There’s a line in the Macklemore song ‘Same Love’ that goes, “Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / “Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily / We become so numb to what we’re saying…” It gracefully outlines how casual discrimination can be in our every day conversations, our online interactions, our lives. We throw away comments without any regard for consequences.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that line today in relation to the coverage of the incident regarding Caroline Wilson. For those late to the party, a number of men including AFL club presidents Eddie McGuire and James Brayshaw, made comments on a radio station about holding her underwater and drowning her. Exceptionally poor taste, no matter which way you look at it.
For some reason, no one fires up the football community quite like Caroline. But regardless of whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her journalism or not, surely there’s a line that’s crossed when violence is threatened, no matter what the context is. I’ve read a hundred comments today that say “oh we wouldn’t be outraged if they said that about a man” and try and brush it off like the problem lies with the victim, not the offenders. Our outrage that a woman should be upset about a comment that was apparently a joke.
Thing is, much like apologies that start with the immortal words “I’m sorry if…” it’s not so much about the intent but the impact.
Regardless of gender, the comments amount to bullying. If we’re going to tell people to live in the fantasy land of possible situations like we wouldn’t care if it was said to a man, then imagine this: imagine if it was your son or daughter, your family member or friend, in their workplace and you heard that their colleagues had been making statements like they should be drowned. The manager of your 15-year-old son who works at Maccas. Your 21-year-old daughter who’s just got her first job out of uni. Your best mate comes home from work and tells you someone said that about them. Would you be mad? Would you laugh it off as just a joke? I wouldn’t. I’d be pretty pissed off.
So why is it apparently OK in this context?
One of the biggest causes for concern in those comments and the group-think mentality that followed, was how quickly and casually violence is implied. We despair of courts filled with the stories of victims of one-punch assaults and wonder how, as a society, we reached this point. It’s the utter casualness with which we regard violence and this casualness just serves to reinforce that it’s OK to think or behave this way. It’s fine to threaten someone, to call them names, to bully them, to assault them. And when it happens, if some people object to it happening, then the fault lies with them not the offenders. We’ve become numb.
I stopped reading a lot of the comments on social media today because my heart hurt. It’s 2016 and the fact that people out there still believe this type of bullying behaviour is acceptable and want to make excuses for it just makes me incredibly sad. And that’s even without getting into some of the personal attacks and derogatory remarks thrown at Wilson and those who defended her by ignorant idiots out in the community. Her Age colleague Emma Quayle defended her against one such comment and was then sent hardcore porn. Quayle made a great observation that while she’s never felt anything but respect from people she’s worked with or around, she “shouldn’t have to feel ‘lucky’ that I don’t really cop all that much from readers at all”.
The drowning comment wasn’t received as a joke and it was barely intended as a joke. For those who want to write it off or claim double standards because Wilson sat in a studio at a radio station earlier and took criticism from a colleague, they need to appreciate the difference between saying something to someone who is part of the conversation and immediately able respond and a group of people attacking someone who isn’t there and cannot defend themself in that context.
Women aren’t precious; we can take a joke. (We even make them on occasion, too. Oh the horror.) We’re up for banter, for discussion, for criticism, for humour. But again, what is actually funny about this? What is acceptable? To either gender? It’s not just about women, so anyone who thinks it is is just kidding themselves and probably trying to deflect from the genuine issue at hand. Because it’s about how casually violence is referenced and how easily someone is bullied by their peers. It’s about how people who should be leaders and role models and more than old enough to know better, have utterly let us down.
Surely it’s not too much to expect we are all on the same page with this.
My one small beacon of hope is that even a week on, there are people who have been prepared to be outraged about it and refused to stay quiet. In the midst of abject ignorance, there are those willing to put their hand up and say this type of behaviour is not only wrong, but completely unacceptable. So while my heart breaks over every fool who claims Wilson and her supporters have overreacted, it’s mended a little by those willing to speak up in support and call out the idiots.
There just might be a chance for us yet.
“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.” – Lietenant General David Morrison, AO.
For many reasons, long and varied, this blog has had to take a back seat this year. However I’m finally in a position to devote some time to it again and I’m looking forward to it. I sat at Etihad Stadium yesterday and watched the young GWS team eventually overrun the second string Bombers outfit, thinking about how great this game can be at times. Sometimes you just need a moment of reflection. My beloved Port Adelaide won’t make finals this year, which is desperately upsetting, but I’m hoping that they (like me) can draw a line through things and come out fighting for the second half of the season.