Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce
Last Tuesday, the 16th of August, an anti-gay-marriage rally was held at Parliament House in Canberra. In attendance were a couple of conservative members of the federal parliament and several hundred other “pro-marriage” supporters, who took the opportunity to mock and disparage the idea of non-heterosexual marriage in front of television cameras and to the cheers and applause of the crowd. The arguments made were, for the most part, the same as have been circling since the first gay marriage proposals were put forward years ago. You know, the classics – gay marriage is a destruction of the institution of marriage, it’s damaging to today’s society, it’s not what the Bible says, etc etc. So basically, nothing to get too heated about. One should never get annoyed by reactionary, anti-gay-marriage politicians, as the old saying goes. Nevertheless, there was one part of this rally I certainly did get heated about. In fact, it downright worried me.
The headlines were made by independent MP Bob Katter’s statement that same-sex marriage “deserve[d] to be laughed at and ridiculed”. However, for me, this statement was far from the most troubling thing said last Tuesday. Instead, it was Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce’s words that sent my blood cold. As news.com.au reported:
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said his four daughters would be affected if same sex marriage was allowed.
“We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband and I want that to happen for them. I don’t want any legislator to take that right away from me.”‘
I could barely believe it. Joyce’s statement was both deeply patriarchal and utterly condescending. But what’s worse is that the underlying mentality that led to it reaches beyond LGBT issues into more general gender relations. It illustrates the continually shaky, male-defined and vulnerable position of women in modern society. It also shows how feminist issues are still inextricably linked to any non-heterosexual debates in public life. I mean, who even said anything about heterosexual women here? Who’s taking the right of a man and a woman to marry away if we add gay marriage to the spectrum? What’s Joyce getting at? But here’s the crux:
“[T]he best *protection* for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband…”
In 1975, Susan Brownmiller, a second-wave radical feminist in the US, wrote the pioneering work on the politics of rape entitled “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape”. In it, Brownmiller presented her argument that rape is men’s biggest instrument in their continuing dominance over women, and that all men – even those who don’t rape – benefit from it by its intrinsic power to keep women in a state of fear. Rape as a weapon is thus used by rapists and non-rapists alike, as the mere possibility of man-woman rape (a) makes women generally fear men, and (b) makes women feel like they need men to protect them against other men. Women can’t protect themselves or each other as each is just as susceptible to rape as the next.
The work isn’t an easy read. It’s confronting and sobering for women the world over, as it presents physical characteristics as the cause of women’s helplessness against male dominance. What’s worst is Brownmiller’s warning that all that is needed is a very small number of rapists to create this situation, meaning that only a few twisted minds are needed to exert control over a whole population. While some have criticised Brownmiller’s hypothesis on racial and masculinist lines, claiming that men and women can come together to oppose sexual violence and coercion, and even post-feminists say that women don’t need protection against men these days no more than men need protection against women, the hypothesis remains a troubling one. I personally couldn’t help but think, “just don’t let non-rapist men get wind of this, ’cause soon enough they’ll realise they have that power too, without having to do anything!”
So let’s come back to Barnaby Joyce. By crying out that the only way his four daughters will be safe and “protected” is by being in relationships with men, Joyce is ensuring the continued existence of this rape-fear situation. In this day and age. I almost fell off my chair when I read it. Sure, Joyce, as a parent, has a legitimate interest in protecting his children. But what’s ironic, what Joyce doesn’t realise, is that he himself is contributing to this climate of danger for women all over, including his daughters! To think that a 21st century Australian politician could say such a thing, and at an event on the topic of recognising (as “marriages”) loving relationships… We’re not talking about abusive relationships here!
Joyce’s statement shows his clear confusion in the matter. The thing is, it would be okay if Bob “mad-as-a-hatter” Katter had said it. Everyone knows he’s somewhat confused, and no one on the large scale really takes his words seriously. But Joyce is a respected politician. His views are influential and his ideas have a strong following the country over. I think that what women need protection against isn’t homosexual marriages, as his supporters at the rally might be led to believe. What women need protection against are fear-perpetuating, public male figures like Barnaby Joyce. And quick. Otherwise we’ve all got something to fear.
– Barry Blanc