It’s More Than Just About The Way We Treat Women

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AFL Football personalities Eddie McGuire, Danny Frawley and James Brayshaw have found themselves embroiled in controversy over comments made on live radio about another journalist, Caroline Wilson. While obviously an extraordinarily inappropriate way to treat a woman, placing the matter into the ‘violence against women’ basket is really limiting and not the total point.

The fact is that writing about this week’s very public issue arising from the school boy antics of a group of Australian Football League heavyweights makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s difficult for a number of reasons:

1. Whatever is written or said about the topic risks the ire of those who have every right to be sensitive about violence toward women
2. There is a growing distaste toward political correctness and its tendency to silence open discussion.
3. The people embroiled in the controversy are powerful in our society and hold significant influence over the mass market here in Australia.

I want to make comment because the incident, while looking especially poor because it was a group of men toward a woman, was an example of bullying behaviour more than anything else. In my view the issue is not substantially about a pack of men demonstrating sexist or intentionally inappropriate or violent behaviour toward a woman. It is about a group of men demonstrating bullying behaviour toward another person.

Caroline Wilson is a seasoned and challenging professional journalist. She writes articles that often make people angry. Her articles often hit on highly sensitive issues for a predominantly male industry. No better example of Wilson feisty and determined journalism was the pursuit of a ‘just outcome’ in the Essendon drug allegations saga. Frankly, she was quite relentless often leaving those within the industry uncomfortable and upset. It could be said, she did her job and made very public and, potentially damaging allegations. This was typical Wilson journalism.

When I read the transcript, I see a group of powerful media personalities exacting a kind of public revenge on an industry foe. A foe who has often challenged them. They are men with their fingers in a number of pies leaving them open to feeling hurt in a whole lot of different ways. I don’t, however, view their remarks as being particularly aimed at a woman. Had Caroline Wilson been a male journalist, I believe they still might have made such comments. This is not a defence, but it is suggesting that what may seem ‘lad’ behaviour at the time, can explode into a serious issue when ill-conceived.

As an Australian Rules football addict, former junior football coach, loving father of a daughter and son, I find domestic violence of any kind abhorrent. However to attach this incident to ‘violence against women’ alone is missing the point. I do understand why it gets construed in this way but I don’t think it really nails the point. It narrows the field and fails to emphasise our obligation to protect any person from inappropriate and unjust behaviour. Woman, man or child. My greatest concern with these live radio comments is that young people may think behaviour that is degrading, belittling and even mildly threatening is a way to deal with being upset, angry or a way of having a joke.

Simply,humiliating another because we disagree with their views, – woman or man – is unacceptable, illogical and, in this case, unprofessional. It reminds me of how a group of secondary schoolers treat the intellectual, opinionated kid that says things they don’t like. If it happened in a workplace or classroom, it would be bullying behaviour. The behaviour wasn’t funny and it was a cheap shot on public radio. It was no way to treat a woman. It was no way to treat a man. In my view, it was an unacceptable way to treat another human being.


  1. I’d agree with your commentary *if* you could point to a similar event where the target of the behaviour was a white, Anglo-Saxon, powerful male.

    Unfortunately, and while AFL provides some of the more visible examples it isn’t limited to AFL, all the examples of this sort of ostracism and bullying are of those from traditionally powerful groups against those not in the white, Anglo in-crowd; I’m thinking Adam Goodes & Julia Gillard, as well as Caroline Wilson.

    There is a reason why these incidents are interpreted through feminist & race-based lenses; because they are the sort of excellent examples of how misogynist and racist language are so ingrained in our culture as to be virtually unconscious.

    Maybe if we stop and think about how we treat people who aren’t part of our in-group, we do end up treating everyone better.


  2. Absolutely agree, Stephen! It’s a bigger issue and yet one which is so much more fundamental and simple, and the media and public comment on one aspect only (i.e. against women) is limiting and even divisive. Thanks for encouraging us to take the opportunity to reflect on this in the broader perspective.


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