July 5, 2022
Sydney Morning Herald Opinion

‘Violence begets violence’: The brewing rage stirring in women gathers force

What does a woman do with a mallet?

A friend of mine has just made one. It’s large, wooden and looking for trouble. She crafted it at a tin-shed session and posted a photo on Facebook, holding it aloft, looking damn pleased with herself. Someone asked what it’s for.

And … we are off!

You could almost hear the furious banging at keyboards across the nation as women listed countless good uses for a woman wielding a wooden mallet. None pretty. Mine included. Funny, nasty, shocking, gory, wicked, witty and, most of all, violent. Yes, full of violence.

But oh, my! The delicious virtue in that violence. (Is there such a thing? Can violence ever be virtuous? Of course, it can. Just ask Vladimir!)

Just then, I remembered inciting violence online is, in fact, a crime. So I hit delete and got back to work: which happened to involve trawling through research papers on a bunch of women’s conferences held in the 1970s. A flick of the page, and I’m up to August 1975, a gathering held at Melbourne University titled, “Women and Madness Conference”.

At that moment the mallet, madness, and women’s seething rage crystallised into sharp focus. Of course women are feeling violent at this time. Why wouldn’t we be?

The US Supreme Court action reversing Roe v Wade, after 50 years, strips naked a women’s right to own her own body. As such, it levels a profound violence on women. The violence of authoritarian, totalitarian, masculine ownership and female subjugation.

As we all know, violence begets violence. Men are masterful at ensuring that, as the history of conflict throughout the world repeatedly reminds us.

So, again I ask, is it any wonder women are feeling violent right now?

You would have to have lived under a rock for the past few years to not share some level of anxiety about the treatment of women around the world. Any working nostrils can smell the stench of backlash against women’s progress. Including here in Australia.

Scandalous media headlines about the previous government’s “woman problem” had the BBC asking, “Why politics is toxic for Australian women”. By 2021 the ever-present cloud of Australian misogyny broke its waters and the invisible became visible as angry, hurt and traumatised women called out the bullying, lying and slut-shaming, along with harassment, sexual abuse and rape; while young men masturbated over female MPs’ desks, and a baffled prime minister spoke of empathy training for wayward men.

Women’s brewing rage propelled previously polite women to march and chant in nationwide rallies, only to have the PM remind us of the lurking threat of violence against us: “Not far from here, such marches even now are being met with bullets”, Scott Morrison told the parliament. We could hear those tortured suffragettes groaning in their grave.

Australian women’s fear of what may be heading our way if we continue to demand autonomy and seize power, along with the moral authority (thank you, Teals), is well-founded.

We’ve watched on, struck mute and useless, as the women and girls our military forces were supposed to be “liberating” in Afghanistan are now banned from public life, work and school, forced to cover up like inhuman sacks, with their face and female identity smudged out of view. As our allies, the Americans, handed the keys of Kabul back to the Taliban and walked away, that once furious line from a fire-spitting, angry Australian Army chief came to mind. He yelled at his troops about the “standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

We despair as women in Myanmar, some of whom we personally encouraged and supported, take the lead in anti-coup protests against the hateful military junta, and desperately try to turn the world’s attention to the weaponisation of women’s bodies and the genocidal rape of Rohingya females.

We watch on as epidemic levels of violence against women sweep the world; as the sexual assault and murder of women walking home at night in Britain repeat our own stories and headlines.

We cringe as yet another gathering of world leaders at the G7, following a roundtable of testosterone-high tackles, ends with an all-male photo shoot where only the lack of neck ties is noted. As for the absence of women? Unremarkable.

Women have a right to be angry. Very angry.

I’m proud of my friend for making a mean-looking mallet. Perhaps it’s time I learn to make one too.

This Opinion Editorial was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 2022

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra writer and an academic advocate for gender equity.

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