NARRATION: In March 2021, across Australia, tens of thousands of people marched for all the same things women have been demanding for decades: equality, respect and the right to be protected from male harassment, abuse and rape.
00:18 MARCH AUDIO:
No more, enough is enough.
We are all here today not because we want to be here but because we have to be here. The system is broken. The glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institutions. We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.
I’m here today to make sure that the voice of Aboriginal woman is elevated in gendered violence, I want to tell our story
Evil thrives in silence. Behavior, unspoken, behavior ignored, is behavior endorsed.
We just want to be listened to and and believed.
01:33 NARRATION: The March 4 Justice movement was ignited by allegations of sexual assault from within Parliament House, and a rape allegation made against Australia highest law officer, the Attorney General Christian Porter; allegations he has strenuously denied. The rage at these marches was directed very much at the government, but also at the culture of male entitlement that persists throughout our society.
The rage was directed at patriarchy.
In this series we’ve seen how the malignant culture of ‘power-over’ drives domestic abuse and coercive control, and how our institutions too often not only fail to stop it, but end up perpetuating it.
In this episode we pull the lens back to see how this is all connected.
It’s considered a truism now that gender inequality is the root cause of domestic abuse, family violence and sexual assault. These kinds of abuses are being perpetrated against women at epidemic proportions, but they are also perpetrated against men and non-binary people who are LGBTQI, who are disabled. And the scope of intimate partner abuse is much broader than the binary of men over women.
To confront the common element driving all of this, it’s not enough to simply focus on reducing gender inequality. We need to define, and confront, the entire system that entraps all of us.
I’m Jess Hill, and this is The Trap.
MARY CROOKS: I mean I’ve been, you know, thinking a whole lot, that the dynamic within intimate personal relationships of power and control and clever manipulative techniques and tactics that are used to reinforce that position of domination and control. That kind of dynamic in my mind, translates into other institutions, such as our parliamentary political culture.
03:53 NARRATION: This is Mary Crooks, head of the Victorian Women’s Trust. We’ve been working together for the past 18 months on this series, which was a brainchild of the Trust.
Mary has had an extensive career in public policy and has been researching and advocating for gender equality and a more inclusive, fair and safe society for decades.
04:16 MARY CROOKS: And I think the danger is that we see that as some kind of objective reality in the institutions in our society that have been, and still remain,male dominated.
NARRATION: As we worked on this podcast, I’d occasionally visit Mary and the team at the Trust’s headquarters in Melbourne. Huddled around a boardroom table, we’d talk for hours, making the connections between abuse in the home and the power and control dynamics that play out across our society, and particularly in our parliament.
04:50 MARY CROOKS: You know, the politicians will say to you, ‘but this is the way politics is done.’ And I’m saying, ‘No, this is the way the politics of control are done.’
NARRATION: In looking for examples of this ‘politics of control’, it’s gotta be said: we’ve really been spoiled for choice lately.
But as a pure illustration of this, Mary and I can’t go past what the prime minister Scott Morrison did to former Liberal MP, Julia Banks.
Followers of Australian politics will probably remember that in 2018, Julia Banks decided to quit the Liberal party and serve out her term as an Independent. She did this after a leadership coup, in which her party dumped the sitting prime minister, Malcolm Turbbull, and replaced him with Scott Morrison.
In a blistering speech to parliament, she explained her extraordinary decision…
05:40 JULIA BANKS RETIREMENT SPEECH: “Led by members of the reactionary right wing, the coup was aided by many MPs trading their vote for a leadership change in exchange for their individual promotion, pre-selection endorsements or silence. Their actions were undeniably for themselves, for their position in the party, their power, their personal ambition, not for the Australian people who we represent.”
NARRATION: But it wasn’t just the leadership change that led to her disowning her own party. It was what that process had laid bare for her about the politics of male-domination and control in the Australian parliament.
JULIA BANKS: Across both major parties, the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world.
Often when good women call out or are subjected to bad behaviour the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones, the liar, the troublemaker, the emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced.”
06:34 NARRATION: As we’d later discover, those words weren’t just about parliamentary culture. Julia Banks was actually describing what she had been subjected to by the prime minister.
When she decided to quit the party, she had first gone in private first to tell the prime minister.
MARY CROOKS: He asked her if she would just give him 24 hours before she made it public and unquestioningly, she assented to that request, didn’t see anything wrong with agreeing to that.
MARY CROOKS: What she hadn’t realized is that he wanted that time. It was a tactic.
JULIA BANKS: That was my first mistake because I’m told afterwards that the PMO’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office for which, obviously, Morrison is accountable, were backgrounding the press and others, certainly within the party, that I had had a complete sort of emotional breakdown, I had not coped with the coup and don’t go near her and that was the way they were being backgrounded.
NARRATION: This is Julia Banks on the ABC’s current affairs program 7.30.
She says that within 21 hours, the story of her resignation had been leaked. So Julia released a statement.
07:55 JULIA BANKS: and then Morrison rang me and he said, “You agreed on 24 hours.” He was a bit cross about that and I said the story was leaking.
And then he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, I’ll come to your electorate and we’ll do a press conference together,” and I said, “No, no, Scott, I’m taking a few days leave.” and he said, “Well, do me a favour, do not speak to the media. Don’t do any interviews.” And I agreed to that. And that was my second mistake.
NARRATION: Julia didn’t know then that the prime minister’s office was already backgrounding against her.
08:25 JULIA BANKS: And then his first press conference, he was asked how do you feel about Julia Banks not re-contesting? And I remember watching the television and thinking, “What’s he saying?”
08:40 SCOTT MORRISON: What am I doing right now? I’m supporting Julia and I’m reaching out to Julia and giving her every comfort and support for what has been a pretty torrid ordeal for her ….
JULIA BANKS: So this whole narrative which is what he’s very good at, controlling the narrative, and this whole narrative about me being this weak petal that hadn’t coped with coup week, and that’s the reason I was leaving was the narrative that they had created and that he was complicit, absolutely complicit in when he did that first presser.
LAURA TINGLE: What was the crucial decision that you made in 2018 about why you were leaving the parliament?
09:15 JULIA BANKS: I left because of that three months of treatment where I realized Morrison, the the most powerful man in the country – I described him as like a menacing, controlling wallpaper – he was either doing it through his emissaries, or directly. He wanted me silenced. He wanted me to be quiet.
You know, I’m challenging him. And that was his response.
MARY CROOKS: I listened to that, and I thought it was quite chilling in a way because I thought, I get it now.
MARY CROOKS: that, to me, is a practised – subliminal – practised reflex on the part of a dominant power bloke, of being able to find a quick, in-the-moment rationale for buying time, and then using it to to defeat in this instance, this female opponent, and to restore the so-called natural order.
MARY CROOKS: That sense of I’m entitled to hold the power in this relationship and how dare you upset the apple cart? And, and I will put it right, in my terms.
JESS: Yeah. And I think that Morrison is a real evolution on from Abbott in in that way, in the sense that Abbott was much more overt with his old fashioned and some would say misogynist views of women. Morrison is much more harder to pin. It’s all of these moments that we see where we go, hang on, did he just really do that?
Jess: I think another example of that that was really chilling, was the day that he held a press conference, saying essentially, that, you know, it was so terrible what had happened in Parliament around the Brittany Higgins allegations, he was so horrified by it, it was this real sort of, I have understood, I’ve heard women, I understand how you want me to respond, and I’m getting it.
11:16 SCOTT MORRISON These events have triggered right across this building – and indeed right across the country – women who have put up with this rubbish and this crap for their entire lives, as their mothers did, as their grandmothers did.
I have the deepest of vested interests. Criticise me, if you like, for speaking about my daughters, but they are the center of my life. My wife is the center of my life. My mother, my widowed mother is the center of my life. They motivate me every day on this issue. They have motivated me my entire life.
12:12 NARRATION: It was all tears and quivering lips until the questions started.
Reporter: If you are the boss of the business, and they’ve been an alleged rape on your watch, and this incident we heard about last night, on your watch your job’d probably be in a bit of Jeopardy, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t it look like you’ve lost control of your ministerial staff?
12:32 MORRISON: Well, I’ll let you editorialize as you like, Andrew. But if anyone in this room wants to offer up the standards in their own workplaces by comparison, I’d invite you to do sol.
MORRISON: Let me take you up on that. Right now. You’d be aware, in your own organisation, that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet. And that matter is being pursued by your own HR department.
13:08 NARRATION: So here we have a prime minister who has just tearfully apologised for mishandling a rape allegation in his own parliament. And minutes later, he was making a veiled attack on Samantha Maiden, the very reporter who broke that story – a journalist who was sitting right in front of him.
He must have believed this allegation had been made against her. Now it’s bad enough to use this in a public press conference after you’ve just apologised for your treatment of women. But what’s worse is, it wasn’t even true. There was no allegation against Maiden.
So he’d just lobbed out this unsubstantiated story…
JESS: He had basically used an allegation that had not even been made in the way that he represented against a News Limited staffer that was later found out to be Samantha Maiden, the key reporter behind those allegatio to try to sully her reputation and to send out a warning to the to the press that if you want to report on this, well, I’ll we’ll dig up the dirt on you. And anyone who has any dirt should really think twice about trying to investigate this.
14:27 MORRISON: So let’s not all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that. You’re free to make your criticisms and to stand on that pedestal. But be careful.
JESS: And I just thought that whole scene was so disturbing.
Publicly in this press conference it seems like a real Road to Damascus moment, but actually reverting immediately to type in a way that is very subtle, and very underhanded.
MARY CROOKS: Unless we’re prepared to understand the dynamics, by which that masculine power is institutionalized, and played out on the everyday basis, we end up reforming on the periphery.
We’re much more in the grip of this patriarchal male-dominated politics, and we have to be prepared to analyze it and dig much deeper than perhaps we have as feminists.[*]
MARY CROOKS: You know, we can throw around terms like, you know, our patriarchal world and that’s patriarchy, or a boys club. And one of the reasons we end up being a bit stymied in understanding exactly what that means is because it’s actually hard work to get behind those terms and say, Well, what does that mean? What is a patriarchal world?
16:08 NARRATION: When I first started reporting on domestic abuse back in 2014, patriarchy was still a dirty word – kind of a red flag for ‘man-hating feminist’. But now, since Trump and #MeToo, patriarchy is… for everyone!
Here’s the federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in February this year..
16:29 ALBANESE The patriarchy which continues to exist is about the power imbalance that’s there between men and women in our society”.
And the UN Secretary General…
GUTERRES: For decades, women have been calling for the equality that is their right. And today they are shaking the pillars of patriarchy. Around the world, women and girls are calling out the abusive behavior and discriminatory attitudes that face everywhere and all the time. They are insisting on lasting change. That is what women and girls want. And that is what I want. And it is what every sensible man and boy should want.
17:07 PAUL MURRAY: Let’s have a look at a tweet from the United Nations. “The COVID19 pandemic is demonstrating what we all know: millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture which damages everyone – women, men, girls & boys.”
Mark Latham is the leader of One Nation in the NSW parliament; he joins us from home, and he tweeted about it today. Um, sorry? Patriarchy has something to do with the pandemic?
17:40 MARK LATHAM: Yeah, it’s hard to believe isn’t it, Paul…. (breaks up)
Well, it’s a real shame to have lost Mark Latham there. But you get my drift – everyone from the Leader of the Opposition to the UN is talking about patriarchy like it’s… a real thing. Not just a feminist theory.
But what even is patriarchy? And how does it work?
I think of it like this.
Patriarchy has, over the past 10,000 years or so, entrenched a dominator framework into our society.
So instead of a culture of partnership – of power-with – it’s power-over, and everything – from humans to animals to nature – is situated on a scale of power and control. It’s the old hierarchy – at the top men have power over women, white people have power over people of colour, heterosexuals power over people who are LGBTQI, rich have power over poor, adults have power over children, all people have power over nature, and so on.
This dominator framework divides everything into a binary: what is considered ‘masculine’ is privileged over what is considered ‘feminine’. In this way it designates acceptable behaviour for men – ‘strong, independent, unemotional, logical and confident – and for women (and non-binary people), it’s ‘expressive, nurturant, weak and dependent’.
19:16 This dominator framework is not the only way to organise a society – and it’s definitely not sustainable. It lies at the core of our political culture in Australia. The problem is, because we’ve been in it for so long, we mistake it for what is ‘natural’. That means we often don’t see the influence it’s having on us: on our beliefs, our hopes, our decisions, our fears, what we’re attracted to, and so on.
Until recently, many of the worst injustices stemming from patriarchy – like the violence of men, the oppression of LGBTQI people, the domestic servitude of women, racism – that’s all been considered unfortunate, but unavoidable. As was once the case with slavery, patriarchy positions these social ills as normal. The natural way of things. Dominant orders see no need to look at themselves. They simply push the spotlight away from themselves and onto others.
How do we sum all of this up? I think the American author and novellist Bell Hooks does it best. As she names it, we are living under ‘white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy’.
BELL HOOKS: I began to use the phrase in my work white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, because I wanted to have some language that would actually remind us continually of the interlocking systems of domination, that define our reality. And not to just have one thing be like, you know, gender is the important issue; race is the important issue.
NARRATION: This is bell hooks defining her work back in 1995.
BELL HOOKS: But for me the use of that that particular jargonistic phrase was a way, a sort of shortcut way of saying all of these things actually are functioning simultaneously at all times in our lives.
BELL HOOKS: And I don’t know why those terms, have become so mocked by people because in fact, far from simplifying the issues, I think they actually when you merge them together, really complicate the questions of freedom and justice globally.
21:28 NARRATION: Since then she’s added ‘imperialist’ to white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy, to describe what she sees as the four interlocking systems of power that characterise this ‘dominator culture’.
Now dominator cultures socialise their citizens to believe that domination is the foundation of all human relationships. People who resist this notion, and try to live outside of it, are resisting the status quo. A status quo that is modelled by our own leaders day after day.
So, knowing all this, is it really any wonder that family violence – and particularly coercive control – is still so widespread? That we see this insidious expression of ‘the right to dominate’ expressed by men over women, women over women, men over men, and both over children? We don’t need a handbook to learn the tactics of coercive control – we’ve been practicing them for 10,000 years.
The tactics, the manipulation to maintain power and exercise coercive control in our intimate partner relationships, extends out to patriarchal society more widely. The bullying, intimidation, manipulation, and domineering behaviours are patriarchal trademarks – political players are conditioned over generations to maintain their power and dominance, exercise what they see as their entitlement, set the terms for others to obey, crush their opposition. Whatever it takes.
23:09 TERRY REAL: Poisoned privilege, grandiosity, superiority, being above it. It is the central delusion of masculinity: you are not in nature, you are above nature, you dominate it. This is a delusion that has the potential to kill us all, if we don’t wake up.
NARRATION: This is family therapist Terry Real, who we heard from in Episode 3.
TERRY REAL: We are not above nature, we are in nature. We’re in the system, we’re not above the system; we don’t work on it, we move inside of it. And if we don’t adopt the wisdom and humility of understanding that, whether the nature you think you’re controlling is your woman or your child, or the traffic or the planet… If we don’t wake up, the consequences are really lethal.
BELL HOOKS: Okay, I’m reading from these different pages and trying to be short so we can talk. I like this sentence: I say, ‘patriarchy promotes insanity.’
NARRATION: Here’s Professor bell hooks again, this time speaking in front of a packed hall of young women and men at the University of Washington in 2005. She’s clear: the people who are most empowered by patriarchy are also victimised by it.
24:33 BELL HOOKS:It is at the root of the psychological ills, troubling men in our nation. Patriarchy as a system has denied males access to full emotional wellbeing, which is not the same as feeling rewarded, successful or powerful because of one’s capacity to assert control over others. To truly address male pain and male crisis, we must as a nation be willing to expose the harsh reality that patriarchy has damaged men in the past and continues to damage them in the present.
BELL HOOKS:The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity. It is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity. Until we make this distinction clear, men will continue to fear that any critique of patriarchy represents a threat.
NARRATION: Sixteen years later, we’re still having the same conversations. We’re still struggling to get men to see that undoing these systems of domination won’t just take their power away – it will allow them to be whole.
25:48 TERRY REAL: It is time for men and women to just like you and I are tonight, , to unite truly, with the wisdom, the understanding that the system of patriarchy does damage to both sexes, and incalculable damage to the relationships between them.
NARRATION: Here’s the thing – patriarchy may position all men as having power over women, but it does not make all individual men powerful. In fact, men themselves are keenly aware that some men have power over them. The most powerful men under patriarchy are those who embody patriarchal traits of maleness – control, logic, strength, competitiveness, autonomy, heterosexuality and whiteness. It’s a pecking order from there down.
26:40 So, as the masculinities expert Michael Kimmel once told me, the essence of patriarchal masculinity is not that individual men feel powerful – it’s that they feel entitled to power. But to get that power, they have to play the game of patriarchy – a game that may have some benefits, but inevitably ends up costing them. Ends up costing all of us.
TERRY REAL: So this is not a good system for anybody, I want everybody to bust out of patriarchy. And you know what, for men to be more pleasing to their women to give more emotional intimacy to women, by definition, they must leave patriarchy, they must deconstruct that code and move beyond it.
BOB PEASE: All men are to varying degrees controlling, it’s hard to imagine that you could grow up in a patriarchal society and not internalize a sense of entitlement and privilege, so all men, to some extent, occupy positions of power and privilege and engage in controlling behaviors, but even the men that have really examined themselves, examined their own complicity and tried to untangle themselves from that, we’re still part of this wider, wider patriarchal culture.
NARRATION: This is Bob Pease, who’s now a professor at Deakin University, and author of the recent book, Facing Patriarchy. Bob first started organising against patriarchy as a pro-feminist man back in 1970s Tasmania.
BOB PEASE: Politically, and theoretically, I thought feminism made a lot of sense, I supported gender equality. But when I realized I’d actually had to change myself and that was much more unsettling.
NARRATION: When you envision Tasmania in the 1970s, you might see a lot of sheep and not much else. But it was actually a heady time on this little island – the flooding of Lake Pedder had led to the founding of the Australian Greens, Tasmanian aboriginals, the Palawa people, who were wrongly believed extinct, were organising politically, and the Hobart Women’s Action Group was skewering the patriarchy in its hard-hitting and hilarious newsletter, Liberaction. Australia’s dominator culture was being stripped bare and exposed, and the energy around it was electric.
29:07 BOB PEASE: What happened in the 70s with the Second Wave was that women came together in Consciousness Raising groups to talk about their experiences of patriarchy and of men, and women were angered and empowered by that. And living with a woman who was in one of those groups, she would come home from meetings, angry and challenging and confronting me as a man and, and I had social justice politics, I’d been involved in various kinds of social justice issues, I was studying social work at the time at the University of Tasmania. And, and I felt, I felt really unsettled by it.
NARRATION: Bob decided to get together with other male partners of feminist women to talk about the issues their wives and girlfriends were so angry about, and figure out: what does all of this mean for us? What should we be doing? And how can we support women?
29:52 BOB PEASE: so we set up and male consciousness raising group, we called it an anti-sexist men’s group and, and we tried to mirror what we thought the women were doing. You know we choose a topic like we talk about fathering, or violence or sexuality or work and, and we would talk out of our personal experience about that. The difference, of course, was that women were – in their groups – we’re talking about the experience of oppression, we really had, we’re talking about a sense of entitlement and privilege.And yet at the same time, we also felt those pain in our lives as well.
NARRATION: That tension – between recognising their role as being privileged and seeing how patriarchy was harming them, too – created faultlines in the group that mirror the divisions we see among men today.
BOB PEASE: some men wanting to say, hey, life’s not so great for us either, we’ve got pain and issues and struggles, and we need to be able to give voice to that, and other men were saying, hold on, but we’re privileged and powerful in relation to women. And we need to hear what women are saying about men’s privilege. And, intuitively, at the time, I, I just felt well power and pain are two sides of the same coin, it shouldn’t be an either or and we should be able to talk about them both. But this was a tension and the group split, basically.
Some men went off and talked about men’s pain, another group mean – well no let’s not look at that, that’s too bourgeois and self indulgent, we need to organise politically against patriarchy and not navel gaze and, and I was part of a small group of men who thought now what, let’s not separate them out. But what do we do as an alternative? So we did something that was seen as unusual, we started reading books on feminist theory. So we started reading feminist books written by women, for women, but we then related them to our own lives and, and so that was the beginning.
31:48 NARRATION: Bob knew that to make lasting change, they needed to do more than just sit around drinking wine and talking in their living rooms. Like the women in their lives, they needed to take it to the streets. So Bob started organising forums, and publishing a men against sexism newsletter. Later, in the 1980s, he would form a group in Melbourne called Men Against Sexual Assault, and organise rallies against sexual violence.
As you can imagine, men like Bob inspired a range of responses from feminist women.
BOB PEASE: Women weren’t quite sure in those days, what to make of us, you know, some women thought, well, it’s great and isn’t that how wonderful a group of men are getting together to critically examine their masculinity and their power and privilege, what a wonderful thing and we should be supported. And other women thought, Gee, I wonder what these guys are really up to? You know, what are their motivations? What are they really all about? And other women were absolutely hostile towards us. Absolutely distrustful of and, and, you know, have reasons to – well founded reasons to be so perhaps as well.
33:09 JESS: how did the men that you’re speaking with and organizing with feel about this in terms of their status and how they how they fit in society as anti sexist men?
BOB PEASE: Look, it’s it’s always been tricky. once we started to become more conscious and more aware of how pervasive patriarchy was, and in the 70s, we talked very openly about patriarchy much more so then men and women even do do today, we talked about patriarchy then. And we, we began to see that we were part of it, we were complicit in it. And we were trying to work out well how do we understand our place in it? How do we untangle ourselves from it? How do we um, how much responsibility do we do we take for the experience of oppression that the women in our own lives felt.
34:08 NARRATION: Just as patriarchy was becoming more visible, so was another cultural force: backlash.
BOB PEASE: there were men’s rights groups starting to emerge. And and we started seeing the beginnings of the backlash and, and that backlash came against us as well as the women. I was at times called a traitor to my gender. I was proud of being a traitor to a particular kind of patriarchal masculinity and manhood and and saw that as something we should be traitors. You know, we should be gender traitors. That was something I embraced.
NARRATION: It’s often said that gender inequality is at the root of domestic violence. But when we look at abuse in LGBTQI relationships, there is no clear correlation between gender and which partner is in a power-over position. The perpetrator can be male, female or non-binary. So LGBTQI relationships don’t reflect that traditional dynamic of male power over women.
RUSS Patriarchy is the root of all evil. If patriarchy didn’t exist, then none of us would do would be dealing with this sort of stuff.
NARRATION: This is Russ Vickery, who we met in episode four. Russ was coercively controlled by his male partner for years. He’s now the LGBTQI representative on VSAC, the Victorian Victim Survivors Advisory Council, on which victim survivors of family violence work on policy reforms and advise the state government.
RUSS From my experience and my discussions with you know, especially the ladies on on VSAC the situation with me actually wasn’t that different to the situations that they were experiencing. That’s been a little bit of a lightbulb moment for all of us.
NARRATION: I was drawn to interview Russ after hearing him speak about how the trappings of rigid gender norms and homophobia – all symptomatic of patriarchy – had threaded through his life, and influenced him becoming a victim survivor of domestic abuse.
37:26 RUSS: By the time I’d completed primary school, I’d learned what seemed like very important lessons about being a man. Don’t be too weak. Don’t be too feminine. Don’t be too gay. Of course, this was also at a time where Australia was still blatantly and violently homophobic. And it was in fact illegal to be gay. When I was a teenager, my high school years are full of memories of being dealt with, as ‘less than’. I was singled out for being too gentle and more interested in in drama club than football, so therefore automatically classified as a queer.
NARRATION: In his spellbinding lecture, Russ says that after being kidnapped from the front of a gay club and viciously beaten by a gang of men, and after the AIDS crisis began to rip through his communities – to a chorus of public opinion that this was just what gay people deserved – he decided to conform. He met a woman, found a love for her, married, and had kids.
37:22 RUSS: Once I was married, the world saw me as heterosexual. And I felt the safest and most accepted. I’d felt in my entire life at that point. seen as a straight man, I felt I could go anywhere and do pretty much anything and I was safe, and accepted. My life conformed and fit into the box, the world had always been pushing me towards.
NARRATION: Inevitably, though, Russ’s marriage broke down, and in his 40s, he had to admit himself what he’d been denying his whole life: that he was gay. He hoped his first gay relationship would be his happily ever after. But it wasn’t.
38:09 RUSS: This is when the abuser stepped into my life.
My abuser and I were both raised in a homophobic world where violence against gay men was normalized. My abuser made a choice to control and abuse me. But without homophobia, perhaps he would have been less enabled to do so. Without homophobia, perhaps he wouldn’t have had so many tools on hand to hurt me, and to control me. All he needed to do was echo back on the messages I had already been programmed to receive, and I would believe him. When the physical violence started, he told me that since I’d never been in a gay relationship, I wouldn’t know. Two men are in a relationship. And arguments turn physical. Boys will be boys. No matter how much you broke my bones, or my spirit. Big boys don’t cry.
NARRATION: Years on, Russ is in a healthy, loving relationship, and he’s a staunch advocate for all victims of family violence, but particularly those in LGBTQI relationships. And from his vantage point, there’s much more to ending domestic abuse and family violence than just reducing gender inequality.
RUSS: Gender equality is not the solution on its own – no way. It’s the patriarchal drivers that are the cause of this. It’s the people in our society that still allow patriarchy to happen. And as soon as we stop accepting it, a number of those other things that are subsets of patriarchy will also disappear. So look, gender equality is again absolutely vital. But you know, are we trying to resolve the symptom? Or the cause?
40:35 NARRATION: It’s helpful at this point for us to put the focus back on male behaviour. Because although men, too, are victims of patriarchy, they are also largely responsible for upholding it.
BOB PEASE: I mean, I’ve done some research that a few years ago where men were asked to comment on whether they would challenge their best male friend if they knew that he was being physically violent to his intimate partner. And the vast majority of men said, No, they wouldn’t.
NARRATION: Here’s Professor Bob Pease again.
40:57 BOB PEASE: So this is a man who’s not physically violent, sees himself as non violent, his best male friend, his mate, he discovers is being violent and abusive and he won’t challenge him. And when they’ll ask why, Well, I wouldn’t know how to do it, I would feel I was betraying our, the mateship and the bond that I have with him. And so, so ordinary and good men, and I’m putting inverted commas around “good” become complicit in that culture. The sense of loyalty that men have to other men is, is one of the issues that inhibits any significant shift and change.
NARRATION: Here Bob is alluding to one of the central tenets of Australian identity: ‘mateship’.
BOB PEASE: A mate has always got your back, you know, and that you support your mate no matter what, even if your mate, you discover your mate is abusive and violent, you still support him no matter what.
NARRATION: Mateship is deeply embedded in our national character. Bob traces its roots back to the early days of colonisation: European colonisers in the bush, living in harsh conditions, often without women.
The central elements of mateship, then and now, are that mates are men; they are tough and emotionally reserved; they rip into each other with jokes and put-downs; they crow about sexual conquests, and talk shit about women without fear of being told off. The rules are clear: no obvious caring, and little-to-no touching. In other words, nothing ‘gay’. If you stick to the code of mateship, a mate will always support you. No matter what.
Loyalty to your mate is a far higher virtue than observance of any law.
42:41 BOB PEASE: I think all patriarchal societies have forms of male bonding, but there’s something about the Australian form of mateship that, that exalts it to a to a higher degree. And mateship is exclusive of women. It’s also an exclusive of, of gay men, and usually exclusive of non white men as well.
BOB PEASE: So we’re talking generally about white, straight men you know, who form that kind of bond of mateship. And it reproduces misogyny, it reproduces homophobia, it thinks it’s at the heart of a lot of racism as well.
BOB PEASE: there’s this real dark side to mateship, you know, and I don’t think we’ve sufficiently recognized that.
BOB PEASE: There is research that shows that there is a relationship between patriarchal and sexist, male peer cultures that are formed through mateship, and, and the levels of men’s violence against women.
44:14 NARRATION: I think that particular element of mateship that, that Bob Pease talks about, where those people who are othered, and those people who are not worthy of the same respect as your mates, they are then the capital to be used in bonding. And so if you can prove that you will hold them in contempt and you will do that in a way that, specially if it’s humorous, you can all share this kind of dirty secret that you’re not you’re not supposed to talk like this, but in this protected space, you can, it really reinforces these bonds of mateship and power.
MARY CROOKS: Yes, but in the spirit of hope, there were also men in those uniforms, in the SAS who were quietly disturbed, affronted and disturbed and unnerved by that behaviour, and have gone on to be prepared to give witness.
45:03 NARRATION: Mary’s talking here about a small number of SAS soldiers who blew the whistle on alleged war crimes and misconduct in Afghanistan.
MARY CROOKS: it’s very hopeful to see that those kinds of behaviours, those sort of untrammelled, masculine dominant behaviours are in fact being noticed and called out by other men and resisted.
NARRATION: So, in this culture of mateship, of power-over, and of pressure to conform: how can we raise tender, strong, loving boys, when we know they’re walking out our front door into a culture that will try to shame them into conforming?
TERRY REAL: You know, after particularly 50 years of feminism, a tomboy is not such a stigmatized creature anymore. But a quote unquote girly boy, is the object of pretty violent treatment. Still, the biggest enforcers of this code are other boys and girls, and women, it’s everybody participates in patriarchy.
I talk to parents about raising gender literate boys.
This notion that you have to toughen up this kid is half of it. And the other half is you have to soften up this kid and make them less selfish and more giving, and teach them how to speak their minds in ways to cherish the person they’re speaking to. You have to arm them with some wisdom and skills. We don’t do that. We don’t live in a relationship cherishing culture that teaches our sons and daughters how to really handle themselves. They’re on their own.
46:49 NARRATION: How do you raise gender literate kids? Terry recalls being in the Caribbean on holiday with his two sons, and what happened when they met a local braiding hair with little plastic beads.
TERRY REAL: And my then seven year old son, Justin, has like a couple three, like Keith Richards cool rocker kind of thing. And my younger son, Alexander does his entire head in corn rows, and in his favorite color, pink and gold.
Okay, now it’s time to go back to school vacations over, they have these things in there, we have a little discussion. You have a decision to make. If you take those things out of your hair, you could be missing out on really having some fun with it. If you don’t take them out of your hair, then you may get grief for having them in your hair. What do you guys want to do?
And they said “Oh no no, we’ll keep them.” And then on the way to school, when Justin, the older one put his foot in the car. He said no, I can’t do it, I can’t do it. And we wanted me to cut the damn thing. Alexander was the toast of the town with his glorious head.
But it wasn’t my decision, you see; it was theirs. I want us to arm our boys to be gender literate, to make literate decisions about what they’re going to pay and what the cost benefit analysis is going to be for them.
48:17 JESS: That’s such a good distinction because a lot of people talk about raising their boys particularly as gender neutral. And they’ll sort of encourage them to just be who they are, you know, but perhaps not really articulating to their boys what the possible cost is. And at that point you’re not a trustworthy person if you encourage your young boy to do something that ends up copping them grief, without warning them that’s a possibility.
T48:43 ERRY REAL: Yeah you have to arm them both ways. You have to ride both currents because we’re in the world that we’re in. We’re not in an ideal world. Having said that, parents can also do what I call building a relationship-cherishing subculture around you and your kids and in the family. You know, go to your schools and chair a committee on bullying and not, non bullying.
Fill your, your family, your friends with people who support his sensitivities in the boy as well as strength in the girl as well as sensitivity. Whole people is what we’re after. And protect them, put them in a little bubble as best you can. Because the culture at large is harsh.
49:38 MARY CROOKS: The power relations in this country have been so founded on masculinist assumptions of majority and minority, of who’s in control, of who’s entitled. And it’s not just women who are behind the eight ball in that schema.
Ask yourself, why did the Uluru Statement from the heart fall almost on deaf ears? In our political world, in 2019, 2020, 2021, I mean, it’s almost as though it was never issued as a call. So why is there no empathic response from our dominant male culture? It’s because fundamentally, it’s from indigenous people who have born more disrespect in this culture than the disrespect that’s been handed out to women as a rule. It’s a double whammy for indigenous folk.
MARY CROOKS: That’s why the statement, the Uluru statement from the Heart has just not had traction.
JESS: There’s a big part of what Aboriginal culture presents as an alternative as a clearly sustainable alternative way of living, which, you know, really exemplifies the whole idea of power with rather than power over.
JESS: And it is a direct challenge to the system we live in now. We talk about, you know, things like the big confrontation between capitalism and communism. Essentially, those are two systems that are still united under patriarchy, you know, and they still operated under that basic auspice of power-over society. Aboriginal societies actually are a direct challenge to the modern form of industrial capitalism that we have now and patriarchy, they actually do show a different way of developing and sustaining community and family and intimacy.
51:43 MARY CROOKS: I think we don’t know enough of our history, in terms of, not just for example of the dispossession of indigenous folk in our country, but we don’t know enough about, the emergence of a patriarchal world, post colonization and that kind of world that has, in part remained largely unchanged actually, a couple of centuries later.
52:15 JUNE OSCAR: Colonization was an entirely different system of law, culture and society, that was hell bent on eradicating anything counter to it. And we stood in its way and so colonization, deployed the mechanisms of violence to erase us.
NARRATION: This is June Oscar AO, a proud Bunuba woman from the remote town of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia, and Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. She’s speaking to me from way out in the Kimberley in Western Australia, where she’s been staying since the pandemic began in March last year.
In 2017, June began touring the country, meeting and listening to thousands of Aboriginal women and girls in fifty rural, remote and urban locations to capture their lived experiences, where they’d come from, their expertise and what were their challenges, strengths, and hopes for a landmark report she tabled to parliament last year called Wiyi Yani U Thangani.
In it, these women and girls spoke about their culture – what it was, the colonisers’ attempts to destroy it, and what it would take to revive it.
JUNE OSCAR: You know, from my experience, there’s a whole sophisticated framework, every fabric of life, and provides an entirely different system of law, culture, and society. And ensured there was the balance in the world we live in, and that people went about being the best that they can be within that environment, which was supported by the framework of customary law.
54:15 And so we are here now in this modern reality, where it’s so much that it impacts the way in which people maintain healthy, vibrant society and healthy families, safe and protected families.
The real issue of intergenerational trauma and poverty were impacted by patriarchal attitudes and the laws and the imposition of patriarchal structures from colonisation onwards, which are major factors in the crisis of violence against their women and children.
55:05 NARRATION: The process of coercive control is essentially the process of colonisation. The very same tactics and behaviours have been – and are today – mirrored in the systemic abuses inflicted on First Nations people by the state. They too live under constant surveillance, micro-regulated by police and governmental agencies; they are degraded and disempowered by a system that sees itself as superior; they can be physically abused, denied medical treatment, and humiliated by police who are supposed to protect them; they are promised help and assistance from governments that break their promises time and again; AND they are made to believe that they are to blame for their own suffering.
June Oscar says there is a feedback loop running from the beginning of colonisation through to today.
56:01 JUNE OSCAR: The acts of violence that occurred were very gendered. Men were mass incarcerated from from the very beginning. So leaving women and children very vulnerable to attack from colonizers, there are so many accounts of this. Women were raped, children were taken away. Over time those practices became entrenched in policies of the stolen generation, and incarceration continued. We are struggling with exactly the same issues today, mass removal of our children, mass incarceration of our people, violent acts are also massively tied to the interpersonal violence in our lives. It is a cycle of structural and interpersonal violence that began at colonization. And we have to break that. And so today, we act as if the issues our women, children and men say are isolated, or are the fault of individuals. And the current system should be able to resolve this.
NARRATION: As Trawlwulwuy woman and cultural heritage officer Fiona Hamilton once put it to me,‘The problem with you white fellas is that you’ve got my people in a domestic violence relationship. Only we can’t call the cops on you, because you are the cops… Unless you address the overall power dynamic with the state, you’ll never get it right. When we see equity, we’ll see change.’
57:46 June Oscar knows this is an uphill battle, but she can feel this shift happening.
JUNE OSCAR: Western thought, and ways of doing things is seen as the best and nothing can compare, when the truth is that the issues we expect are caused by this current system, and it won’t be able to resolve them, but they can be resolved. And it can be resolved through alternative ways of working and through Indigenous thinking, and the lived experiences of Indigenous people. It takes a huge mind shift to change this, but I feel like it is happening, the globe is thinking differently. COVID certainly has been a game changer. And the Black Lives movement, and gender justice, and climate justice movements. So you know, government has to catch up to this. And the guest is how we translate this mind shift to how we build factor and foreign policy. And to address these solutions need to be strength based. They need to be grounded in our self-determination, and our cultures and our knowledge, focusing on a whole raft of areas from feeling leadership, and self determination to economic empowerment, and justice, to safe housing, like maternal support, and protection of the environment. You know, all our world is so interconnected. And that is part of the cultural and customary law framework that has sustained our society from time immemorial.
59:43 MARY GRAHAM: It was treated like a gulag, Australia, the big continent of Australia, as a place for the unwanted basically. So 200 years later, what can be made of this situation?
NARRATION: This is Dr Mary Graham, a Kombu-merri woman and associate professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Political Science and International Studies. She is an expert on Indigenous and non-Indigenous forms of knowledge, Aboriginal history and politics.
As Dr Graham has written, there never was, and there never will be a paradise. Western people are habituated to the idea of travelling toward some great unknown, where they hope that they will finally find what they’ve been waiting for: happiness, love, security – a theory explaining everything. Or a world, let’s say, in which the patriarchy has been smashed.
But just because we can’t get to some kind of feminist utopia that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. We’re facing serious challenges as a species, and if we want to survive the next few hundred years, we will need to make fundamental changes.
Fortunately, we in Australia are in the uniquely privileged position to learn from the world’s oldest living cultures
Here’s Dr Mary Graham delivering a briefing for the Royal Society of Victoria.
MARY GRAHAM: So from our point of view, would be to establish, for a long time and properly, our relationship with land, because it’s the most important. Two relationships: one with land, and one, one between people. The one between people, is contingent, or depends on the one between land and people.
NARRATION: As Dr Graham has written, ‘for Aboriginal people, land is the great teacher; it not only teaches us how to relate to it, but to each other; it suggests a notion of caring for something outside ourselves, something that is in and out of nature and that will exist for all time.’
01:01:57 MARY GRAHAM: What Aboriginal people ended up with in their, in their long, long social and political development is, is one of a custodial ethic of looking after land. And that becomes a core meaning of what kind of society you have, then; it becomes the template. So the big one is the law of obligation, you’re obliged to look after land, because land invented us, it’s the true inventor.
So look after the country and look after people. Country always comes first.
MARY GRAHAM: That’s why we always fought for land rights, not civil rights. So after a while, you have embedded in you an ethical life.
NARRATION: At the heart of this worldview is a guide to how to live it:
1:02:35 MARY GRAHAM: Cooperate, don’t compete; share, don’t hoard; extend your relationships; look after land; and honour your sacred sites.
MARY GRAHAM: What you end up with, then, is a sacralized ecological stewardship system. You’re aiming for that kind of life for everybody, actually.
NARRATION: This is a system that is founded on the notion of partnership, of power-with – of balance.
MARY GRAHAM: That is, gender balance. So women run things equally, but in balance, prefer the word ‘balance’ with men. That’s, that’s why you have things like men’s law and women’s Law; men’s business, Women’s Business. It is actually not just a good idea, and fairness to women. It’s actually about governance, actually, that’s the way to run a society. So men and women in this balanced sort of way.
NARRATION: In this worldview, success is measured by whether country is flourishing, and people thriving. The concept of domination – men over women, humans over nature – is antithetical.
MARY GRAHAM: I think the most unique thing about it is that there’s no such concept like invasion. They handled, in a balanced way, the whole problem of violence – conflict and violence. And so you could have fighting, you could have fighting like on the land, but not over land. You couldn’t fight over land. So in other words, you couldn’t have invasion. In languages, there’s no concept of the idea of invasion: like invade, conquest, subjugate. Nothing like that.
NARRATION: Land was to be looked after, not fought over.
1:04:22 MARY GRAHAM: The idea is that what you would end up with, and what we did end up with, actually, is the idea of land, nourishment, health, a flourishing society, security – it’s very important, security – protocols, a whole lot of things like that. Rituals, ceremonies, and so on. But the most important thing is, it guarantees a kind of wellbeing assurance for future generations, they’ve got to come into a land or country or society where it’s not threatening, and they learn in an easy way, the idea of an ethical society.
Don’t think it’s aiming at a virtuous sort of society or anything like that. Essentially, it’s efficient, it’s rational, it’s sustainable, all the good things. There’s no notion of perfectibility in this; you are not trying to become very good and virtuous in order to get some reward later on. No, you’re doing it to have an efficient country, an efficient society, I should say. That’s really what it’s about.
1:05:32 NARRATION: As Dr Graham puts it, this ethic of care, of partnership, of power-with instead of power-over, is not just some forgotten way of being, and it’s not something we just put in the too-hard basket because everything is irrevocably screwed. We still have the law of obligation embedded in parts of our society.
MARY GRAHAM: One of the most recent in Murri terms, Aboriginal terms, is the National Health Service. If we were looking at examples of the law of obligation, we’d say ah, tell me about this national health service. It’s a brilliant idea. You know, it looks after everybody. There are no insiders and outsiders. It’s free, above all, for all people. And it’s very high quality health care for everyone.
1:06:22 MARY GRAHAM: So that’s a law of obligation, from our point of view. Other things like building little, little bridges, nature bridges, or tunnels to stop roadkill, looking after all the furry beasties, and so on. That’s a law of obligation. Anything that looks after the great majority of people, and of course, all of land.
MARY CROOKS: When you have a dominant order, a hegemonic force, one of the characteristics of that dominant order is that it has no need for introspection, because it is the order, it is the way of doing things.
So all of this all of the campaigning and the naming, and, and the calling out of, of bad behaviours is something that the dominant order won’t to do on its own volition. There’s a shifting, there’s a shifting and a sorting that’s going on. And I think we should be hopeful, actually, about that, because it’s the only way that you can sand blast the patriarchal institution, and to get something better going in terms of our public discourse and our policy settings and our economic outcomes and our ability to reconcile with First Nations peoples.
MARY CROOKS: We’ve seen the evidence that if you can have people in an intimate partner relationship where there is deep respect for one another, to be able to cohabit in a way that’s peaceable. We know what it takes to do that hard work to get there. Similarly, that erosion of dominance and power over can happen in a world beyond intimate partner relationships.
And that’s where we need to retain hope that it’s not background noise.
MARY CROOKS: It’s not feverish, you know, useless politics that’s going on. It’s actually a level and a ramping up of the contestation and the challenge that’s needed to bring about a much more productive set of power relationships in our wider worlds, in our institutions.
1:09:07 JESS: Is it possible to reform these, these systems?
MARY CROOKS: Yeah. But you have to take a long arc and I guess, and I do think it is possible to, to refashion rather than a complete new build, to refashion.
MARY CROOKS: The cultural reckoning is on us I think, in some way, very much sharpened by the bravery of women such as Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. But I think the challenge now, in that long arc of history, is not to have things spring back. This is the moment now to maintain the rage, and to actually go much, much further in effecting a challenge to the political, cultural dominance of men in our body politic.
1:09:59 NARRATION: For many, this latest cultural reckoning, with patriarchy is exciting, and long overdue. But it can also be deeply destabilising, because we’re turning inside out the systems that we take for granted; and rightly or wrongly, that can make people feel unsafe.
In practice, none of this is straightforward. I personally struggle with how patriarchy works in my own life, in my own mind. If we think we can just name it, get angry at it, and smash it, we’re kidding ourselves. We’re in this for the long haul.
For me the most eerie paradox is that this kind of talk is so radical, but at the same time , it’s all so blindingly obvious. From the point of view of everything we hold dear – children, the natural world, connectedness, love – we have no choice but to challenge and try to undo or overturn this dangerously unsustainable system of patriarchy, it’s never ending violence.
1:11;08 In this episode we’ve heard from people who have dedicated their whole lives to making this transition. Speaking to them, it seems like we’re right on the cusp. Then I look at the culture in our own national parliament, and wonder how I could have ever felt such optimism. Then again, it was only a few years ago that the term patriarchy was dismissed as an old radical feminist relic. Change can come at you fast.
But big movements and big moments – like the one we’re living through – have been seen throughout history. Whether they actually stick, and create lasting change – or whether power simply resists them – depends on all of us.
Patriarchy is not inevitable. It is not sustainable. The equation is simple: if we are to survive and thrive as a species, we must do whatever we can to undo it: in our systems, and in ourselves.
1:12:07 BELL HOOKS: Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.
In this series we set out to illustrate exactly what the Trap looks like, and all of its various parts. Next Time, we’re pulling all these threads back together to see what it will take to accelerate change. We’re going to take some time to think deeply about what we’d like to highlight as a way forward, so we’ll be back with episode 9 in a month from now. Until then, thanks for listening.
01:13:04 You’ve been listening to The Trap, proudly brought to you by the Victorian Women’s Trust and its harm prevention entity the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls. We would like to thank all of our supporters and donors. Special thanks to Equity Trustees & the Phyllis Connor Trust, the Bokhara Foundation and a private donor.
Our Creative Producer and editor is Georgina Savage. Co producers are Ally Oliver Perham , Maria Chetcuti, Mary Crooks and Lucy Ballantyne. Special thanks to Leah McPherson and the team at the Victorian Women’s Trust. The Trap was mixed by Romy Sher and Pariya Taherzadeh . I’m your head writer, producer and host, Jess Hill.
This podcast was produced in Sydney and Melbourne and we respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.
We would like to acknowledge the victim survivors and others who have generously shared their stories and expertise.
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Thank you for listening.