If The Greens Want Credibility on Gender Issues, The Response To Misbehaviour Can’t Be To Attack Women

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Following a string of sexual assault and harassment cases, the response to a furore this week shows the Greens aren’t learning, writes Lauren Gillin.

Last weekend a Greens politician was photographed at a party function, surrounded by women making a gesture that most people would recognise as simulating cunnilingus.

Poor form for any politician when you consider that women including myself have had strange men direct this gesture towards us when we’re simply walking down the street minding our own business.

But this politician is a Green, from the party that loudly and proudly values integrity and equality, more so than any other. So you’d think he’d admit straight away to the lapse in judgement, apologise unreservedly and commit to doing better.

And you’d be wrong.

What’s unfolded since that photo was posted on social media, then reposted into various Green spaces, is indicative of a cultural cognitive dissonance within our progressive party. The management of a carefully crafted media image even if the cost is the safety and wellbeing of women.

It’s an obsessive fixation with avoiding adverse publicity that’s seen a slew of bungled cases of sexual assault and harassment.

The first instinct in case after case seems to be to protect the institution rather than the person – usually a young woman who has been subject to assault or harassment.

It’s created a culture where men know they can behave badly without consequence and if a woman challenges them she will be the one attacked and discredited.

Perhaps this is unsurprising given some Greens now state openly, in all seriousness that “there is no social justice on a dead planet”.

In other words, challenging sexism, racism, gaining full rights for LGBTIQ Australians, ending mandatory detention for asylum seekers, are all subservient to campaigning on environmental issues.

Since I posted the photo in a Greens facebook group asking why a Greens politician thought it appropriate to show such indifference to how a casually sexist gesture might impact women, I’ve been labelled a “viper”, and both my employment and my employer have been threatened.

Not just by members in private but publicly by a man who has been pre-selected as a candidate in the next federal election.

All Greens should surely be doing all they can to create a culture where everyone, especially our elected representatives, think this behaviour is inappropriate.

But the response from some has been to attack my character.

The politician in the photo didn’t reach out to me. Instead his staff implied in a conversation with a journalist (which they also attempted to keep him from publishing) that my concern was confected, really just a factional power play done on behalf of my male former employer.

At all times, in all the Greens offices I’ve worked in, I’ve had my own politics, voice and agency. Time and time again I see men supposedly on the left of politics automatically assume this isn’t the case for their female colleagues.

Dismissing concern or complaints from women in the party as attempts at political smear is a tried and trusted tactic to delegitimise and dismiss those women as well as those concerns.

It’s helped to create a culture of cover up and unaccountability for powerful men and it works: commentators on social media bought into the idea that me raising the issue publicly was really a vicious leak to the Daily Telegraph.

Similarly when a young woman in the ACT Greens went public recently about being sexually assaulted and enduring a complaint process that worked to silence and disempower her, Bob Brown used his public profile and authority to undermine her credibility, in order to protect the reputation of a powerful man who the woman said had handled her complaint badly.

Brown’s public intervention provoked #metoo graffiti labelling the Greens hypocritical. What was the current leaderships’ response to this? Nothing.

It is any wonder men in the party feel free to threaten and discredit women with impunity.

When even high profile women take on power groupings within the party, what happens to them. Just ask Alex Bhathal and Lee Rhiannon.

NSW Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon. (IMAGE: Screencap, 4 Corners)

It’s an indictment on us that we’ve created a culture where women are attacked and undermined for our legitimate concerns. If we are who we say we are, instead of trying to discredit me, the office of the politician in question and his supporters should have listened and been accountable.

If we are who we say we are, why did we pre-select a candidate who would publicly threaten a woman for merely questioning what was questionable behaviour from a prominent man.

If we are who we say we are, why didn’t we stand by the young woman in the ACT, even if it meant censuring our former leader when he chose to publicly undermined her?

You may not find the cunnilingus gesture in question personally offensive but there is no doubt it’s synonymous with sexual harassment and the objectification of women.

A Greens politician performing it is an error of judgement, the response should have been a genuine apology and a promise to do better.

Instead the party discredits and threatens because a woman dared to question them publicly.

If the Greens are to have any credibility with our voters we need to fix this.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault or harassment support is available by calling 1800 424 017 and speaking to a qualified trauma counsellor at the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

Lauren Gillin a Greens Staffer and member of the Greens NSW.

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