The Credibility of Women

CW: Sexual assault, sexual harassment, legal system.


Last week Craig McLachlan filed papers to start defamation action against Christie Whelan Browne, a woman who recently alleged that he had sexually harassed and assaulted her while they worked together on the Rocky Horror Show. McLachlan, who categorically denies these charges, included in his court documents provocative images of Whelan Browne and accused her of being “notoriously foul-mouthed” among other things. This is all part of a larger strategy, conscious or unconscious, to damage her credibility. 

Sharing images of a woman alleging sexual harassment or assault is a calculated move based on a historical understanding of female “credibility” being related to female sexual virtue. Women have always had their credibility judged on their morality, men on their consistency. Women and men must fit different criteria to be viewed as credible, although no concessions are made for this within the courts of law.  

Credibility is central to most legal matters, particularly those that a sexual in nature. If accounts cannot be trusted, crimes can not be fairly judged. This is entirely understandable, however the historical backlog of discrimination against women in the legal system has created an environment where justice is tied inextricably to gender. When discussing men - credibility, honour, and truthfulness are, and have always been, interchangeable concepts. In contrast, a woman’s credibility has been interchangeable instead with her sexual virtue and chastity. Even the Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition for ‘a woman’s honour’ that relates to her sexual reputation. No distinct definition is provided for male honour. This connection was codified in the beginning of the western legal system, with evidence of unchaste behaviour leading to the automatic disqualification of women’s testimonies. The sexual history of a witness, defendant, or plaintiff in cases of sexual assault, harassment, or rape were permissible as evidence in court until recently. Although our laws have been amended to rectify this unfounded and deleterious understanding, the remnants of this kind of thinking still influence our perceptions of credibility. We still see attempts to attack women’s credibility using their sexual behaviour or any evidence of unchaste conduct. 

Women exist in a double bind where, to be viewed as truthful they must be chaste, but truthfulness may lead to an unchaste reputation. If a woman is consistently honest, it will more than likely have a negative impact on her credibility. If she lies to in order to protect her reputation, she is more likely to be seen as credible, but is in reality less credible and at a higher risk of being discredited through the exposure of direct dishonesty. When sexuality of any kind can be used to damage a woman’s credibility, objective and genderless concepts of credibility cannot exist. Adrienne Rich’s 1977 essay, “Women and Honour: Notes on Lying,” offers some meaningful insight on this issue for anyone interested in further reading.

Being honest or chaste is by itself not enough to ensure a woman’s credibility. What others think of a woman is just as important. Jean Jacques Rosseau said of this in Emilie, “worth alone will not suffice, a woman must be thought worthy; [...] a woman’s honour does not depend on her conduct alone, but on her reputation, and no woman who permits herself to be seen as vile is really virtuous.” (This is obviously horrible, and Mary Wollstonecraft dragged him for it in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”)

As a result women are in a position whether they are forced to constantly police their own existence, ensuring that they leave not evidence that could be construed as promiscuous. And if they do, there is a significant chance that such evidence will be used to damage their reputation, and in turn their credibility. 

While our understanding of sexual crimes and how they should be prosecuted has evolved significantly since the 18th century, the “unchaste/incredible” equation still holds true. Publishing images that are specifically sexual in nature is not a new or novel tactic to discredit an accuser. The exposure of images through the media or publicly available documents is a deliberate strategy with the desired outcome of influencing public opinion of a woman’s virtue.  

This credibility deficit is often referred to as the Cassandra Curse, referring to mythopoeic prophetess of lies. Cassandra was gifted the ability to see the future, but when she rejected Apollo who had given her the irrevocable gift, he cursed her so that no-one would ever believe her premonitions. He divested her of all credibility. Her plight is analogous to many women who seek legal redress for the crimes committed against them. Legal attitudes and societal beliefs already accord less value to the speech of socially subordinate groups; tying chastity to credibility creates an deficit that is almost impossible for women to overcome. Sexuality or crudeness on the part of a woman because the parachute ripcord from men who harass or assault. 

McLachlan including these images and accounts is a strange way to negate the the allegations made by Whelan Browne. It does very little to prove that the allegations are untrue. That is most probably because the contents of action are not designed to disprove the allegations, but rather to divest Whelan Browne of her credibility. As public opinion does have a bearing on a woman’s credibility, we cannot let ourselves be mislead to believe that these images and recounts of behaviour have any relevance whatsoever in relation to the alleged sexual assault of Christie Whelan Browne. 


Easteal, P., & Judd, K. (2008, September). ‘She Said, He Said’: Credibility and sexual harassment cases in Australia. In Women's Studies International Forum (Vol. 31, No. 5, pp. 336-344). Pergamon.

Easteal, P. L. (2001). Less than equal: Women and the Australian legal system.

Easteal, P. W. (1998). Balancing the scales: rape, law reform, and Australian culture. Federation Press.

Hartley, C. C. (2001). “He Said, She Said” The Defense Attack of Credibility in Domestic Violence Felony Trials. Violence Against Women, 7(5), 510-544.

Hunter, R. C. (1996). Gender in evidence: Masculine norms vs. feminist reforms. Harv. Women's LJ, 19, 127.

Kelly, L., Temkin, J., & Griffiths, S. (2006). Section 41: an evaluation of new legislation limiting sexual history evidence in rape trials.

Rich, A. C. (1977). Women and honor: Some notes on lying. Motheroot Publications, Pittsburgh Women Writers.

Rousseau, J. J. (1854). Émile, ou de l'éducation. Librairie de Firmin Didot.

Schafran, L. H. (1995). Credibility in the courts: Why is there a gender gap. Judges J., 34, 5.

Schafran, L. H., Wikler, N. J., & Ellerin, B. W. (2001). Gender fairness in the courts: Action in the New Millennium. National Judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in Courts.

Shen, F. X. (2011). How we still fail rape victims: Reflecting on responsibility and legal reform. Colum. J. Gender & L., 22, 1. 

Simon-Kerr, J. (2007). Unchaste and Incredible: The Use of Gendered Conceptions of Honor in Impeachment. Yale LJ, 117, 1854.

Tuerkheimer, D. (2011). Judging Sex. Cornell L. Rev., 97, 1461.

Wollstonecraft, M. (1978). Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Vol. 29). Broadview Press.







Abortion: Decriminalisation as a Starting Point

CW: Abortion

Note: For the purposes of this article I refer to women seeking abortions, however I would like to acknowledge that other people who do not identify as women can also experience pregnancy and abortion.


Yesterday marked 45 years since the United States Supreme Court handed down it’s landmark decision in Roe v Wade. It is a great time to reflect on the reproductive rights of women here in Australia, and to critically consider what exactly decriminalising abortion achieves. There is a widespread assumption that law has a direct and causal relationship to health outcomes. However, this has not been proven to a sufficient level in the states and territories that have legalised abortion in Australia. That is not to say that decriminalising abortion is unimportant or that those that fought for legalised abortion in the other four states do not deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. As shown by the situation in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland; in jurisdictions where abortion is criminalised, other protective measures remain out of reach. Decriminalisation is a precondition for the improvement of access to abortion services, and it is only when public health departments take responsibility that equitable access will be delivered. If our goal is to advance the access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion services for all who need them, we need to push further than just decriminalisation. As it stands, abortion is provided liberally in Australia, but mostly by private providers. This means that well-informed women in metropolitan centres with reasonable economic means seeking first trimester abortions are adequately served. To all those who exist outside of that characterisation, the same cannot be said. 

The United Nations Council for Economic Social Cultural Rights explicitly acknowledges the right to elective abortion as essential to reproductive health rights, included in the broader right to health. This represents a gradual willingness to acknowledge the importance of securing a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion services as central to the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The provision of access to services and the removal of impediments are necessary to securing the protection of women’s rights. Barriers to access in addition to legality include financial affordability, geographical distance, privacy concerns, and workforce capability. These can be understood in terms of affordability, accessibility, and acceptability. 


The supply of elective abortion procedures offered by public health clinics and hospitals does not meet the demand. This demand is instead met by private clinics. Fee-free treatment under Medicare only applies for procedures undertaken in public hospitals, and only around 50% of the population has some form of private hospital insurance cover. The majority of abortions are performed in the private sector for profit. Private clinics charge fees that significantly exceed the universal insurance rebate. Prices generally range from $800 to $4400 for a first trimester surgical termination, increasing remarkably for procedures needed in later stages of gestation. The situation is no better for medical abortion, where the cost to receive the necessary drugs can cost between the $500 to $1000. The drug itself costs slightly less than $40, as the drug is a part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, however the other services required to attain an abortion (ultrasounds, doctors appointments, counselling, etc.) increase the cost of the procedure considerably. The private clinics which provide services operate with little competition, allowing them to charge whatever they choose. This results in costs in the hundreds of dollars, even with private health insurance and Medicare rebates. For those who cannot afford to purchase private health cover, getting an abortion can be financially unviable. There is a notable socio-economic gradient of access to reproductive health services. Cost poses a significant barrier to the most vulnerable women. There are limits to what the private sector can deliver. Health is a public good, and as such market principles do not work as desired. If public hospitals were to provide abortion services, this barrier would not be as pertinent. Government support for abortion services would also lead to some price regularity, with there being no consistent or standard rate for the procedure throughout the country. As with many other hurdles, affordability is intersectional; the affordability of the procedure is compounded for rural women living in remote locations, who may have to pay to travel to a metropolitan area for the procedure. 


Geographical distance is a major impediment to women having access to abortion. 30% of Australians live in rural or remote locations with limited access and options when it comes to health care. In the rural and remote areas of Australia, particularly in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, abortion provision is sparse and limited to private clinics in major cities. Most of the impediments to accessing abortions in Australia are amplified for women who live rurally. Many studies have highlighted distance to services, capacity of doctors, access to medical abortion, privacy issues, access to unbiased counselling, doctors with contentious objections, cost, and waiting times as significant obstacles to access for rural women. A study focused on Melbourne abortion clinics found that 10% of women seeking the procedure had travelled between 50km to 100km, and an additional 9% travelled more than 100km. This creates additional transport and accomodation costs. 20% of the women who contacted Victoria’s largest telephonic service were faced with a lack of transport or childcare, making travelling from their remote location to receive support impossible. This lack of access is unacceptable, with women in rural NSW reporting attempts to self-abort given the inability to attain professional assistance. 


It is impossible to overlook the moral tactics that cloud and block women’s access to abortion services. These have influenced legislation, safe access, and factual knowledge related to abortions. Health practitioners have the right to refuse to participate in the termination of a pregnancy at any stage if they are religiously or morally opposed. More over, 75 Australian hospitals, seven teaching and 21 taxpayer funded, are administered by Catholic Health Australia, and consequently do not provide abortion services. 

The Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania all have legislated safe access zones surrounding clinics that provide abortion services. The recent legislation relating to terminating pregnancy in the Northern Territory also includes provisions relating to privacy. These provisions guard against intimidation, harassment and intrusion of privacy that may result in harm. Safe access zones play an integral role in protecting women’s right to privacy, and access to health services. Facilities which provide terminations in Melbourne and Canberra have consistently reported protest activity at their premises, which has resulted in psychological distress for their staff, patients, and passersby. 

Those who are against the legal provision of abortion services often disseminate false and inaccurate information regard health risks. This is an attempt to influence women to reconsider their termination and to advocate politically for stronger abortion regulations. Strategies of influence can be feral-centred or women-centred. Fetal-centred strategies have been used since the 1970s, and try to frame foetuses as babies. This is intended to guilt pregnant women. Strategies that are women-centred focus on the increased susceptibility of women who have had an abortion to experience health problems such as breast cancer, depression, and infertility. There is no evidence which supports these suggested links. They are not recognised scientifically or medically, and there is not a single international or national health organisation which agree with these claims. These are intended to incite fear in women, and falsely attribute contestation to abortion as concern for women's health. 

As demonstrated by the exploration of existing barriers above, decriminalising abortion must be seen as a first step, not an ultimate goal. For all women to have fair and equal access to abortion services, there is still a long way to go. One thing that would improve our ability to progress more quickly would be a systematic collection of data relating to abortion on a federal level. There is no Australia wide data collection or policy directive in relation to pregnancy termination similar to other health procedures, such as cervical pap screening. As a result there is no national level policy directive to implement at state level. These vacuums in data and policy allow for conservative bodies to push morally based viewpoints. Many politicians have previously suggested that there are ‘too many abortions of convenience’, which has in turn pushed the trope of the selfish and irresponsible women. Without accurate data, it is difficult to rebut these arguments. Most numbers are inferred through complex guess work, and this is simply insufficient. There are many different initiatives which could significantly improve the current state of abortion access in Australia. I would love to hear what you think are the next steps in making reproductive health services accessible to all. 

Albury R. (199). The politics of reproduction: Beyond the slogans. Sydney: Allen & Unwin; pp. 10–11.

Baird B. (2015). “Medical abortion in Australia: a short history, Reproductive Health Matters. 23(46):169–176.

Baum F., Dwyer J. (2014).“The accidental logic of health policy in Australia. In: Miller C., Orchard L., editors. Australian public policy: Progressive ideas in the neoliberal ascendancy. Bristol: Policy Press, p. 1.

Cannold L. (2002). Understanding and responding to anti-choice women-centred strategies. Reprod Health Matters,10:171–179.

Costa C, Douglas H, Hamblin J, et al. (2015) Abortion law across Australia – a review of nine jurisdictions. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol., 55:105–111.

de Moel-Mandel, C., & Shelley, J. M. (2017). The legal and non-legal barriers to abortion access in Australia: a review of the evidence. The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, 22(2), 114-122.

Doran FM, Hornibrook J. (2016). Barriers around access to abortion experienced by rural women in New South Wales, Australia. Rural Remote Health,16:3538 – 3549.

Gray G. (2012). Reaching for health: The Australian women’s health movement and public policy. Canberra: ANU E Press, p. 205

Keogh L.A., Newton D., Bayly C., et al. (2017) “Intended and unintended consequences of abortion law reform: perspectives of abortion experts in Victoria, Australia. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 43:23.

Kruss J, Gridley H. (2014). Country women are resilient but....: family planning access in rural Victoria. Aust J Rural Health, 22:300–305.

Morgan J. (2012). “Abortion law reform: The importance of democratic change,” UNSWLJ, 35:161.

Petersen K. (2014) ’Decriminalizing abortion - the Australian experience,’ In: Rowlands S., editor. Abortion care. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 236–242.

Rebouché R. (2014). “A functionalist approach to comparative abortion law. In: Cook R., Erdmann J., Dickens B., editors. Abortion law in transnational perspective. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 117.

Sexual Refusal: The Complicated Truth

CW: Sexual assault, rape, sexual coercion


We have at this stage all heard reactions to the allegations against Aziz Ansari. For many this account was uncomfortable, not because it was particularly graphic or violent, but rather it occupies a more grey area of understanding when it comes to sexual violations. It is worrying to me that so many people do not believe that the sexual refusals offered by the girl in the story were enough to be picked up on by Ansari. This demonstrates the dangerous continued existence of the miscommunication model in both academia and the wider world. The miscommunication model suggests that sexual assault are most often a result of a miscommunication, somewhat explained by gendered differences in communication. Research collected over decades categorically invalidates this model. Nonetheless, the lack of an explicit no in the scenario recounted has presented a stumbling block for many responding to this article. This is understandable given that so much of our sexual education and public awareness campaigns relating to sexual safety centre around the core message of “no means no.” Explicit communication of a refusal is presented as an infallible and simple defence against unwanted sexual advances. However, this understanding is simplistic to the point of dangerous, and does not account for social realities, namely, that we don't like saying no and we certainly don’t like hearing it. By suggesting that saying no is the only appropriate or admissible form of sexual refusal, a loophole is created for sexual perpetrators. 

Acts of sexual violence or violation are minimised to matters of miscommunication or misunderstanding. This is advantageous to those committing offences and does nothing to actually counter an endemic of sexual violence. A few key points I would like to raise; 

1. While acceptance may typically involve just saying yes, refusal almost never consists of a simple no. Cultural and conversational rules do not allow for or in any way normalise direct refusals. Simply saying ‘no’ is most likely to be interpreted as rude, foolish, or cruel and can have the opposite of the desired effect. Young women who respond to unwanted sexual pressure using non-verbal cues, indirect diversion, or qualifiers are following absolutely normal and standard conversational patterns for refusal. 

2. Women are most likely to offer a sexual refusal that is not related to their unwillingness, or lack of desire for sex. Most often women will offer external circumstances as to why sex is impossible (I don’t feel well, I have my period, I have work early) or to delay sexual activity (maybe next time, maybe later, can we take this slow). Refusals are usually coupled with compliments or appreciation (I really like you, but…, I’m very flattered, but…) and at times sex can be refused with a kind of ‘yes’ which is actually normatively understood as a refusal. 

3. While this may seem complicated, there is a significant body of research to support that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’. Male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals which conform to culturally normative patterns should only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behaviour.

4. A direct ‘no’ is often not enough. Sexual script theory, which is also prevalent in academia and lay conversation despite it highly controversial, suggests that men and women are culturally trained to follow certain scripts and play certain roles in a sexual encounter. Men are sexual initiators, and women are sexual gatekeepers. This theory further complicates the effectiveness of a direct refusal, because it suggests that there is a ‘scripted no’ or a ‘token no’ in a sexual encounter which a man is supposed to overcome. In a study conducted using focus groups of Australian men between 18-34, it was found that men did not find a direct and simple ‘no’ to be a sufficient refusal without accompanying justification. 

5. Women like to use the excuse of miscommunication too. Some may look at it as internalised misogyny, but there are a myriad of reasons young women prefer to view assault as a miscommunication. Firstly, consider that most assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, miscommunication eradicates an accusation of fault and alleviates social tension when a woman is likely to see the offender again. It also gives women an illusory sense of control; of a sexual assault occurred because they did not communicate their refusal clearly enough. They can prevent sexual assault from happening again by improving on their communication. Finally it obscures the incredibly depressing reality that individual abuses of power are intrinsically linked to institutional and structural asymmetries. Consider, a study conducted found that only 27% of women whose sexual assault meets the legal definition of rape believed that they had been raped; 49% believed it was a result of a miscommunication.

6. While men have exhibited a high comprehensive ability to hear sexual refusals (particularly those that do not include a ‘no’), miscommunication is invoked when the issue of accountability is raised. Miscommunication model was actually presented by a feminist academic, Deborah Tannen, who proposed that people of different genders communicate in ways that are ‘different-but-equal’. The ,miscommunication model has morphed into something quite different. Rather than Tannen’s no blame version of miscommunication, young men tend to accord men the no-blame position of naive and confused mis-hearers and ascribe women the more culpable role of accountably deficient signallers. In a study by O’Bryne in 2010 it was found that men overwhelmingly employed the miscommunication model to explain occurrences of rape. 

7. The miscommunication model is related to many other, now disfavoured, rape myths (good girls don’t get raped, she was asking for it walking alone or with what she was wearing, etc.) in that it allows us to believe that instances of sexual coercion and violence are not malicious but rather ignorant. This model should be engaged with critically, and should no longer by used to underpin otherwise problematic assertions of how communicated sexual refusals should and should not be done. 

Please keep in mind, Ansari will not go to gaol. Ansari made the decision to use his celebrity to belittle and abuse someone and as such his celebrity will also be the thing that punishes him. A man who uses his emotional intelligence as a professional selling point, and who writes a book about dating must not be allowed to invoke the deleterious excuse of miscommunication to justify his sexual coercion. 


Beach, W., & Metzger, T. (1997). Claiming insufficient knowledge. Human Communication Research, 23, 562–588.

Brownmiller, S. (1993). Against our will: men, women, and rape. New York: Ballantine Books. Original work published 1975.

Calder, G. (2004). The language of refusal: sexual consent and the limits of post-structuralism. In M. Cowling & P. Reynolds (Eds.), Making sense of sexual consent (pp. 57–72). London: Ashgate.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Sexual violence prevention: beginning the dialogue. Atlanta, GA: Author.

Coates, L., & Wade, A. (2004). Telling it like it isn’t: obscuring perpetrator responsibility for violent crime. Discourse and Society, 15, 499–526.

Frith, H., & Kitzinger, C. (1997). Talk about sexual miscommunication. Women’s Studies International Forum, 20, 517–528.

Frith, H., & Kitzinger, C. (1998). “Emotion work” as a participant resource: a feminist analysis of young women’s talk-in- interaction. Sociology, 32, 299–320.

Kitzinger, C., & Frith, H. (1999). Just say no? The use of conversation analysis in developing a feminist perspective on sexual refusal. Discourse and Society, 10, 293–316.

Koss, M. (1988) 'Hidden rape: sexual aggression and victimisation in a national sample of students in higher education', in A.W. Burgess (ed.) Rape and Sexual Assault. New York: Garland. pp. 3-25.

O’Byrne, R., Rapley, M., & Hansen, S. (2006). “You couldn’t say ‘no’, could you?”: young men’s understandings of sexual refusal. Feminism and Psychology, 16, 133–154.

O’Byrne, R., Hansen, S., & Rapley, M. (2008). If a girl doesn’t say ‘no’...”: Young men, rape and claims of “insufficient knowledge. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18, 168–193.

Potter, J., & Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and social psychology: beyond attitudes and behaviour. London: Sage.Tannen, D. (1992). You just don’t understand: women and men in conversation. London: Virago.

Vanwesenbeck, I., Bekker, M., & van Lenning, A. (1998). Gender attitudes, sexual meanings and interactional patterns in heterosexual encounters among college students in the Netherlands. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 317–327.

NB: This post covers heterosexual sexual acts primarily, however there is a body of research on issues of consent in homosexual interactions (primarily male homosexual) that is available. If anyone would like more information on this, as it is slightly different, feel free to DM me.

Sexual Harassment Part I

The term ‘sexual harassment' did not come into existence until the mid-1970s, which may come as a surprise to many my age, as it certainly did to me. Sexual harassment as a concept has distinctly feminist origins; it was coined by activists and given legal context by feminist litigators and scholars. Before the mid 1970’s there was no language to describe the experience of women who felt unsafe at work because of their gender. Over the next few days, I will be sharing some posts on the history of sexual harassment as a term, with this post focusing on the foundation research and texts relating to the establishment of sexual harassment as an accepted concept. 


The two foundational texts that contributed to the establishment of sexual harassment as a concept are Catharine MacKinnon’s “Sexual Harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination” and Lin Farley’s “Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job. I have provided links to these publications in the comments. Published in 1979 and 1978 respectively, these works provided the social and legal framework for understanding and recognising sexual harassment and put forward the case for sexual harassment being classified as a form of gendered discrimination. 

MacKinnon’s work focuses on the legal understanding of sexual harassment. She put forward two legal categories of harassment which she defined as quid pro quo and offensive working environment. These categories were adopted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (in 1980) and became the base for the legal understanding of sexual harassment. MacKinnon viewed sexual harassment as a byproduct of structural asymmetries which lead to women holding an inferior position in the workplace. 

For MacKinnon, women in traditionally feminine occupations, also know as pink-collar jobs, are “set up” to be sexually harassed: “In such jobs a woman is employed as a woman. She is also, apparently, treated like a woman, with one aspect of this being the explicitly sexual. Specifically, if part of the reason a woman is hired is to be pleasing to a male boss, whose notion of a qualified worker merges with a sexist notion of the proper role of women, it is hardly surprising that sexual intimacy, forced when necessary, would be considered part of her duties and his privileges.”

In contrast, women in traditionally masculine industries are likely to be singled out for harassment, as their sex makes them highly visible and easy to target. There is also an intrinsic resentment of the invasion of women which may trigger harassment according to MacKinnon. This results in two feedback loop both of which are professional injurious for women: Women are discouraged from entering male-dominated field because of the dangers and reality of sexual harassment, and the concept of women in feminised industries as sexually accessible is reinforced. 

MacKinnon’s was able to argue for the legal recognition of the injury experienced by women through sexual harassment by drawing comparisons to discrimination based on race. She was able to put forward a case that as sexual harassment resulted in the subordination of women in the workforce it should be viewed as unlawful. Obviously there are implications here regarding intersectionality, which will be covered in a later post, as at this point in time, intersectionality was not considered comprehensively. 

Outside of the legal context, Farley’s publication offered a clear historical account of sexual harassment which significantly predated the existence of the term. Farley highlighted the sexual exploitation of slave women by their masters and mill workers by their foremen as early examples of sexual harassment. These two publications, and the adoption by the EEOC of their definition of sexual harassment inspired social researchers to begin investigation sexual harassment. 

Barbara Gutek wrote an early review of the social science literature in the 90s. The most significant conclusion made by Gutek was that women tend to define sexual harassment more broadly than men, and that these contrasting definitions are consistent with the interests of each group. She observed: "It is in men's self-interest to see relatively little sexual harassment because men are most often the offenders whereas it is in women's self-interest to see relatively more sexual harassment because women tend to be the victims in sexual harassment encounters.” This results in a phenomenon known as the ‘two worlds’ phenomenon and offered a challenge to the purported objective legal standards for sexual harassment. A majority of objections to the application of objective standards in the legal realm is that these ‘knowledge-based claims’ are based solely on the partial experience of men. More to come…

The Privilege Discussions We Need To Have

There are discussions that are too hard to have with MRA’s and Anti-feminists in the room. That is not because they don’t have anything to add, or anything of merit to say. It is because their movement can only exist in the problem space. Why? When Tom Tilley asked MRA Adrian “thatsnotmyrealname” Johnson: why aren’t you focusing more just on improving the lives of men rather than attacking feminists? His reply was “We are trying to do both.” And that says it all.


I’m not going to make a blanket assessment and suggest that feminists aren’t spending their time attacking MRAs, but the quantity and quality of research and initiativesproduced by the feminist movement strongly suggest they are busy doing other things.


MRAs have decided that feminists are responsible for the harms they have experienced. They have attached their suffering to female advancement and empowerment, and as a result it is impossible for a middle ground to be reached. Following the MRA narrative, the end of feminism is necessary for the end of male suffering. They work backwards - from the answer; feminism, to the problem; harm to men. Whereas feminists work forward - from the problem; female oppression, in search of an answer.*In stark contrast, feminists attach their oppression to structural forces, not MRAs. Whenthese structures are dismantled all human beings will be freefrom deleterious gender roles.


It’s not surprising that so many feminists were concerned (and in many cases offended) by the premise of the show. It is frustrating and exhausting to consistently be dragged back into the problem zone. Distracted from progress and genuinely important work to act as anaudience forMRAs nonsensically ranting. And yet, I still think it was important to have the show.


The fact of the matter is; feminism is not the majority worldview. When talking to young university students about feminism there is an overwhelming discomfortwith a movement that should inspire enthusiasm. Both boys and girls** do not want to be associated with it, do not want to hear about it, and do not have any legitimate understanding of what feminism is or does. Their opinions about the topic are baseless, and they are really just waiting for accessible information to persuade them. Hack does this. Young boys in particular lavish in the concept thatthey – men who reject feminism – representa minority or silent majority. Those young boys won’t be tuning in to an all female panel, no matter how brilliant they may be.


Unfortunately the modern world is more fastidious in its indiscriminate requirement of seeming objectivity. In the case of feminism, seeming is as good as it gets. Even the most articulate opponents of feminism do not have the empirical research with which to substantiate their claims – particularly the claim that feminism has any correlation with other issues they purport to discuss (i.e. workplace fatalities, military deaths). It is an unpleasant truth that women suffer a credibility deficit, and despite the overwhelming evidence, society is generally looking for a reason to discount the feminist voice. A fully feminist panel may have assisted in that.

Let’s be real, Hack:live is a televised debate targeted at a young audience, and it sells itself on talking about the taboo. For many people, feminism and issues affecting men are topics that are hard to talk about publicly. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a cemented opinion on this topic. I think a lot of people tuned in to the show because there is a legitimate thirst for information in this space. It’s just a shame that the amount of new information that could be presented was so limited by the MRA narrative.


In order to stay in the problem space, MRAs cannot contextualise statistics or experience. They can only understand things on a micro level, or they will inevitably start to see some of the structural causes for their problems, which will undermine their current narrative. It’s so very limiting, and unfortunately you can’t frame your way around it. That is not to say that members of the panel did not try. Being cordoned to the micro-level of analysis lead to fruitless back and forth. Clementine Ford’s remarkable ability to rationalise and contextualise, paired with theformidable intellectual weight of Associate Professor Michael Flood and Associate Professor Rae Cooper left the audience wanting more. The articulation of these long lines of logic, incapable of exploration within the restrictive MRA discourse conditions, could have expanded and challenged the understandings of the audience. It is a certainly a shame that those conversations were not able to take place.




As someone who uses the academic concept of privilege a lot in my work, the most perplexing element of the show was the lack of discussion about what privilege actually is. That discussion is crucial. Like the wage gap, male privilege is much more complex than people make it out to be. That is completely unavoidable. Research is conducted so that it can be filtered back out into the real world, the complex architecture of a concept in the academic world requires simplification so that it can be understood by someone who doesn’t have any prior knowledge of the field. Things inevitably get lost in translation. This problem is compounded by something I refer to as ‘language borrowing’***.

When positing theoretical concepts, academics often use words or phrases from other fields which describe relative concepts as a starting point for their work. This happens a lot in feminist scholarship; critical mass was borrowed from nuclear science. Obviously, there are stark differences in the meaning of critical mass when talking about nuclear science and when talking about gender politics.


In the case of privilege and oppression, this confusion is even worse because the words ‘borrowed’ for theoretical exploration come from our regular vernacular. We already know what the words ‘privilege’ and ‘oppression’mean. It is difficult not to conflate our understanding of oppression and privilege with the theoretical one. It is impossible when we are not presented with a theoretical understanding.


Oppression, in the theoretical sense, refers to a structural threat experienced by an individual based purely on their membership of a certain social group. It is vital that the distinction between oppression and harm is clear. Oppression is group based, harm is individual. All oppression is harmful, but not all harm is oppressive. Oppression is a structural phenomena which devalues the voices, experiences, and work of members of marginalised social groups. That is not to suggest social groups have rigid and clearly distinguishable boundaries. In fact, I would argue that an acceptance of the exact opposite is necessary to fully understand the power of the complex social system of domination. One of the features of privilege is the ability of dominant groups to construct, define, and control the construction of other social categories.


Privilege is hard to relearn because we are taught that it is something that we earn from a very young age. Privilege is what holds oppression in place. There is a difference between privilege and advantage. Privilege is granted, whereas advantage is earned. You have no control over privilege, whereas you do over advantage. Privilege is value neutral. It simply means that you do not have to worry about a structural threat or that you have unearned assets that you have been conferred systematically. That is not to say that a person who is privileged cannot be harmed. Being privileged is being standard, being oppressed is being the other.


It really was a shame that even a nominal attempt at defining privilege by Clementine Ford, was quickly dismissed by other panellists who were insistent that the real discussion was to be found in statistics and anecdotes(which were often incorrect and highly emotive).





There was a very weak attempt to enter the solution space by talking about individualism. It was suggested that if we all just assess and treat people as individuals, we wouldn’t have any of these problems. But the thing is, individuals don’t experience oppression. Their oppression is borne from their membership of a group. Most of the time, individuals have no choice as to which groups they belong to, and have no agency to leave. Social structures are not built on individual experiences, and the institutions that govern society do not have the capacity to assess, legislate, and regulate on an individual basis. Generalisation is natural and necessary. It doesn’t make it good. You are an individual who is part of many groups, and the societal and institutional rules which govern those groups apply to you. If you want to change the way you are treated, you must change the way your group is treated. But individualism is a concession feminists can make, because at the very least it affords members of their group the opportunity to be treated as a human being. For MRAs it’s an obvious win; they can continue denying the oppression of others if they do not have to view a person’s experience in context. Individualism is a trap disguised as a solution.




In the greenroom following the show, there were seeds of discussions surrounding male privilege just waiting to be had. I spoke with Joe Williams about the disturbing cross sections of the male experience and Indigenous oppression. We spoke specifically about Indigenous male suicide, and Joe highlighted to me that Indigenous men are six times more likely to take their own lives than non-Indigenous men. That is a conversation we need to have about male privilege.


Adding an Indigenous female voice to such a conversation would have further illustrated the complex and intertwined nature of oppression. It could have led to discussions about juggling identities, and whether or not it is sometimes necessary to prioritise one identity over another. That is a conversation we need to have about male privilege.


I spoke to Nevo about the empathy they have for women. We spoke about how women instantly guard themselves when they see Nevo as a man, and the empathy possible from Nevo’s history of presenting as a woman. What was more interesting was that Nevo spoke not only of gaining privilege through presenting as a man, but also the confusion and hurt that comes with being seen as a threat (even if you completely understand why). That is a conversation that we need to have about male privilege.


The issue isn’t that we are rude, hateful nemesis incapable of being polite or having a discussion. Although, at times frustration gets the better of us all, which is understandable because the topic is so important. The issue is that we operate in different spaces. MRAs are trying to prove that they suffer just as much as women, if not more. And despite what MRA’s would have you believe, feminists aren’t interested in suffering. Centuries worth of oppression and exclusion has left feminist battle brazen and forward facing,interested in quantifying and qualifying problems only in order assist with the conception of solutions.


This was touched on by panellists, but the conclusion that we all need to listen to each other more was the wrong one. And quite frankly, it was offensive. Throughout history women have been systematically silenced, discredited, intimidated, maligned, murdered. A reality we share or compound with those considered ‘the other’ because of their race, sexuality, gender, (dis)ability, class, and more.  We don’t need to listen to each other; we need to listen to the “other”.








*communism, genderfluidity, incrementalism, plus thousands more – feminism is a democracy of voices and experiences. We are still trying to work out what will work best.


** binary intentionally used in this instances as people who have a gender identity outside of male or female tend to demonstrate a more developed understanding of feminism.

BOOK REVIEW: Jessa Crispin’s “Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto” As Contradictory as the Title would Suggest

Jessa Crispin has written this manifesto with a specific intention: to incite her readers to move away from their lazy, notional, individual feminism back towards the good ole’ ways of radical action. Unfortunately, her attempt to do this comes across as lazy, notional and self involved. Crispin begins her polemic by clearly outlining her reasons for rejecting feminism, finishing with her particular distaste for the “all about me” flavour of the modern movement. The irony of following this with 150 pages of her individual opinion on modern feminism, is so blatant one can’t help but wonder if it is intentional satire. This sets the contradictory tone for the book, one which repeats the same logical fallacies chapter after chapter.

While reading this self-proclaimed manifesto, I found myself rolling my eyes at the same arguments.  It is because of this constant repetition, in the name of efficiency, criticisms of this book have been divided into sections.


Crispin wants a feminism that is unapologetically angry and poses a threat. I certainly understand the premise for this, I am an angry feminist myself. But feminism is linear and sometimes the people you are scaring off, are the future champions of your cause.

When I was 16, I was categorically NOT a feminist. When I was 17, I agreed with the concepts of gender equality, but still wouldn't call myself a feminist. By 18, I was onboard with the term, but not actively involved in the movement. Here I am at 24, and all I do is feminism. All I do is research, organise, write, and rant. But I wasn't born that way, it was something I had to come to in my own time. Part of that process was buying T-Shirts, and googling to see if my favourite celebrities were feminists. I have every intention of dedicating my life to feminist cause, but I can’t help but wonder:  if it was only angry, threatening women identifying as feminists when I was young, if only women interested in the complete dismantling of the world as we knew it identified as feminists, would I be where I am today? No.

For someone so furious with the distance young feminists create between themselves and radicals, Crispin's decision to alienate young feminists, and young women showing an interest in feminism is all the more confusing. Sure, there is no direct link between girls worshipping Beyonce or wearing feminist T-shirt and the decision to partake in collective radical action. That said, I am yet to meet a feminist who woke up one day and decided to radicalise with no previous interest in even the most superficial elements of the movement. If you allow no space for women to have less than radical feminist views, you create a very hostile and divise environment for young women who may want to be feminists.


I can comfortable say that if you were talk to most young women about why they have grievances with second wave feminism, their answers will not be the same as the ones suggested by Crispin in this book.

There is an assumption weaved the whole way through this manifesto, that young feminists distance themselves from their second wave radical past because of body hair and militant anger. The truth is, while I am thankful to the work of the women in the second wave, I distance myself from that kind of feminism with valid cause. It has nothing to do with body hair and bra burning and everything to do with the unforgivable treatment of minorities within the movement. I know many young women feel the same. If you want to be radical and hold on to that past, then we can disagree, and in my opinion that doesn't make any of us less of a feminist. Rationally, I can understand the arguments that Trans Erasing Radical Feminists and Sex Work Erasing Radical Feminist’s put forward, but I categorically reject them and do not wish to be associated with them. My rational understanding of the arguments, is not akin to the incessant yet weak defence of these views executed by Crispin. It is the erasure of minority women, which Crispin is so concerned about in her second chapter, that is a cornerstone for essentialist second wave feminism. It is this erasure that causes me to recoil from the association, not Birkenstocks and dirty hair. I do not care what men think of me, but I certainly do care what black women, and transwomen, and sex workers, think of me.  Germaine Greer, for instance, is someone whose work I feel very strongly about. As an Australian feminist, The Female Eunuch, is a foundational text for much of my work. And yet I distance myself from her, not as a response to her position that true feminism cannot be realised without a communist revolution, but because her unforgivable vitriolic stance regarding transwomen. Crispin’s rejection of the universal feminist goal paired with her nostalgia for the second wave is completely nonsensical.



The constant, belligerent, unfounded criticism of young feminists was almost enough for me to discount this book in it’s entirety. I am a working feminist (although as my research focuses on bettering women’s position within the existing patriarchal system, I am not really doing anything by Crispin’s standard). Crispin’s condescending and patronising tone toward young women like me was maddening and demonstrated a complete lack of rigour in the research behind this book. One can only assume that Crispin did not take the time to engage with any young feminists at all. Perhaps she looked at click-bait and used that to found her argument, her decision not the name name’s makes it impossible to tell. To accuse young feminists of using the movement as an accessory, is an insulting generalisation. Furthermore, it is a harmful one. The proclamations made in this book not only alienate young feminists (even radical ones) but erase the valuable work that we are doing. Her lavish assumptions do not help the progress of the movement, and only work to serve her own agenda.

She dismisses modern feminism for prioritising opinion and personal narrative over theory or even fact, and yet, I’ve referenced more feminist theory over cocktails on Saturday night than Crispin does in this entire publication. Moreover the exclusion of references to the women whose theories she lightly references was a point of major concern. Crispin’s decision not to provide a platform for other feminist thinkers, weakening all of her arguments, and to be quite frank allowed much of her book to preoccupy itself with non-issues and distractions such as armpit hair and Taylor Swift. Crispin polemic comes across as under-theorised and confused due to her unwillingness to credit the thinkers behind so many of the arguments she tries to lean on.  Referencing Kimberlé Crenshaw for introducing the term intersectionality in 1989 would have barely impacted her word count. It clearly didn’t impact mine.



According to Crispin, everyone is human and everyone is capable of mistakes. Feminists aren’t perfect, and in the case of radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, there is more to be gained from overlooking mistakes and learning from their larger philosophy. I cannot say that Crispin’s leniency and forgiveness stretches so far as to cover anyone who does not unflinchingly identify with her “cleansing fire” brand of feminism. Crispin states that "we speak for women instead of listening to them." This reads more as a self-diagnosis as she groundlessly pontificates about the views of women for most of the book. By Crispin’s diagnosis, if you are focused on making money, you are the enemy. If you are not ready and willing to give up everything touched by the patriarchy at this very moment, you are the enemy. If you shave your legs, guess what, you are the enemy. There is no sympathy or understanding for those who are not in a position to leave their ‘comfortable’ life and step into the fringe. And while Crispin says that personal details about feminist authors are always used to discredit their work, there is an unmissable hypocrisy in a white woman whose career has been funded by publishing in male-run, male-serving newspapers and magazines, telling other women that sacrificing their radical feminism to get ahead in the male world is just not good enough. To the single mothers who need to work for the man to provide for their children, to any person with a physical or mental disability who faces additional obstacles to participation in the movement, to any woman who has grown up poor and rightfully wants to create a better life for herself, there may not be space for you in Crispin’s “cleansing fire” feminism but there is space for you in mine.



Call me crazy, but when I pick up a piece of work that refers to itself as a manifesto, I expect to see some kind of statement of intention, aim, or goal. Crispin spends so much of her small book criticising the way things are, that she has no room left to suggest how we get things to where they should be. At it’s best this book is food for thought. At it’s worst it is a colossal and insulting waste of time. If you are truly looking for something worthwhile to read, flip to the author’s notes at the back of this book and read the works by the feminists she credits instead. It’s a much better use of your time.