The March 4 Justice: How Are We Still Here?
“Hey hey! Ho ho! Christian Porter’s got to go.”
“Rapists lie, women die.”
“No more smirk, no more shirk, women must be safe at work.”
These were just some of the chants that rang through the streets of several Australian cities last Monday, March 15. The March 4 Justice saw women and men take to the streets to express their anger and frustration over the government’s handling of sexual assault reports.
If you’re not familiar with the recent catalysts for this march, there’s a lot to unpack. First, there’s Brittany Higgins, who revealed that she was raped by a colleague in March 2019 inside Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds’ office. Since Higgins has come forward publicly and launched a formal complaint with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the reactions of politicians have been…mixed. Several of them outright disheartening. And that’s putting it mildly.
First, there was Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Ah, ScoMo. In addition to his staggering displays of inaction, the prime minister has also conveyed a troubling sense of indifference following the allegations. Until one press conference, that is, where he iterated that his wife Jenny had cleared things up for him. She has a way of doing that, evidently. According to ScoMo, Jenny urged him to think about how he would want such matters handled if it was his daughters who were the victims. It was then – and only then apparently – that the prime minister was able to muster up some empathy for Higgins. When he looked at the issue as a husband and a father of daughters. After all, what are women and girls here for if not to remind men of what it means to have a conscience?
Then there was Minister Reynolds, who called Higgins a “lying cow” following her incredibly brave candour. Although Reynolds has since issued a half-assed apology for her remarks, the damage was already done. As much as I hate to admit it, this one almost bothers me more. Men are idiots. We know this. They don’t understand so much of what women experience – because they’ve never had to. So, I wouldn’t have expected anything more or anything less than the tone deaf, out-of-touch response we got from Scott Morrison. While his response is perhaps more insidious, Reynolds’ is outright cruel. And it’s coming from a woman.
Oftentimes, we as women expect solidarity from other women. We forget that women are still just people. And some of them are bad people. I constantly find myself falling into the pitfall of expecting more from women because, surely, they must just get it. They know what it’s like to feel scared walking home alone at night. They know what it’s like to be catcalled or ogled at. To be made to feel less than because of their sex. But internalized misogyny remains rampant across all genders. Women may know better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they do better.
Of course, Brittany Higgins’ claim wasn’t the only sexual assault allegation at the forefront of the march. There was also the historical allegation lodged against Attorney General Christian Porter. Last year, a woman penned an anonymous letter to Scott Morrison alleging that Porter had raped her when she was a teen in the 1980s. Once the letter was received, the prime minister quickly handed it over to the AFP and NSW Police, deeming it a matter for the authorities. In other words, he shucked it as soon as he read the word rape: “Not my problem, mate, this one’s yours!”
Despite some back and forth between the complainant and the police, seemingly no progress was made. In June 2020, she withdrew her complaint in an email to NSW Police. Less than 24 hours later, she killed herself. In the wake of her death, NSW Police made the decision not to pursue an investigation. A truly abhorrent ending to a tragic story.
These are just two of the millions of women who experience sexual assault and/or sexual violence in Australia. These are just two of the billions of women who have experienced it worldwide. These are just two of the women we marched for.
And march we did. I joined thousands of men and women, walking with them through the streets of Brisbane, chanting and cheering. The shows of solidarity were many. People cheering from the windows of their apartments. Women escaping their 9-5 for a few minutes, stepping outside their office buildings to clap for us in appreciation. Perhaps the most poignant display, though, were the elderly women who sat to the side of the street, posted up in lawn chairs with bells and signs. Women who have long seen such fights but can no longer march along with the crowd. Women who probably thought they wouldn’t have to be marching anymore. It was written all over their faces: how are we still here?
It was one of many stark reminders that we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, as we continue to live under the shroud of the patriarchy, where impunity takes precedence over justice, it often feels that we are further away than ever.