Tags: helen garner

8 Jun 2007, Comments Off on I was going to title this Men Behaving Badly but it doesn’t even begin to describe it

I was going to title this Men Behaving Badly but it doesn’t even begin to describe it

Author: Helen

So, I’m standing in the pub having a drink and minding my own business, and one of my dearest friends is standing right next to me doing likewise, when she’s suddenly sexually assaulted (or subjected to high-level harassment and intimidation, I’m not interested in arguing the toss) by a man she doesn’t know and to whom she’s been introduced about a minute earlier. By me. For fuck’s sake.

The man is someone I know slightly; I’ve met him, socially, about four or five times. He’s never given any indication of being anything other than a nice guy. No, make that Nice Guy™. He just walked up to her with no warning and bearhugged her. And then didn’t let go.

Funny how a bearhug can go from slightly inappropriate to downright creepy in ten seconds or so. Thirty seconds to a minute later it’s getting really scary.

Then he whispered in her ear that he’d like a blow job. And then once she shook him off, he stalked her, creepily, until oh-so-politely chucked out by the bar staff.

Now I know that according to Helen Garner, in this situation I’m supposed to just come down on his foot, hard, with a spiked heel or something. (Hi-yaaaa! optional). Unfortunately, not only was I not wearing sharp high heels, but my reaction to this egregious behaviour was my usual: having brought up since birth to be polite, to be nice, incidents like these leave me paralysed, with my brain throwing out its customary 404 error message: This is not fucking happening!?

I didn’t hear the blow job bit, so I’d like to think that if I had that would have jolted me out of my social rictus and prompted me to action. Incidents like these remind me of Germaine Greer’s famous quotation, “women don’t realize how much men hate them.”

You know, even spending hours as I do in the threads of feminist blogs, I constantly forget just how powerful white male privilege still is, once I get back out into the world of my friends and family and workmates. Well, that’s not to say I don’t note it, but I lose the gut sense of it. He didn’t think to ask before touching, because in his drunken state she had become just like a book in a shelf he was welcome to take out and browse, or a chocolate in a box, instead of a human being like himself. That’s the true meaning of that old sixties word, objectification. Objectification in action.

Can you imagine– I’m talking to a hypothetical female reader here, I guess– being so engorged with privilege and dominance that you’d think you had permission to wrap your arms around a complete stranger and whisper lewd comments in their ear? Me neither.

If you think the personal isn’t political, I’m sorry, you’re dreaming. “…[T]he harm of sexual harassment as a harm to women’s citizenship or personhood….We are degraded … when our ‘sex’ is defined, symbolised and treated as antithetical to equal personhood and citizenship.” I’ll also mention that from the little I know about this man, he chooses to portray himself as fully conversant with and sympathetic to the goals of feminism. For which all the more shame on him. It just reinforces what the world has tried to teach me, with so little success: Trust nobody!

I think another ingredient in my state of shock was the fact that my friend and I are over forty, and so we usually fly under the sexual predators’ radar. It’s been a while since I worried about this sort of thing happening to me or my friends. But it brought back the memory that yes, when we were in our teens and twenties and even thirties, we had to put up with this kind of low-level menace all the fucking time. Maybe I lost a lot of my useful anger. Maybe I needed a recharge.

The next day, I rediscovered the wonderful Crimitism, who very much gets it, and read through the comment thread on the YouTube page for the Girls Rock! documentary trailer. It’s disheartening. We all know these attitudes are as strong as ever and there’s still a cohort of boys growing up in the FHM style of relating to women.

Laura has had a different kind of scary brush with bizarro man, too. Different behaviour, same idea: entitlement, entitlement, entitlement. I wish I’d had the guts to respond in the way she did.

17 Jul 2005, Comments (0)

We’re all f###ed, part 1

Author: Helen

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I have seen the future, and it terrifies the shit out of me.

I bought a copy of the Monthly magazine, issue 2. No, that’s not what’s wrong. It’s good. John Birmingham, Janet Turner Hospital, Inga Clendinnen, Helen Garner… I haven’t bought a dead-tree mag in nearly a year, but it’s worth it. OK, so most of the writers are older. Go and complain to someone else, we’re not going to crawl away and die.

There’s an article in there (republished here by the Labor Herald) on the Young Liberals’ national conference in Hobart, January 2005. We witness the struggle for dominance between the leader of the “wet” faction, James Stevens, and the testosterone-soaked bullmoose of the Dries, Alex Hawke, the boy most likely to succeed.

Even pit bulls can seem harmless when they’re puppies. They still have the little triangular tails, plushy fur and clownish slapstick demeanor. You need to know the risk they pose once they’re older. Pit bulls like Alex Hawke aren’t even very cute when they’re young, though. Like John Howard, some young Libs seem to have been born old. And vicious.


Alex, a short 26-year-old with a muscular build, is feeling off-colour. He had a late night…
…Still, if he hadnít said anything you wouldnít notice. What is most striking about Alex is his intensity and self-assurance. Itís hard to imagine even a hangover getting the better of him.

…Alexís political education started early. He remembers having to stage a class election in grade six. The teacher, apparently, highly commended his poster and slogan. ìShe basically said: ëAll this other stuffís crap, this is the guy you need to be looking at.íî He did not win, though. ìThe voters were wrong,î he says facetiously.

By year 12 it was time to run again. ìIíd figured there were more people not in the in-group than were in the in-group,î he explains. So, with an uncanny understanding of wedge politics, he visited every single person ìdowntrodden of in-groupsî and told them: ìLook, these guys get everything. This is our chance to stick it to them, and Iím going to be your candidate.î He was elected in a landslide. ìWe rigged the ballot,î he admits now with remarkable candour, ìbut thatís a different story.î (My bold).

He rigged the ballot. In year 12. And openly admits it at a political conference.

This is possibly our future leader. If not, possibly a Goverment minister with a portfolio to administer. James Stevens and Gareth Wards’ agenda isn’t too frightening: for instance, James is pro-choice and in favour of reforms to make workplaces more family friendly. But by the end of the conference, the Jameses and Gareths are rolled by Alex Hawke, Mark Powell and their supporters on the right. Hawke is now the national Young Libs’ president.

Alex’s most offensive statement is perhaps about abortion.


He also warns me that ìabortion is not going to be off the agendaî, then adds, with a smile: ìItís going to be back, probably bigger and better.î

Bigger and better. This isn’t Barnum’s circus, this is other peoples’ lives. But of course, to him it is a circus. It’s something to be played to his advantage in the media. Principles are for pansies.

We talk about a range of issues. On the stolen generation, he tells me: ìThere is no generation. I think Keith Windschuttle has got it exactly right.î Alex is sitting with his back to the casinoís windows, and it is strange to look out at Hobartís harbour and mountains while hearing him profess agreement with the thesis that Tasmanian Aborigines have only themselves to blame for their annihilation. ìThere has been this deliberate attempt to rewrite history. To say we came here and raped and pillaged and murdered ñ and they do, they carry on awfully about it ñ is quite appalling.î

They carry on awfully about it. The article portrays Alex as part of a tougher, lower-middle class cohort, but he’s already taking speech lessons from the other Alex.

On the other side of the ferry sit Alexís supporters, including burly Mark Powell, Queenslandís Young Liberal president and the Right factionís candidate for federal vice-president ñ another aggressively contested position. When invited by a senior party figure during last yearís federal election to brainstorm issues important to young people, Mark allegedly responded that all the forests could be bulldozed and replaced with concrete, for all he cared.

But isn’t this excessive macho posturing just youthful excess? Would it benefit them to be mentored by older, wiser heads? Well, no…

Next up is Gareth, James Stevensís supporter… a commanding figure due to his height, pale features and obvious acumen. ìMy great concern,î he says, ìis that the two speakers who have spoken so far have been men.î Sitting behind me are Senator Minchin and his ex-staffer David Miles, a right-leaning Young Liberal who is now manager of government affairs at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

ìWhat crap!î Minchin whispers. Then, as Gareth continues talking about abortion as a womenís health issue, Minchin asks: ìIs he gay?î


The behaviour of these people just makes me happier to be a lefty bleeding heart socialist wanker, although I’m unhappy that we may live under the yoke of these people in a decade or two.

…Are these our best and brightest? It seems fair to say that in the world outside youth politics, many of these individuals would not turn heads. They are not particularly charismatic, nor do they possess obviously powerful intellects. Nonetheless a palpable self-importance has attached itself to the main players and their hangers-on…

Some Young Liberals will emerge from the weekend more bruised than others. One person tells me: ìThe games the candidates played over the last 72 hours were pretty low. Both told us different stories to make us think badly about the other side.î It is a practice known as shit-sheeting. ìThere were a lot of personal comments, personal degradation about other people, other delegates. People were told they were going to be thrown out of the movement.î


And I’m under no illusion that the right wing of younger Labor party members are any better. This could be our future, post-Howard. God help us all.