Slut-shaming and the double standards in Australian politics

in Commentary , Tagged Empowerment, Australian politics, Slut-shaming, Sarah Hanson-Young, David Leyonhjelm, Emma Husar, Sex, Slut-stud paradox.
  • Lauren

    Lauren Rosewarne

    Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and the author of nine books on gender, sexuality, politics and pop culture. She co-hosts Radio National’s ‘Stop Everything!’ pop culture show and Mamamia’s ‘Sealed Section’ podcast and can be found at: www.laurenrosewarne.com

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Commentary:

"This is not a criticism, but Sarah is known for liking men." 



Earlier this year, senator David Leynhjolm caused national outrage when during a senate debate, he told Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to "stop shagging men". Afterwards, he not only refused to apologise, but went on to suggest that his appalling comment was somehow justified since "...the rumours about her in parliament are well known".  



Sexism in politics is not exactly new. In recent years, however, the situation seems to have gotten a lot worse in Australia. And unsurprisingly, it impacts women more than men. Today on BroadAgenda, Dr Lauren Rosewarne tackles the insidious practice of 'slut-shaming', and its impact on women's lives and careers. 



Cover image: Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young

   


Twice this year Australian politics has delivered us devastating lessons on slut-shaming.

In July, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused Liberal senator David Leyonhjelm of slut-shaming her and divulged that she’s actually been putting up with such nonsense for over a decade.

Just this week, Labor MP Emma Husar has decided to quit politics based on the slut-shaming that has haunted her throughout her short tenure.

To the uninitiated, slut-shaming is a reputational assault disproportionately inflicted on women

To the uninitiated, slut-shaming is a reputational assault disproportionately inflicted on women. It’s a process of bullying whereby a woman’s sexual history – real or completely fabricated – is used to embarrass her. It’s effective because sex remains a topic adults continue to be giggly, squeamish or outright judgmental about and disproportionately so when it comes to women.

Politics is an industry dominated by men. There is a sheer numbers aspect to this, but there’s also the enduring, if archaic, understanding of the public sphere as male: women, apparently, should maintain home and hearth and leave governing to the boys. When women shirk these oppressive gender binaries and enter fields like politics, slut-shaming is a way to remind them that they’ve transgressed and have entered a realm that’s conservative at its core and one where they’re not wholly wanted.

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Labor MP Emma Husar said 'slut-shaming' forced her to quit politics

For a woman to reach a position of power, slut-shaming is a technique used to undermine her. Rather than considering her rise as attributable to hard work and perseverance – particularly so in a field as cut-throat as politics – instead, accusations will be leveled that she got her position through use of her sexual wiles. That rather than being deserving, instead, she just lay back and parted her legs.

Rumour and innuendo based on sex – be it with colleagues, with superiors, or simply because it’s fun and women aren’t supposed to want or enjoy it – frequently haunts women because it’s a gossip-worthy way of saying that she’s both unqualified and that she lacks scruples.

The enduring slut-stud paradox explains the way that the sex lives of men and women are differently appraised. Having a 'reputation' and being thought of as a slut is something that routinely sabotages women’s careers. It’s such an effective attack because our world remains one where we still prize virginity in women and continue to consider a woman’s chastity as something virtuous and, conversely, an active sex life as something damning.

Slut-shaming functions as a form of workplace bullying and can push women out of industries where they’re already underrepresented

Slut-shaming impacts women in ways that men are largely immune from because men who have – or are thought to have – a lot of sex benefit from a social cachet boast. For women, conversely, her value diminishes. She’s cheapened apparently, the more times she’s been touched by the very men who elect to shame her. Slut-shaming functions as a form of workplace bullying and can push women out of industries where they’re already underrepresented, or alternatively, dissuade them from joining in the first place. This results in male-dominated work places staying male-dominated and keeping women ever further from full equality.

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While slut-shaming unduly impacts the lives of women, it isn’t only women who suffer the scourge. Anyone who enjoys any kind of sex that deviates from the narrowest notion of 'normal' can similarly be a victim. If you’re gay, if you’re into a little S&M or engage in any other kind of legal sexual activity in your own private life, that one kink you might enjoy once every third Saturday can come to ruin your career by becoming your soul identity definer.

'Slut-shaming' is a potent way to describe the kind of undermining and gossip campaigns that have ruined women’s careers and lives and deterred them from seeking positions where slut-shaming might be a penalty. For the label to become more than an accusation however, we need to agree that such attacks are an actual problem. It’s one thing to observe that there is a double standard at play that disproportionately sabotages women. It’s quite another to challenge and then change a culture that is fixated on women’s bodies and what’s done with them.

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Comments

  • Caryn Walsh 10/09/2018 1:28pm (9 days ago)

    Unless we learn to respect each other and speak well to, and of, each other, we will stay locked in the 17th century. Exemplary leaders and women and men of substance do not behave like this, ever.

    I travel various continents across the world developing leaders and teams at all levels, and the behaviour in my own country is the most barbaric and infantile.

    You will never lead well when you slander each other, judge what others do and make publically known your judgements of and about others.

    As a psychologist, the real issue here is fear... of the unknown, of each other and hard core turf wars.

    Grow up, become respectful or get out of the public eye. Its an embarrassment.

  • Anne Harper 30/08/2018 7:58am (20 days ago)

    This happened to me when I worked for the Loddon prison as a music teacher. As a woman I had no protection and afterwards I was subject to the most terrible gossip. It was really horrendous and totally ruined my life actually even though I was a really good teacher.

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