If you enjoy bursting into rage induced flame, but in pocket sized installments and with a glimmer of hope at the end, you can’t go past Kate Fitz-Gibbon’s Our National Shame: Violence Against Women; Jill Hennessy’s Respect; Fiona McLeod’s Easy Lies and Influence and Enough is Enough by Kate Thwaites and Jenny Macklin. Part of Monash University’s In The National Interest series, these four volumes by seriously credible women hit the spot in providing an accessible unpacking of major challenges facing Australia.
I reviewed these books with the help of my daughter, third year university student Bridie. She read each one in a single sitting, while I read them in snatched moments between meetings or at night – and unusually for me, I managed to read these in bed without falling asleep.
Each volume explores distinct issues of men’s violence against women, slow (but better than appreciated) progress on gender equality, the erosion of respect and empathy in public discourse, and the dangerous normalization of lies and corruption. While not intended as a set per se, they loosely converge on the intersecting issues of misogyny, violence, disrespect and corruption that undermine democracy and trust, and erode the human right to reach our full potential in a life free from violence, governed by those with our best interests at heart. It’s worth reading them together, as I found they spoke to each other in unexpected ways.
Fitz-Gibbon, pictured above. critiques ‘compassion fatigue’ in the face of seemingly endless violence against women while McLeod observes we are ‘paralyzed by the inability of institutions and government to self-regulate’ as we sleepwalk into normalized corruption. Thwaites and Macklin critique the myth of merit from the point of view of women’s representation, while McLeod suggests that corruption frequently overtakes merit in political and other appointments.
Hennessy, Fitz-Gibbon, and Thwaites and Macklin all speak to way gender inequality undermines respect, potential and safety – recalling Rosie and Luke Batty, Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, the March for Justice and Gillard’s Misogyny speech – familiar signposts in our recent history. At their core, all four books have a narrative thread related to decency and respect – for women, for each other, for democracy.
And while all four are steeped in head-shaking despair, they also point to solutions or ways out.
At 85 pages or less, Bride and I both felt that the books jumped around a bit – but in fairness, if you are going to cover the horrors of humanity in under 100 pages, you need to be nimble. But these books definitely deliver. While Bridie felt these books fit into a library of information she already has, and so wouldn’t recommend them to those who are already well informed, she would certainly give them to anyone who was unclear or hesitant about the significance of these issues, including men.
Conversely, as someone who thinks about these issues for a job, I liked the way these books easily consolidated the swirling thoughts and anger I have about these topics.
And these books show the receipts, presenting excellent references as protection against any attempt to minimize or mansplain away the issues.
As smaller books, they are less intimidating. As Bridie observed, “Books this serious should be this size because it makes them less threatening. Imagine if that was an A5 or bigger book – it would just stress you out.” And with a foldable front and back jacket to use as a bookmark, you can mark your place and put the books down any time it’s just too much.
Worthy of discussion, read these with a friend or book club, or buy copies for the doubters in your life. They are an excellent contribution and well worth the read.
With thanks to Bridie Milthorpe.
- Amy Haddad gender equality and inclusion expert. She is the Director of Gender Equality, Disability and Social Protection at Tetra Tech International Development Asia Pacific.