Article by Steve Evans /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
November 2, 2018 /
Click here to view original /
Everybody has a view on what’s acceptable behaviour by men towards women.
The difficulty is that those views on what’s permissible seem to differ between men and women and between old and young.
The stream of high-profile cases like the current dispute in the courts between Geoffrey Rush and his co-star Eryn Jean Norvill over what constituted sexual harassment has brought the issue into sharp focus.
According to some academics, there is a generational difference.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, an expert on sexuality, gender and feminism at the University of Melbourne, said, for example, that her mother would have seen some behaviour by men as simply what happens. “Let it go. It’s part of the rough and tumble of life,” as Dr Rosewarne described her mother’s attitude.
Younger people aren’t so tolerant. Female students to whom Fairfax Media talked at the campus of the Australian National University all agreed they wouldn’t put up with what their elders suffered.
One said that her grandmother wouldn’t even go to the police when a serious sexual assault had been committed – “Don’t make a fuss”, was the view, according to Sinali Hapu Arachchige.
She and her friend, Apoorva Sajja, agreed that men making sexual jokes in their presence was completely unacceptable, particularly if the men weren’t friends.
But a man calling a woman “love”? That wasn’t as forbidden as you might imagine. The students on the ANU campus (admittedly a small sample) didn’t mind – it depended on tone and context.
Lucy Bucknell who is studying human biology at ANU agreed. “It depends on the situation,” she said.
Young women said they put up with behaviour but didn’t necessarily accept it. Psychology student Isobel Kelly said there was still a stigma to reporting bad behaviour or confronting it in a club. “If someone makes a sexual remark and you turn round and say, ‘hey’, are they going to retaliate”, she said was the calculation she made.
She admired women who did speak up. “I have a friend who has called men out and she’s not afraid and I think that’s awesome”, she said.
With some of the high profile cases given wall-to-wall coverage, the question sometimes arises about whether the older man just got it wrong by misunderstanding the way times have changed.
Dr Rosewarne said the matter was complex there was much subjectivity involved: “That’s what makes it so challenging.”
She condemned harassment but also said that men had a right to be treated fairly. “Harassment is real but not everything that makes you feel bad is a deal-breaker,” she said.
“When victims come forward with their stories we have to believe them,” as she put it. “We have a duty to take them at their word primarily because speaking out against patriarchy in a culture where patriarchy has a vested – and virulent – interest in ensuring silence is brave, is risky.
“But what of the alleged but untried assailants? What do we make of careers being ruined purely on the basis of ‘mere’ allegations?”
She also wondered whether today’s young people had been too pampered because of “helicopter parenting”. On this argument, they had been cosseted so much that they were susceptible to bullying while earlier generations might have just told the male bully where to go.
She said there was a question about whether the current generation had a “lack of resilience”.
One thing is clear, though, according to Jenna Price of the University of Technology in Sydney and a Fairfax columnist, “There is one significant difference in generational attitudes towards sexual harassment – and that significant difference shows itself in two ways: one, women believe, rightly or wrongly, that they can speak out and be believed; and men now fear they will be caught.
“Men, at least some men, have acknowledged that standards are different now – yet some resent that shift. They feel as if their behaviour was acceptable 20 years ago. They say they are only admiring women and that they have no intention to hurt.
“But it’s not about how men feel, it’s about how women feel; and they feel threatened, humiliated and violated. They may well have felt that 20 years ago – but no-one was listening to their pleas for help.”