Who’s afraid of women who speak their truth?

Last week, an articulate, passionate, intelligent Egyptian feminist with flaming red hair said the word “fuck” several times on the ABC’s Q&A episode. She said it as part of her own message – “Fuck the patriarchy” – and she said it when quoting another feminist. She also called Donald Trump a ‘fascist fuck’ and suggested our own PM is a mini version of Donald Trump. She discussed our parallel path with the American experience. People are rising up around the world, she pointed out, risking their lives to protest against corporate control and climate change, and the Australian PM wants to ban boycotts. 

An Aboriginal woman said the Australian police force was designed to perpetuate white, colonialist, patriarchal forms of violence, particularly against our Indigenous peoples, and that attempting to reform the police in Australia was a waste of time; that we need to find other ways to deal with the issues that our police are currently expected to resolve. 

An American older woman said that the attempt by our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to make it unlawful for consumers to agitate for change by boycotting or otherwise challenging corporations and institutions that harm the planet is “ridiculous”. This same panellist spoke of the endemic ageism against both young and old in our society and workplaces, and of the need to get past the – largely patriarchal – belief that a person’s value as a human being diminishes with age. 

An Australian feminist said the political system in Australia – as in many parts of the world – is steeped in colonialism, patriarchy and male violence and that our Prime Minister is part of the group that is most privileged by that system. 

All of the panellists spoke eloquently about the depth and embeddedness of discrimination against people who are not white males in this country.

None of this is new. And yet, by Friday, the ABC had announced it will conduct an investigation into this episode of Q&A because there had been complaints about the language used (presumably the fact an Egyptian feminist said “fuck” several times) and that the content was offensive to some. And – what a surprise – when I immediately went to watch the programme on ABC’s iView, this episode was not available and I was presented with a message saying I should check my internet connection. Other Q&A episodes on iView were working just fine, so it was definitely not my internet connection. I found the episode on the Q&A website, and was left wondering if this is a new form of censorship visited by our government on the national broadcaster – removing content that a few people find ‘offensive’.   

Which bit was offensive, I wonder, and to whom? Were our Indigenous people offended by an Indigenous woman telling the audience exactly what it’s like to deal with the police and the justice system in Australia when you are a member of our Indigenous communities? Were women who have suffered violence at the hands of men offended by the clear linkages drawn between the perpetrators of that violence and patriarchal systems of control, including colonialism and white supremacy? Were the 30% of Australians who were born overseas offended by a passionate defence of their rights to live here without discrimination and harm? Were our elders who rely on the aged care system offended by the disgust expressed by panellists in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care? Were older women who have suffered humiliation and discrimination in the workplace offended by an older woman saying “this is what happens, and it is not good enough”? 

Or was it, again, the Egyptian feminist who was found to be offensive when she asked, “How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us?” and suggested that a violent response to the ongoing rape and murder of women may be the only way to get men and the patriarchy to change. The ensuing panel discussion sent a clear message that violence is not the first, second, or even third option – it’s what happens when all other avenues have been tried and have failed; when the dominant rulers refuse to listen or take steps to create serious change. Yet this discussion has been described as inciting feminists to violence, fuelling the apparent need for censorship and an investigation. 

So who, exactly, was offended? Our Prime Minister for being called ‘ridiculous’, ‘fascist’, and identified as a member of the privileged elite? For having the influence of his evangelical christian ideology on his leadership scrutinised? Was it the white Australians who would prefer not to have to think about the consequences of 200 years of colonialism for our Indigenous peoples, or about the endemic racism that runs in a strong current just under the surface of our “she’ll be right” Australian way of life? Or people who just get offended by the word “fuck”, particularly when it is uttered by a woman?   

I’m confused. No, just kidding. I have a fairly good idea of who was ‘offended’ by this episode of Q&A, and I can pretty much guarantee it wasn’t anyone who identifies as any of the following:

  1. Older or younger people who have suffered or are likely to suffer age discrimination
  2. Members of our Indigenous peoples
  3. Feminists
  4. Members of minority groups (note to Ashton Applewhite: women are not a minority group)
  5. Immigrants and refugees
  6. People living in aged care
  7. Women who have experienced or understand male violence
  8. Activists against governments who want to ignore climate change
  9. Activists against organisations who want to ignore the impacts of their actions on climate change
  10. Front line services who deal with the results of domestic abuse, discrimination and patriarchal violence

It seems that whoever was offended by this Q&A episode, and whatever it was that pressed their particular buttons, they couldn’t possibly have been representative of the majority of Australians. So why is the ABC treating this particular Q&A episode as if it is poisonous? (Psst…. I heard that 200 people complained. Seriously. 200. You see more than that on mildly confronting LinkedIn posts, and LinkedIn doesn’t go into meltdown over it even if sometimes they probably should). 

The conclusion I am left to draw is that what a small minority of people found offensive about this particular Q&A episode was that it contained women speaking their truth and criticising our political systems and some of those women were not white.  And the word fuck was used with great abandon. What does it say about Australia in 2019 that this is enough to prompt censorship, sabre rattling and doom-laden investigations? It says that what these women had to say was absolutely accurate. 

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