild discomfort to “life-long trauma” in one long continuum of violence.
So, let’s follow the logic. The chemist should have spoken up, but didn’t, so call him out as a tolerator!
But, there were other people in that shop. Why stop at the chemist? Should another man have said to the chemist, with soft smile, “Mate, that’s just tolerating bad behaviour”?
And should another, other man; let’s call him the man who saw the man who saw the chemist tolerating. Should he have said, “Mate, we just don’t need to tolerate a man tolerating.”
Where does it end?
With all this distraction, you almost forget about the woman. She, who will remain nameless, who was looked up and down, and no matter what you might think of her, was not a depressed lesbian (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Isn’t she giving anyone a soft smile and a mild, understanding, respectful, strong, affirming, gentle, caring yet confronting reprimand?
Apparently not! Crooks clearly assumes that women are not up to the task. In a world where they talk about fighting for equality, that surely doesn’t include speaking up at the chemist. There will be no group of women in white T-shirts voting in a new chemist in this town.
No. According to Crooks, women will only be truly equal when men go to the pharmacy and speak up for them. And, I presume, the moment men stop speaking up, women will become unequal again.
Is Crooks a feminist or a misogynist?
Is she saying that women really are equal to men, but oppressed? Or are they actually less than men? Is it really that men are superior? So superior, in fact, that they can pretend women are equal by speaking up for them whenever they need it at the chemist, but do it in soft gentle way that seems so feminine that the women think they’re actually in control?
Thankfully, Crooks resorts to the sacred babble to clear it up:
“Men need to learn and practise ways that confront and ultimately supplant the culture of masculinity that sustains violent behaviour. Increasingly, with community education and positive support, men need to be prepared and equipped to confront their male peers in everyday situations – family gatherings, staff rooms, office corridors, parliamentary life, building sites, clubrooms, online, and at the chemist shop – sending clear signals that sexist, abusive and violent attitudes and behaviour are just not on.”
So the example of the chemist shop, if I can wade through the unsupported claims, is not just a badly chosen example because Crooks doesn’t know anyone who has actually been sexually assaulted. She is quite serious. She wants that sort of tolerating to stop at pharmacies throughout the land.
Now where will men get that “community education and positive support” you might ask? My guess would be from the Victorian Women’s Trust that Crooks runs. Is this letter an opinion piece or a fund raiser? You be the judge.
Another question is this: Why are Good Men to be Crooks’ eyes and ears in the community sniffing out sexism everywhere? Why doesn’t Crooks cut out the middle-men, who are clearly not doing the job anyway, and get her sorry arse over to the chemist’s shop and sort the whole lot out herself?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t really follow the logic here. If women need men to speak up for them in order to be equal, why do men need to be shown how to do that by a woman who, by Crooks’ own definition, does not have the capacity to speak up and so needs a man to speak up for her. Doesn’t that just disappear up its own arse?
And another thing to note: Crooks isn’t suggesting that Liberian men have a soft smile and a gentle word with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Not even the gay men. No documentaries, white T-shirts and monitored elections for them.
No, this behaviour correction method is required for males only. This follows the typical feminist argument of women are victims, men are bullies, so Good Men must intervene. But is this attitude adjustment technique as benign as Crooks would have us believe?
Consider the case of Vivienne Dye, who sued the Commonwealth Securities Limited (owned by the Commonwealth Bank) and two of its employees for sexual harassment and worse (Australian Legal Information Institute, 2012).
Dye made complaints of sexual harassment initially against Michael Blomfield at the bank. She turned to a friend and colleague, Angus Patterson for assistance, friendship and support.
Later she raised complaints against Patterson, too, including digital rape.
Was Dye a woman who decided to stop tolerating behaviour that was not on, and spoke up? Was she a woman asking the Good Man, in the form of the courts, to intervene and stop this harassment? That’s certainly the appearance she gave early on in the proceedings:
“Vivienne Dye claims she was subjected to psychological bullying and alienation and her employment as a public relations manager terminated after she made it clear that she was not interested in having an affair with Michael Blomfield, an executive general manager, whom she worked below (Kontominas, 2009).”
And, as in all matters of principle, the complainant was asking for more than one million dollars in compensation (Carson, 2008).
According to the Judge Buchanan’s judgement years later, Dye’s written testimony was “… progressively altered, re-recorded, edited, polished, embellished and even substantially changed as though it was a novel.” He also did not believe much of what she had to say at the trial, apart from her name and a few other corroborated details (Australian Legal Information Institute, 2012).
Essentially, the Judge came to the view that Dye was lying from beginning to end for her own gain. When her complaints were challenged, she just upped the ante by making more serious claims.
What Dye was hoping for, it seems, is that a “community educated and positively supported” man would step up to those she accused and say “Guys, you should settle this now for a reasonable sum and save this poor woman any more trouble?”
The judge pointed out that the burden on the bank and the two men would have been “very substantial” and noted that the pressure to reach a settlement for the bank would have been considerable. These pressures would have been to avoid negative publicity and to pay Dye something rather than pay even more to their legal teams.
Importantly, the judge continues “However, the costs incurred, and other burdens assumed, by the respondents could not have been avoided if the truth was to emerge.”
In other words, had the bank tolerated Dye’s dishonesty and paid up, she would have been rewarded for her dishonesty, and those two men would have a constant shadow over their reputation and career for the rest of their lives.
They may have won their case, but at what cost? Dye’s accusations punished them for years. This is the type of news report Mr Blomfield got to enjoy with his wife, two children and other family and friends:
Bank Bigwig ‘dirty danced’
“…Mr Blomfield had shown her a tattoo above his buttocks and had been ”dirty dancing” with other female bank employees, Ms Dye said (Kontominas, 2009).”
Sacked woman ‘shunned bank exec’s offer’
“A top bank executive who made unwanted sexual advances to employee Vivienne Dye worked his way into her heart before doing the “most disrespectful thing a man can do”, she told a Sydney court (Drummond, 2009).”
So back to the chemist’s shop. Crooks declares the man, who looked the woman up and down, as the “the guilty party”. His crime, of course, is “behaving boorishly”. The chemist is “complicit” in this crime.
In all seriousness, Crooks declares boorish behaviour as a crime that is worthy of a concerted effort of all Australian Good Men. Normally, life would punish the truly boorish man with no friends, no love life, no promotions at work, etc. But this is not enough for Crooks. Every boorish sentence he utters, every boorish look he gives, should receive immediate condemnation.
But that, of course, is if you believe Crooks’ interpretation of the incident.
What if the woman was a depressed lesbian? What if the man mistook the woman for someone he knew, and was making a private joke? What if the man had serious mental health issues, and his carer had only left him for a moment to go back to the car to get his wallet? What if the woman had been repeatedly insulting the man, but the chemist didn’t hear it?
What if the story Crooks told wasn’t true at all?
And of course, there is nothing fairer, nothing more tolerant, than a group of people at the chemist deciding that one person is in the wrong. Remember the good the Hitler Youth did in Nazi Germany?
And I can think of a worse crime than boorishness.
Recently, we had what was called a landmark case in Australia regarding sexual assault. Kristy Fraser-Kirk sued department store David Jones and its former CEO Mark McInnes.
McInnes, Fraser-Kirk alleged, had touched her bra-strap; on another occasion put his hand under her shirt at the front and touched the bottom of her bra; made a few attempts to kiss her in public; and invited back her back to his place for, she assumed but he didn’t state it, sex. (Metherell, 2010)
For this harassment, Fraser-Kirk wanted 37 million dollars. That’s right! 37 and six zeroes. More money than me and ten other guys will earn in five lifetimes. For attempted kissing and actual bra contact!
Can someone at David Jones touch my undies? Please?
So, it is hardly surprising to see a year later in the newspapers, “AUSTRALIA’S biggest ever sexual harassment case – Kristy Fraser-Kirk v David Jones – has emboldened scores of other victims to take on their harassers. (Bibby, 2011)”
And don’t forget – no one came to Fraser-Kirk’s aid. The alleged harasser was repeatedly thwarted by Fraser-Kirk herself. He tried to kiss her and she stopped it. No gun, no knife. She just turned away.
Now, when the case was announced, Fraser-Kirk declared she would give the money to charity. “I just want to be treated with respect” she declared (Metherell, 2010).
It was also quoted that her legal team, too, were in it for the principle by working pro bono. Not only that, but Fraser-Kirk claimed in a statement that there were six other women who would make similar allegation against McInnes and David Jones (Knight, 2010). The implication being that Fraser-Kirk and her team were concerned for these women, and women everywhere “… this should never happen to me or to anyone” Fraser-Kirk told the press (Metherell, 2010).
Fast forward some months later to the settlement of a meagre $850,000 (twenty times the average annual salary). Here we find that Fraser-Kirk is keeping what’s left of the money after her legal team pocket their fees (Jamal & Hinch, 2010). The other six women got the same as the charities. Nothing. The reported nobility, it seems, was lost in the negotiations.
Because the case was settled out of court, we’ll never know what really happened in the David Jones boardroom, etc.
So, was Fraser-Kirk vindicated because she got a settlement? Did David Jones and McInnes buy their way out of trouble?
Or was it simply a hard-headed business decision for David Jones, unlike the Commonwealth Bank, to cut its losses?
What certainly seemed to help Fraser-Kirk’s case was the media publicity that the unprecedented $37 million claim was guaranteed to bring (Knight, 2010). After all, the publicity had a negative impact on their share price (Funnell, 2010). It is unlikely they would ever recover the full cost of their legal fees, never mind the commercial damage, from Fraser-Kirk.
But what is more important here is that a Watershed Case (capital letters intentional) is not for a heinous crime. At worst, it is unwelcome, clumsy flirtation and almost, but not quite, being groped. That’s if you believe Fraser-Kirk’s story in its entirety.
The complaint is more about what McInnes could have meant; tried but failed to do; and where it could have ended up. McInnes and David Jones were being punished for women being exploited everywhere rather than for whatever it was McInnes had actually done.
So, back to the pharmacy again. Last time, promise.
It’s not what actually happened at the chemist’s shop, but what it might lead to that is to be our concern.
For this, all men get punished by this tale. Even those of us who were not there are supposed to take on some guilt. We should be preparing ourselves, even getting some training, to thwart this evil should it show its ugly head in our neighbourhood again.
I’m surprised she didn’t even come up with a pledge: If anyone, anywhere, makes a remark with any negative, sexists, connotations; I want a Victorian Women’s Trust trained agent to be there. I will be that agent.
Instead of minding their own business, men everywhere are to monitor everything going on around them. At all times. No idle day dreaming while waiting in the queue. Don’t be listening to your iPod. No, no.
Listen to any and all conversations and interfere at the first sign of potential sexism, otherwise you might be guilty of tolerating.
Crooks is right about one thing. We are “tolerators”. We, as a society, tolerate feminist bullshit.
Crooks writes this article for a National newspaper. She quotes statistics without giving proper sources; she makes connections that are quite illogical; she quotes filmmakers as though they were experts; she puts a guilt trip on completely innocent men; and no one says, soft smile or not, “Mate, you can do better than that.”
Instead, they publish it! It gives her ideas a credence they do not deserve.
Crooks’ victory over “tolerance” won’t be the Utopia of mild admonishments by Good Men she proposes. Like Liberia’s election of Sirleaf, problem A will simply be replaced by problem B.
Let me ask this question: How will you know when a man is tolerating?
Answer: When he’s leaving other men alone.
Instead of all men respecting all women, we will have zealous agents constantly meddling in other peoples affairs and trying to out-do each other with soft smiles and constant admonitions.
“Mate, you don’t have to talk like that” says the chemist.
“Mate,” says the man who saw the chemist speak up, “It’s good that you spoke up. But, you need to explain more about where he went wrong.”
“Mate,” says the man who saw the man who saw the chemist speak up, “I don’t know that you need to explain anything. But, I thought you should have spoken up sooner when he was looking her up and down.”
What happens when Good Men get told to fuck off and mind their own business? At what point do the women and the good men resort to the courts to show their intolerance?
And, can we really expect all women to refuse to turn this to their own advantage and everyone else can go fuck themselves? Dye proves we can’t; Liberia proves we can’t; and Fraser-Kirk raises real concerns.
Personally, I think problem B is a much bigger problem than anything that might be said at the chemist’s shop.
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