If the past few weeks have highlighted anything, it’s that Australian society has reached a critical juncture.
The reams and reams of headlines relating to sexual assaults, harassment, and the issue of consent indicate the unspoken behaviour that many of us simply tolerated as par for the course is no longer acceptable.
But the question is, what exactly needs to change, and how is that change achieved?
There’s a meme widely circulating on social media at the moment that reads:
“Every woman you know has taken a longer route, has doubled back on herself, has pretended to dawdle at a shop window, has held her keys in her hand, has made a fake phone call, has rounded a corner and run. Every woman you know has walked homes scared. Every woman you know.”
And it’s true. Tragically true.
Every woman most of us know can recount an example of at least one of the above.
Just as every woman has endured that sexist comment and not known what to say, has smiled feebly at an inappropriate joke in the workplace in an effort not to seem ‘uptight’, and has resisted a sexual advance from a person in power that was entirely misplaced.
Later, we’ve likely kicked ourselves for the ingrained politeness that silenced us from calling that behaviour out.
This has historically been how women have navigated society and the workplace.
My teen daughter and I recently had a conversation prompted by a photograph I felt shouldn’t have been taken.
It’s not that it was racy, but rather may not have reflected on her well, and when asked whether she was comfortable with it, she conceded she was not.
Turns out she did not speak up to illustrate that discomfort because that would be making waves.
And it struck me, that’s where the issue of consent begins - in the tiny steps of discomfort we let slide. It’s the comment we let pass, the photo we allow another to take, the scenario we fail to call out.
Truth is, those tiny steps of discomfort pave the way for the thousands of instances of horrific encounters we’ve seen as part of ‘teach us consent’.
While educated, yet antiquated men ponder the crisis currently sullying Australian society from the streets to the halls of power, a young man in Brisbane addresses it best.
And herein lies some hope for our daughters’ generation of women.
From his privileged position as the school captain of Brisbane Boys College, Mason Black recently told his male peers: ‘It’s on all of us’ and the ‘narrative needs to change’.
"If you have ever objectified a woman based on her looks, talked about females in a misogynistic way, or taken advantage without consent, you are part of the problem,” he said.
"Seemingly harmless comments can have such devastating effects."
Yes, gentleman they can. Those comments have the power to change the way women lead and enjoy their lives.
But so too can the power of a young man acknowledging the reality and urging his generation to make a change.
Against the backdrop of horror examples like Jarryd Hayne, Brittney Higgins, and ‘teach us consent’, there might be a little hope yet.