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I ask you, "piercing eyes". What a bleeding idiot.
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Federal minister Jamie Briggs quits
In an uncomfortable press conference, Minister for Cities Jamie Briggs quits Malcolm Tunbull's frontbench over an incident in a Hong Kong with a female public servant. (Vision courtesy of ABC News 24)
I completely fail to understand how a young man, at all interested in politics, could think it was fine to give a colleague a kiss on the cheek, let alone a kiss on the neck.
I struggle to understand how a 38-year-old man of any description, of any background, let alone a minister, could think it was perfectly OK to comment on a colleague's physical appearance.
A colleague. Not a friend. Not a partner. A person with whom he should have had a professional relationship. Unless you are married to someone with whom you work, the answer to the question of whether you can touch someone at work should always be no. No pashing. No pecking. Opposite sex. Same sex. Hands off. How hard can that be?
The tale of Jamie Briggs, yet another failed Liberal minister, should make us all worried. Not just all feminists. Not just all women (although fewer and fewer women reject the label feminist). But all of us. We already know that.
Because the fact that a politician could fail to understand that this was inappropriate behaviour – and could not control that behaviour – tells us that corporate culture has not kept up with modern values. It tells us that those teams of human resources specialists – or partners as they are so often called – have flunked. They have not been able to cut through to the key and core values required for us all be able to work together in respectful environments.
We already know through the sterling work of the Australian Human Rights Commission that one in five women experience sexual harassment in the workplace at some time; and around one in 20 men also report experiencing sexual harassment.
This is happening right now in the country in which you live. It's staring or leering, it's unnecessary familiarity. It's a peck on the cheek or neck, or an uncomfortable hand on the back. And that's the stuff that's 'legal'. It can also be, as the AHRC says, "behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications".
Human resources departments should work in the same way as vaccinations – preventative medicine. They are failing to do that right now and instead have to work as emergency departments, cleaning up a mess for which they are partly responsible. HR departments are meant to be setting the tone, improving the culture. They are not.
The fact that Briggs resigned shows that Malcolm Turnbull – at least – understood that this would turn out to be a terrible problem for a government which struggled to have any kind of relationship with women voters. The Abbott months were catastrophic for women voters, as polls showed; and the Briggs incident would only serve to prove that nothing, nothing, had changed.
Of course, this is not just about sexual harassment. It's about the way men treat women in the workplace in general – and sexual harassment is just one way in which women are kept in their place. We are subject to policing by men every single day – from when and how it is appropriate to speak to when and how it is appropriate to climb the ladder. And the way in which we are policed and monitored is a series of subtle and not-so-subtle indicators from the men with which we work.
I absolutely applaud the young diplomatic staffer for speaking out because too many of us are frightened to say anything. She has shown enormous courage and bravery to be able to say that she felt uncomfortable. Complaining about the behaviour of a senior person in your workplace can be terrifying and it's so encouraging that she had the confidence and presence of mind to be able to articulate how Briggs's behaviour made her feel.
It turns out that speaking out about the harassment we receive in the workplace is often as bad as the harassment itself. We are punished twice. Once through the act of harassment itself and once through trying to get it dealt with in a corporate setting.
Every day we women are told we live in a world where equality has been achieved. That we no longer need to be so worried, so watchful, because we will be treated with the respect and dignity that we all deserve. But Briggs is one in a long line of men to demonstrate that the workplace is still a hostile place for women, even when you reach the upper echelons of politics in this country.
I am quite perplexed by those Australians who said that they thought we are expecting unreasonable high standards from men in the workplace.
We are not setting the bar high enough. If we did, resignations like Briggs's would be commonplace. Instead, women leave their jobs – or continue to suffer – because they are too frightened to speak out.