Men like Burke grow tall when no one's clipping the weeds
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Men like Burke grow tall when no one's clipping the weeds

I worked for a short while as a producer on A Current Affair. I know. Great is my shame and long will be the scourging of my soul for it.

I recall two things from that time. Jana Wendt was a lovely human being and one of the most cultured and intelligent people I have ever met.

And Don Burke was held in low regard by my fellow producers.

The network loved him because his gardening show was a ratings monster. I don't know how many millions of dollars a year it made from ad sales, but if you piled it all up into a gigantic money mountain I imagine you'd need the Channel Nine chopper to get over it.

Don Burke was back on Nine this week, being grilled by A Current Affair's Tracy Grimshaw over allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.

Don Burke was back on Nine this week, being grilled by A Current Affair's Tracy Grimshaw over allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.

Photo: Channel Nine/A Current Affair
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Burke, now the subject of serious misconduct allegations, has retained a defamation lawyer.

So there ends any discussion in this column of the allegations against him.

Elsewhere, though, it's been a hell of a year for sexual harassment by powerful men, especially in the entertainment industry, and it would seem to be getting worse. But only if you're a bloke.

The hell of it is, women have been putting up with this shit since ... well ... since forever.

And while our fascination and horror is engaged by stories of prominent men brought low by their foul behaviour – Louis CK. Seriously. WTF were you thinking? – most women are not abused and belittled by celebrities.

They are not crushed in spirit and banished to the wastelands by Hollywood producers and famous politicians. Most women who suffer subjugation and humiliation do so at the hands of average men.

As this year has gone on, I've been asking myself whether anything will change. Could it even get worse? Not with more revelations. They're coming for sure. But could this moment of discontinuity be itself disrupted by a savage misogynist backlash that puts women in their place again?

You'd hope not.

I hope not.

And I do have one reason for that hope; that the predatory nature of capitalism will completely overwhelm the predatory nature of men.

The past few years have seen some significant cases of women pushing back against the toxic masculinity of corporate cultures. Most often this took the form of court cases for wrongful dismissal or discrimination. Sometimes the settlements ran into millions of dollars.

Eventually the market will begin to punish companies that wilfully expose investors to this sort of risk.

Increasingly, female executives will not stand for it.

Some male business leaders won't, either. They will simply eliminate the risk. Not just the risk of employing predators but the greater corporate risk of protecting them.

Eventually, you'd hope, there'd be no place for this.

But simply hoping won't make it happen.

People, usually men for now, have to take responsibility; for instance, when they hear of serious allegations of misconduct by the hugely popular host of their top-rating TV show.

John Birmingham

John Birmingham is a columnist and blogger for the Brisbane Times. He is also an award winning magazine writer and the author of Leviathan, the Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, which won the National Award for Non-Fiction. He amuses himself in his down time by writing novels which improve with altitude.

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