Flirting with confected outrage fails to impress women

I’ve been writing for The Australian about the confected outrage we’ve seen this week over the Briggs and Gayle affairs. I’ll include the whole story here, for those who can’t access the paper:

What a joke. West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle laughingly makes a pass on National television during an interview with television reporter Mel McLaughlin. Predictably commentators line up to condemn the man’s offensive behaviour as yet another example of vulnerable women needing protection from predatory men. But the real lesson from this latest media beat-up was a very positive one.

It was great seeing McLaughlin so clearly able to handle Gayle’s banter– it’s a fine example for younger women to see such a confident professional woman able to bat off this type of flirtatious nonsense. Equally last year many people enjoyed watching Maria Sharapova flirting with a male reporter telling him she “admired his form.”

Such harmless flirtation is not sexual harassment and luckily there are many in our community who resent the constant intrusion into enjoyable male/female interaction by thought police determined to stamp out any hint of what Helen Garner famously described as “eros – the spark which connects and ignites.”

There are plenty of women who bristle at the current male-bashing climate where men are forced into tiptoeing around their female colleagues for fear they will be accused of saying or doing the wrong thing. There are women who regret efforts to brand all compliments about their appearance as inappropriate and who want to retain the right to make their own choices about whether they enjoy male/female sexual banter and what they choose to do if it becomes offensive.

That’s the essence of what has gone wrong in the Jamie Briggs affair. The young woman concerned didn’t mention harassment nor did she seek to make a formal complaint. Given the trivial behaviour under discussion it’s not surprising she chose simply to ask Brigg’s chief of staff to let him know he’d had been out of line.

That’s exactly the approach recommended in these circumstances. Back in the 1970s when sexual harassment policies were first being framed in Australia, the focus in more trivial matters was all about education – setting up mediation so victims could convey their concerns to the perpetrators and teach them why their behaviour was inappropriate. The aim was to clearly differentiate minor matters from serious concerns which required a punitive approach involving adjudication and possible criminal sanctions.

How this line has now blurred. What’s shocking about the Brigg’s case was that the woman’s sensible desire for a low-key approach was disregarded as the politicians lined up to use the issue as a means of forcing Briggs out of the ministry. This is what led to all the nonsense which has followed. Now we have the Prime Minister jumping on board, bemoaning the impact of all this on the young woman concerned when it was he and his colleagues who set the whole thing in play.

There’s a pattern emerging here as Turnbull seems determined to go overboard on such issues – stressing the seriousness of the “inappropriate behaviour,” and making endless motherhood statements about “respect for women.” He’s clearly convinced that playing the gender card wins the women’s votes.

He shouldn’t be so sure. He’s ignoring the lesson from recent political history where Gillard’s misogyny speech ultimately failed to win votes from women who were unimpressed by her blatant effort to use gender politics to salvage her dwindling support. Gender beat-ups may impress social commentators but leave many ordinary women unmoved.

Witness the reaction of many women to some of the high profile sexual harassment cases which have played out in Australia, where women stand to gain so much by accusing men of unseemly behaviour. We’ve seen widespread public debate, led by female as well as male commentators, who are extremely cynical about the supposed innocence of many of the accusers. Kirsty Fraser Kirk was a prime example.

Women know all too well that the truth in many of these situations is often a murky shade of grey. There’s good reason why female jurists make it harder to gain convictions in sexual consent cases. Notions of sisterhood often go out the window when it comes to making judgements about the behaviour of other women, precisely because we know that women are capable of matching any man when it comes to manipulative, duplicitous behaviour.

Many women were concerned by Turnbull’s first major policy announcement on domestic violence which whitewashed this complex issue by presenting men as the only villains. When I wrote last year about research showing the prominent role women play in violence in the home I received many supportive letters from women, including professionals working with families at risk from violent mothers and other women who had grown up in such homes, or had witnessed brothers, fathers, male friends experiencing violence at the hands of a woman. Many commented how surprised they were that Turnbull made such an offensive, one-sided policy announcement.

Politicians who play gender politics risk antagonizing not only men fed up with the constant male-bashing but also women determined not to live their lives as victims, women who want responsibility for aggressive, offensive behaviour to be sheeted home to the true perpetrators  – male or female alike.

17 Responses to Flirting with confected outrage fails to impress women

  1. We are all John Galt January 7, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    I don’t think most people realise how many women are going to be barren and single in the coming decades, I don’t condone or condemn this, just an observation. Seems guys 15 – 30 have a very low opinion on marriage and cohabitation. Time will tell I guess.

    I have 8 mates in my age group 44 – 54 they would never move a women in, we are all debt free have a good life and can visit the local massage place for a massage if needed.

    I recommend the book Men on strike by Dr Helen Smith.

    Another is the film https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

    • Mick O'Brien January 14, 2016 at 9:42 am #

      Good to see some balance coming into the debate from Bettina…the role that some women have in courting or contributing to DV needs to be taken into account. All people have a breaking point, and psychological warfare has been proven effective in various conflicts. I DO NOT under any circumstance condone DV…however, I can understand why some may be driven to the brink….

      We all need to take a step back and look at where all this is heading…

      As for flirting, OMG! The end of the world is nigh!! 🙂 …Mick

  2. Richard Lancaster January 7, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    Turnbull’s high approval rating among female voters so far seems to show his strategy to court the female vote is working. Partly that is because he is not Abbott and partly because the media, especially female commentators, have been so non-critical. As these dissipate over time it will be interesting to see if Bettina’s suspicion is correct and Turnbull becomes more nuanced and less lop sided in his gender politics. Personally though I feel the tide is running too strongly to be soon reversed and that “confected outrage” will remain common throughout 2016.

  3. Woodrow S Charles Willow January 8, 2016 at 2:52 am #

    Well, I – and, be sure, thousands like me – am not impressed with *this*: this article begging for dilution and “reform” in flirting. So instead of the relatively simpler walking on eggshells method adopted from trial and error (and error, and error) over the past 35 years, young men are in the workplace(?) or anywhere else (??) are now expected to hold this new nuance that women “want to retain the right to make their own choices about whether they enjoy male/female sexual banter and what they choose to do if it becomes offensive” with skillful doublethink, in the balance with their natural desires and – oh hell, go for it!

    And if they’re wrong? If this generation of young men stumbles or makes as little as a single miscalculation (re)learning to wield this dangerous, woman-centered instrument called “banter”, here,”flirting” there – but “Sexual Harassment” almost – almost – everywhere else? If they fail to be of the particular class – in all senses of the word – or physique, or age that the “targeted” individual woman had, at that particular time?

    Well then, they may not have to worry about sexual harassment in their workplace – or any other workplace – until further notice.

    In the Gender War, as in most conflicts, “reform” arguments like the above are worse than the established, straightout totalitarianism they seek to replace. They still hold women as the index of terms this little elusive office party is to be conducted on – expecting men to, again, successfully negotiate this blowtorch juggling – 100 percent of the time.

    It would be the 80s all over again (how do you youngfolks think men were displaced by women in so many positions of power, prestige and payola in the 80s?) – except this time, the hammer will come down on the unlucky with the force of full feminist governance.

    • Bettina January 8, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      I would suggest the current situation is working very badly.

  4. pol January 8, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    Wrong, wrong, wrong Bettina, on virtually every level.

    • Bettina January 8, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      Amazing how many people think I am right, right, right! Over 1000 comments on The Australian website, mainly supporting me.

      • Jonathon Brown January 8, 2016 at 11:59 am #

        I wonder what thoughts went through Mel’s mind when Chris propositioned her on live TV. “I work hard to make it in this male dominated field, proving that a woman is just as good as a man. But what’s the point; at the end of the day I’m just seen for how I can sexually gratify others…”

        • Bettina January 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

          What a lot of rubbish! That’s a total distorted picture of what I was suggesting and it is precisely your type of overblown conclusion that lead over 1000 people to comment on The Australian’s website, supporting my article and objecting to the way the debate over this issue is being dominated by extreme views, such as your own.

    • Terri January 9, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

      I embrace the way Bettina calls it as it is with truth & common sence
      Always an interesting informative read.

  5. Sean McBride January 8, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Nicely put and common sense, of which there is a great shortage in modern Australia

  6. Brian Austen January 8, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    Well said and thankyou. Am I on my own in noticing that the ABC in particular seems so ready to jump on this sort of bandwagon. Their treatment was way over the top. Are they trying to harness the support of women to enhance their audience. Their continual ad nauseum references to the Philip Hughes accident is another way over the top targeting.

    I noticed that part of the commentary on the Gayle matter was the admission that so many media types reckoned they knew the sort of thing he would say. So why did they invite him to make comment?

  7. Clayton Baxter January 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Double standard out there, perfectly acceptable for a group of women to discuss a dildo party, then 5 minutes later a quip a male friend made about a cucumber resulted in him dragged over the coals. Can’t have it both ways ladies.

  8. joe January 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    100% correct. I’ve noticed how many women hate gender-based policies making women out to be helpless. And most of the anti-feminist FB pages and websites are actually run by women, some even excluding men.
    Also, women are commenting about how hard it is to find a single man with a good career going. Successful guys would never put their assets and career on the line for some broad in this gender-biased political climate.
    So now we have a situations like:
    * employers don’t want women in the workplace, due to the benefits payable and risk;
    * successful men don’t want relationships;
    * successful, hard-working women are not recognised for their true accomplishments, and are instead seen as obtaining their positions due to some gender-related hand out.
    Nice work feminism.

  9. Kris January 10, 2016 at 12:47 am #

    The guy was at work.
    Chris Gayle, is, (well I think he is..) one cool guy. Brilliant cricketer, and with an ego that’s forgivable because he’s pretty much earned it. Bit dated with the corny pickup lines and clunky approach but still, he’s kind of from a previous era, and maybe there really was some cultural difference (as he claimed).
    I wouldn’t rate it worthy of actual anger. But he was at work. So was she. He was acting inappropriately for that situation, and he was doing that in uniform. In that uniform, on camera, during the Big Bash, he’s a representative of his team, the League and the sponsors. If he wants to ‘flirt’, he’s better off doing so in his own time and not embarrassing the sponsors with ‘dad joke’ style pickup lines.
    I don’t think it’s that serious but he obviously needs to top up on the ‘dealing with the media’ training.

    • Bettina January 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

      Yes, Chris Gayle was at work but television interviews are showbiz and banter between men and women has always been part of the entertainment world – and still is, providing it is women doing the bantering – witness Maria Sharapova telling an interviewer she admired his form (which everyone seems to think was just a bit of fun.) And see this video:http://www.9jumpin.com.au/show/today/today-takeaway/2015/august/southern-stars-rene-farrell-asks-for-karl/. It shows Karl Stefanovic on the Today show interviewing the best-and-fairest player of the Australian Women’s cricket team after they won the ashes in the UK. She’s flirting in the most outrageous way with Karl – once again great fun. The many comments from women responding to my article show they are happy to have this spark continue to be part of interaction between men and women and object to people deciding it is no longer appropriate, particularly when many people are so hypocritical in deciding it is only taboo when it is a male doing the flirting.

  10. Kris January 10, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    Thanks for your reply, Bettina. To be honest, I think the main damage was done by the overly dramatic language of journalism. My own reaction to both Sharapova and Gayle, if I were the employer, would be something like: “yeah, cute but don’t do that again”. Over. When the papers yell ” Outrage” it’s misrepresenting the women who were fine with it and even women who weren’t taken by the playful Gayle. It’s divisive Confecting “outrage” also exaggerates mild criticism to the point where men feel they’re being attacked in anger. It doesn’t help resolve anything.
    We may have different opinions and perspective, and that’s all good, I’m mostly objecting to media manipulation around the topic..