Pastor's Blog

by Pastor Robert Griffith

Pastor's Blog

by Pastor Robert Griffith

Brittany and Grace

by | Feb 10, 2022

If you are living in Australia at present and you see those two names above, you will no doubt already have an opinion about the huge impact that Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame have had in our nation in recent months as they have sought to focus attention on the plight of women who have been victims of sexual harassment and abuse. The personal experience of each of these women is quite different, but they both point to the same issue – how women are treated in workplaces and in our society as a whole. Brittany and Grace have made a number of speeches over the past year and as the 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace had a huge platform from which she could draw attention to an important issue within our nation.

Yesterday, both women were key note speakers at the National Press Club in Canberra and they quickly became the top headline in all news media yesterday. Social media also exploded in response to their strong words and the comments continue to flow today. Many people are praising these two young women for their courage and for shining a much-needed spotlight on an important issue. Many others are condemning them for turning this issue into a political football just prior to an election as they both attack our Prime Minister personally and discredit the Government rather than work with both to push for reform.

Where do you find yourself as you form an opinion about Brittany and Grace and their campaign for change? Most Pastors and Church leaders I know have been conspicuous in their silence on this issue and I might find out why after posting this. The fact is, most Church leaders in this nation are male and in case you hadn’t noticed, a male leader saying anything other than “Go girls – you tell ‘em!” is immediately portrayed as being part of the problem – thereby discrediting anything they may say, no matter how reasonable it might be.

So assuming you are still reading this, can I invite you to take a few steps back and resist the urge to take sides in this battle as we look at the whole picture here. This is not about being on Brittany and Grace’s side or on the Government’s side. A mature response requires something deeper, broader and more difficult to achieve. We need to look at the bigger picture here and try and steer this whole conversation out of an adversarial space and into a bipartisan, solution-seeking environment. Unless we can do that, all this hot air on both sides of this issue will have been expended for nothing. There will be no reform, no change and no agreement while ever people are so committed to an ‘attack and defend’ approach. This issue is far too important for us to let it become the victim of such narrow-minded bickering and finger-pointing. Unless every member of our society decides to ‘own’ this issue and take joint responsibility for fixing it, nothing will change and the bitterness and blame game will continue forever.

So if you want to stay with me here, perhaps we can take a more objective look at what has transpired in this area over the past year or two. I am going to ask a number of questions which I would encourage you to consider carefully and answer for yourself. Just doing that would be a cop out on my part, so I will give you my answer, for what it’s worth. I am sure some of my responses will not resonate with how some of you are feeling and that’s ok – you need to find your own answers and navigate this space personally. You can dismiss my views if you like, but I plead with you to not dismiss the questions. Of course I hope that my responses will at least be seriously considered by you as you wrestle with the issues here.  So let’s begin with some of the big questions and then hone in from there.

Do you think there is a patriarchal, male-dominated reality within many Australian workplaces and within Australian culture more broadly?
Yes – absolutely. I have seen it with my own eyes in many places and whilst I think it is less severe than it was many years ago, it is still a serious issue.

Do you think that women in general are treated differently to men in many workplaces in terms of remuneration, career opportunities and general respect as a co-worker?
In so many workplaces – yes – but I have been in some environments where this is not the case and I have always tried to champion the cause of women in every leadership role I have held inside and outside the Church. However, I believe there is much more work to be done here.

Do you think our Federal Parliament is one of those patriarchal, male-dominated environments in need of change?
Of course it is – there is no doubt. The vast majority of MP’s in both houses of Parliament are male and in terms of the whole history of our national Parliament, the presence of women is only a relatively recent reality. Whilst that is no excuse for poor behaviour, it is a reality we cannot ignore. The gender imbalance is slowly changing but the mindset of many men in that workplace has not changed much at all. I saw this first-hand when I ran as a Candidate in the 2004 Federal Election. I was able to spend a lot of time in Canberra speaking with MP’s, their staff and a number of key Cabinet members. I can assure you that this was not an easy workplace for women 18 years ago!  I do believe it’s a little better now, but the change has been unacceptably slow and just increasing the number of women in a workplace does not guarantee a change in the attitude of many men – for some men it has made them worse because they feel threatened.

Since Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame first entered the public arena calling for change, are you happy with the way our Government has responded?
This is not a straight yes or no. In some areas I believe the Government has done exactly what we expect of our leaders in such a situation. A review was done, recommendations were made and the Government has promised to implement all of  the recommendations in that report. If that actually happens, and in a timely manner, then this will be a monumental shift in this whole area and it could lead to lasting reform. However, I am not happy with the way the Government and the Prime Minister have handled this in the day-to-day grind of media interviews and decisions on the run. I am not confident any of us could have done a better job under such pressure, but unfortunately some of the comments, responses and lack of response from the Government have become fuel for the fire rather than stepping stones to positive change.

As a father of three girls I fully understood our Prime Minister’s comments about his conversation with his wife Jenny when she encouraged him to think about this as a father and what he would want done if it was his daughter in this situation. I think that was a completely appropriate encouragement from Jenny and I most certainly want my Prime Minister’s role as a loving dad to impact his decisions for our nation in the most positive way possible. However, the moment he shared that private conversation in the public arena, it was immediately used as a weapon against him. The end result was the stinging rebuke from Brittany Higgins yesterday at the National Press Club when she said, “I didn’t want his sympathy as a father, I wanted his power as Prime Minister to drive change.” It’s a tough job being PM – even when you say something sincere and meaningful, it can become a weapon against you before you even walk away from the microphone! In hindsight, I think the Prime Minister’s decision to share a private family conversation with the public was not helpful for anyone.

Stepping back even further from these two women and our current Prime Minister and his Government, how are you feeling about the whole debate which has followed the huge ‘me too’ movement in America? Is there reason for hope that we may see society-wide reform flow from brave spokespeople and national movements?
Again, there is good and bad in all this. That’s not surprising when it involves less than perfect humans who get it wrong as much as we get it right. From the positive side there is no doubt that a hidden underbelly in Hollywood was exposed to the world in and through the Harvey Weinstein saga and already women are saying there are changes which have followed which they are confident will remain. That’s great news but is that enough? Clearly not. This is not a specific issue which needs to be brought to a head, dealt with and from which we move on into a new reality. It’s just not that simple. The sad truth is there’s a certain mindset which many men in our world have grown up with which automatically de-values women as people. The whole history of beauty pageants, swimsuit models, the multi-billion dollar pornography industry (to mention only a few) have all contributed to the image of where women fit into our culture. On a broader scale we have ingrained attitudes towards women’s roles in the home, in the workplace and in leadership roles in society.  Some men have views they have inherited from generations past which become roadblocks for women around them preventing them from fulfilling their full potential as members of society.  These views are passed on through generations and unless that cycle is broken and the boys of today are given a different paradigm for relating to, speaking about and treating girls and women, this issue will continue to plague us.

Now whenever there is a backlash, a revolution, a movement to reform society, the risk is always there that in our attempt to swing the pendulum back towards the middle on an issue, it gets pushed way past where it should be and we end up with problems on the opposite extreme. For example, some reformers have lashed out at all males in our society and laid the blame at their feet for what other males have done or how they think. I read an article recently which suggested that one of the most persecuted and reviled groups within our society in 2022 are white, Caucasian, middle-aged males. Because of the actions and attitudes of some males in our national Parliament, all men in Parliament House have felt the heat of condemnation. Because of the small number of male abusers in the teaching profession, all male teachers are immediately viewed as suspicious and we end up with less and less males applying to become teachers. From an education perspective that is a terrible outcome.

So my final answer here is yes, there is some hope that we may see society-wide reform flow from brave spokespeople and national movements. Of course that is what we need. However, if the rhetoric coming from both sides of this issue in recent days is how this will continue, then I fear there is no hope at all. The way we disagree and wrestle with tough issues in this nation has changed over the last 20 years and not for the better. It seems that we cannot get past our opening remarks before the battle lines are drawn and we cease being fellow citizens of a great nation who are facing a problem together and we become adversaries and politically-driven representatives of a smaller group rather than champions of our whole society.

So what’s the answer? How is this current issue going to be resolved over the long term and lead to society-wide transformation?
Well, as a Pastor and a preacher of the gospel, my first answer would be a spiritual one. But I will leave that for another post! As a member of this society and a citizen of this great nation I would say that the absolute first priority is to get the key stakeholders, influencers and decision-makers in the same room and challenge them all to make a commitment to work together, not attack each other in the media, but share their stories, their passion for change and their ideas about how this reform might be possible. Leave the media outside and like any good jury, get a commitment from these key people to say nothing outside that group until they all reach a consensus and are ready to present their plan to Australian people.

Every person who has ever done any conflict resolution training will know that there are key steps which need to be taken in order to get all the parties involved onto the same page, searching for a solution. It’s not always easy and it takes concession, compromise and humility on the part of everyone in the room – but it is possible, only if everyone wantsa solution and not just a platform for attacking someone or building your public profile for another purpose. We must abandon this childish rhetoric where we have one side saying they have not been approached by the other side to talk about this and the other side are saying the same thing! Just grow up and make it happen!!

I guess my greatest fear is that some of the key players in this current debate have mixed motives and are not 100% committed to finding a solution. In these troubled times is seems that having someone to criticise, disagree with or blame is far more important to many people than actually solving a serious issue – at whatever cost.  Until we get past that point, I am not sure anything is going to change.

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