It's Monday, 3pm, over in Bunbury, Western Australia. In the local cinema complex, three women arrive at the office of their local federal member. They are one of the scouting parties for the army which formed around the Women's March 4 Justice, and they aren't done yet.
Lead scout is Aoife McGreal. She's been out of the paid workforce for 10 years but has four kids under 10, so no shortage of labouring there. Now McGreal has found another vocation: advocating for women. As the March ramped up, McGreal, along with other women in Bunbury, wrote to her local member asking for a meeting to discuss the horrors which face women in Australia. Sexual assault, workplace sexual harassment, women's access to justice.
But when McGreal appeared on local Bunbury radio, the host asked if she had heard from local member Nola Marino. Nothing until midway through the radio interview. Marino's name will be familiar to all of Australia now. She's the member of parliament whose office furniture was used by a desk jockey for a solo sex act, or whatever masturbation in the office is called these days. Not sure about the rest of you, but I've never found my workplace a great place for relief no matter what form it comes in.
The meeting was unpleasant and unproductive. The women weren't given a specific time they could have and were interrupted at the 25-minute mark. The advice from Marino to the women: "Use your time wisely."
I asked Ms Marino's office for comments on how she thought the meeting went: "I am always happy to meet with my constituents. However I treat all meetings as private and confidential." Sadly, that meant I couldn't confirm whether it was true an adviser had suggested women's empowerment workshops as a cure for what besets women in Australia. McGreal assures me she replied it was men, not workshops, who could fix the problem. And when McGreal asked about consent in the education curriculum, Marino replied Australians needed a clear definition of what consent is. That was a very surprising response to the women.
The seat of Bunbury is exactly the kind of place where support for the Coalition is strong. Earlier this week, Essential polling revealed more unpleasantness. As Australia woke up each day to further revelations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct centred around Parliament House, support for the Prime Minister among the women of Australia slumped, at what Peter Lewis, executive director of Essential, described as a giddying rate. In just two months, one in six women withdrew their approval of the PM.
And guess whose support is stubborn? Yeah, the men. They are rock solid, and, in some places, building. Looking at the Essential polling data, some aspects are completely depressing for those who hope there will be any change in the culture at all. From January to March, approval for the PM increased among men aged 18-34, from 56 per cent to 67 per cent. I get these guys don't have children yet, to borrow a reason for empathy from our PM, but surely they have seen horrors in their local workplace? Then again, maybe they are the horrors in their local workplace and love that the Prime Minister is ignoring the march of furious women. But this love and support for the leader is also very strong in non-capital cities, moving from 59 per cent approval to 70 per cent approval in eight weeks. No wonder Marino isn't responding with open arms. Support among male Coalition voters is very strong, at 92 per cent. At least male Labor voters are showing some conscience, approval down from 45 to 40 per cent.
How can men be so unsympathetic to the stories coming from Parliament House and beyond? As Peter Lewis says, it requires both sympathy and empathy. Morrison's initial response to the bravery of Brittany Higgins, whose allegation of sexual assault in Parliament House motivated so many women to speak out, was more likely the authentic expression of his views; the later tears and commitment more about his electoral fortunes or fear of losing them.
UNSW criminologist Michael Salter says gender equality and sexual violence are now caught up in a culture war, the kind of war where nothing useful ever happens.
He says Morrison is clearly out of step with the contemporary conversation around gender equality and with feminist politics. But it also signals a worrying trend: that Morrison understands that his base is elsewhere, forming the core of a feminist backlash. No wonder he appointed a "Prime Minister for Women" to take some of the heat.
"The variability in the polls between men and women is shoring up a certain male vote. Morrison is adopting an electoral strategy here that is appealing to the anti-feminist vote - and it may be a larger vote than we realise," says Salter.
And even more concerning are the men themselves who are so solid in their support of Morrison, even as their sisters are sexually assaulted and sexually harassed at work. Salter points out that it is men in their late teens and 20s who may not want their own practices interrogated.
"On the one hand, young men tend to hold more egalitarian views, but it is a period of time when they are most at risk of perpetrating of sexual assault," he says.
Women's March 4 Justice lead organiser Janine Hendry is not surprised by the stubbornness of the male vote: "They don't want to hear the message because their lives have been so comfortable for so long, they are fearful their privilege will be eroded."
So that's a lesson for the next steps for the women. Sure, visit the local member. They will just respond with the usual platitudes. But make time to drop into the local footy club. It's there that the women of Australia might be able to change minds and hearts.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.