The rising tide of sexual abuse revelations now swirling around Hollywood, spurred in part by the explosive case of predator Harvey Weinstein, has led to conversations about violence against women, consent, and how men wield power in order to spare themselves from the by-products of their actions.
The reckoning that many see this as has also started a movement for those who have suffered from a variety of abuse at the hands of powerful men—be it from workplace harassment to childhood traumas—under the banner #MeToo. This rallying cry has become so impactful in fact, that it is now officially TIME's Person of The Year, a part of their spotlight on women who they refer to as "The Silence Breakers". #MeToo is a statement of not only solidarity, but a kind of distress signal, one which transcends geographical boundaries, echoing far beyond the United States.
In Australia, where nearly one in five women has experienced sexual violence, and almost one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, the common refrain we're often met with is that "Australia says no to violence against women", but is this an all-encompassing principle?
#MeToo has moved so quickly across social media platforms, it's easy to imagine we've heard from everyone. But in Australia, the state's targeting of communities of colour, and the sensationalist, hyper-focus on Muslims and Arabs by media outlets, has been left out of the conversation on gender-based violence.
In February, one of the largest surveys ever conducted on the subject of racism and discrimination in Australia, commissioned by SBS with Western Sydney University, revealed that "31.6 per cent of respondents claimed to have 'negative' feelings towards Muslim Australians, 22.4 per cent claimed to have 'negative' feelings towards Middle-Eastern Australians".
There is a kind of moral hysteria that has taken over political circles in Australia, and not necessarily only those occupied by the likes of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party; the targets include the frightening caricatures of brown men and those awfully referred to as "boat people", as well as women hidden behind niqabs and burqas. Hanson is of course no stranger to theatrical anti-Muslim displays, which most recently included a stunt in parliament where she donned a burqa.
This performance came at the heel of her anti-burqa campaign, one that used Islamophobic hysteria, and gendered language targeting Muslim women, in order to pressure her colleagues in the Senate to passing stricter legislation. The language Hanson employs is meant to justify not only harsher laws against Muslim women, but leads to bigots to view them as targets.
When it comes to anti-Muslim violence overall, the largest victims of discriminatory policies as well as physical and verbal abuse are Muslim women. In a study conducted by the Islamophobia Register of Australia, between 2014 and 2015 there were 243 cases of verified Islamophobic incidents, and of those incidents nearly 80 per cent of victims were women, and "while lone males were more likely to be the perpetrator, lone Muslim women tended to be the victims."
In her book, Gendered Islamophobia: hate crime against Muslim Women, author Barbara Perry argues that the way in which Muslim women occupy intersecting spaces leaves them vulnerable to violence in ways that are unique and often overlooked by social scientists, as she writes,
"For these women, the Islamophobic violence they experience is different in its dynamics and impacts from that perpetrated against Muslim men; yet their gendered violence is experienced in ways that are distinct from that experienced by differently raced women."
Australia's women's rights programs need to expand beyond the focus on private violence, or the type that happens between intimate partners, relatives, and other close parties. In order to strengthen the fight against gendered violence - and amplify the philosophy behind #MeToo -- we need to have bigger conversations. We need public discourse on public violence motivated by anti-Muslim animus, and misconceptions of how Muslim women are perceived by larger society—where they exist as either in desperate need of saving from their own life choices, or as nothing more than incubators used by extremist elements.
The otherisation of Muslim women in Australian society has long excused the mendacious discrimination they face, and as we come to terms with a post-Weinstein world, where accountability remains a priority of all those impacted by similar abuse, we must draw attention to those who have been stripped of their power by politicians and pundits who are shaping the way we consume our politics.
It is happening here, in our suburbs, in our parliament houses, in our schools, and it is being plastered across our television screens. #MeToo is a mayday call, one which we must respond with solidarity. It is time to make gendered violence, in all its pernicious forms, visible.
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