Letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard

October 10, 2012

Dear Ms. Gillard,

The Australian High Court passed a law on August 14, 2012 to remove branding from cigarette packets. This has created a foundation for how we legislate for true change, which is to be applauded. Nicotine related lung cancer costs the Australian Community according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare A$107m per year. Domestic Violence and Childhood Sexual Abuse cost the Government A$8bn per year – an immense difference that we choose to ignore. And the A$8bn a year does not include the costs of ongoing counselling and healing – and the emotional costs for victims is unfathomable.

Why isn’t the Government addressing the Domestic Violence and Childhood Sexual Abuse as fervently as it has lobbied for the removal of branding on cigarette packets?

Your recent exposé of misogyny and sexism relating to the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbot, is the earthquake that has cracked a chasm of truth about the appalling treatment of women and you have an obligation as leader of the Australian Government to do something about it.

Alan Jones’ consistent denigration of you is tiresome, and personally extremely hurtful and offensive, yet, by everyone not standing up to this, and as you so clearly pointed out, we are accepting it as the norm and allowing it to continue. We have allowed it to creep into our everyday lives so that when it happens we make an excuse to stay silent and collude with the abuse.

There are some male dominated industries, journalism is one – and I have worked in film and television for over 25 years – I know all about the aside remarks about my arse, snide comments, stares at my breasts, sexual innuendo, groping, put downs in meetings and judgment of my capability based on the fact that I am a woman, not on my experience or tertiary degree. I have endured the whistles from builders, groping in nightclubs and pubs and the inevitable judgment on my appearance, comments on the length of my skirt, the tightness of my jeans/t-shirt etc, etc.

I have worked my way up the ranks to General Manager for a film post production company in Melbourne. While there I had to deal with the “don’t get emotional” comments when I needed to manage a difficult situation at work. I expose it when it happens, and I can change my work environment as the manager. Men on the Executive could still be condescending and inappropriate. This attitude, and the fact that men feel this behaviour is acceptable, is perpetuated by the onslaught of soft porn and opinion-based ‘journalism’ we are bombarded with from the mainstream media today, and the denigration of women as a result.

The recent allegations, now over 120, against Jimmy Saville in the UK, and the revelations that Radio 1 boss knew about his behaviour towards girls, clearly show that we allow impropriety and abuse without question. We are continuing to allow the Abuse of Women in our society by not challenging and questioning it. These allegations have started an out-pouring of honesty of sexually abusive treatment of women within the BBC, including Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig. Women’s silence perpetuates the behaviour at the BBC experienced by Ms Kershaw and Ms Toksvig and that experienced by many thousands of women, including myself.

“For women working in [the show business] industry, sexual harassment was something you just had to ignore every day of your working life”, said journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter, writing in the Daily Mail about her experiences in the 1980’s “To understand a male mindset that considers fondling, groping and worse as perfectly normal behaviour in the workplace, look at what was broadcast at the time, and how women were portrayed.”

Nothing’s changed. And these instances are not isolated to the UK or Australia – they are a global issue. And the honesty will overflow as women everywhere begin to feel their confidence in speaking out.

Do children see their fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, fathers and grandfathers treating women with disdain every day? And as a society, are we making it OK for snide comments and put-downs – absolutely. Have we then created and exacerbated a society that makes the Abuse of Women mainstream?

Is there a link between pornography and violence towards women and children? Worth mentioning in the very least, and it’s an area that our society does not want to address because men are in positions of power to make change and they like the accessibility of it on supermarket and newsagent shelves.

Reviewing the FACTS of the figures, should it be soft/pornography that is removed from the shelves as well as the brand labels on cigarettes?

According to Cancer Research UK (updated 10 May 2012), there were 48,417 new cases of breast cancer in the UK in 2009 – and that doesn’t include the cases already being treated. In the news on Monday 8th October 2012, it was reported that in Australia 37 new cases of breast cancer get diagnosed a DAY and this is expected to rise. Consider for a moment that the MCG holds 100,000 people – fill it up with those ‘new cases’, and top it up with the husbands, children, parents and siblings of those women and every year you have that many NEW people affected by our rot in society and the complacency in our treatment of women. Sure, we are seeking a cure to the symptoms, but how deeply do we want to address the cause?

“Pear shaped” and “tits up” are expressions commonly used by men and women expressing when something has gone wrong. Our colloquial language reveals that the denigration of women is part of our psyche. A woman’s anatomy has been commoditised to parts denoting something bad.

You have a responsibility, as well as a great opportunity, to consider guidelines, recommendations and regulations on the Abuse of Women to ensure we arrest this ill momentum. We need to leave a foundation for our children and our future generations that respects women and shows that there is another, more caring way to treat women that will inevitably benefit men and our society as a whole.

By choosing to ‘let this slide’ we are choosing to allow it to continue – and we have for many, many years. We need to clearly underline that we will not allow this to continue to give the opportunity for future generations the opportunity to see there is another way. On Tuesday 9th you stood up in the Parliament and gave that 15min speech which has been echoing throughout the World. It was a concise exposé on misogyny, backed up by facts, that Australia needed to hear. And not just Australia. I congratulate you on opening this can of worms. However, let this not be your final act in the long overdue need for change to our attitude to women.

This constant barrage of degradation and abuse of Women is having an impact on the lives of our children.

We are now experiencing the most accessible soft/pornography of all time and children all over the western world as young as 10 are “sexting” images of themselves to each other – they are our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews. The deepest concern for us all as a society is that these children think it’s normal to behave sexually with each other.

The United Nations UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child states that, “The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.” And, “It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences …”

Do we then have a LEGAL OBLIGATION to protect our children “from harmful influences”?

There is nowhere to hide anymore.

These all highlight the lack of responsibility taken by people (predominantly men) in power to act when they are aware there is wrongdoing. By inaction, we are condoning and colluding with the Abuse. As a society, we have made this behaviour acceptable. As individuals we feel we have no power and no voice against the establishment of large organisations, headed by men. These women are our sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, wives, mothers and friends.

How long are people in power going to allow the abuse of women to be ‘normalised’ to the level that it is today?

We are supposedly in a modern western society, where women have the right to choose what we study, where we work, where we live, whom we marry, what we wear, whom we date, what we eat and the life we choose to live. There are other women in the world who do not have these freedoms and are still subjected to witch hunts, stoning, slavery, forced marriages and lives of abuse.

Through lack of responsibility and passive acceptance, we continue to perpetuate a society that condones the abuse of women. This type of behaviour is legally not allowed in the workplace and, after studying UK and Australian HR law, this behaviour regularly gets employers and perpetrators into a world of litigation. Yet we allow it every day in our press and media. Why is that?

The Australian press (Courier Mail, News Corp) has made claims recently that women who seek truth and a loving way of life are gormless, mindless followers and that we don’t have the intelligence to choose how we live. The blatant approval of sexual abuse in the article is simply shocking.

There in-lies a deep fracture in the Media and how it portrays women as a whole. Less concerning is the drivel of two men’s opinion thinly veiled as ‘journalism’ – more devastating is the impact of this tirade of derogatory and misogynistic attitude towards women by mainstream media.

Your speech has been so well received and celebrated throughout western world (USA, UK), but it is getting ‘frosty’ reception by male journalists in Australia.

The Crown Prosecution Service (UK) released a transcript – Domestic Violence: the facts, the issues, the future – Speech by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC (posted 12 April 2011). His closing statement is one for reflection from a global perspective “The steps that we and our criminal justice partners are taking to tackle domestic violence risk limited success unless this complacency is tackled head on. A change in attitude is clearly needed”.

Where are we headed if all the rates of domestic violence, violence towards women is increasing year after year?

Rudi Giuliani’s decision to have a zero tolerance for crime when he was Mayor of New York City was welcomed by residents of the city. From 1993-2001, crime and related violence dropped 56% in the FBI Crime Index. New Yorkers wanted to remain living in the city and it became the “safest large city in the nation”. With decisive action, a message would be sent to everyone that order would be maintained.

How amazing would our society be if the Government were to boldly establish zero-tolerance to the Abuse of Women? If you set a zero tolerance to the abuse of women in our daily papers, it will have profound effect on home life. And the £8 billion we are spending on the results of domestic violence could be joyfully redirected.

How amazing would it be if you created legislation that made it illegal for a woman to be paid less than a man for doing the same job? How empowering for a community to feel that support and know that we have a voice and that Abuse will no longer be tolerated?

As the head of our Government, you have a responsibility to consider guidelines, recommendations and regulations on the Abuse of Women to ensure we arrest this momentum. We need to leave a foundation for our children and our future generations that respects women and shows that there is another, more caring way to treat women that will inevitably benefit men and our society as a whole.

ENOUGH.

Seriously, Enough. Our complacent attitude towards the treatment of women in our society has to stop. And, we need to step up and take responsibility for the impact that the Media has on our attitude towards women.

This issue is not going away – daily revelations about the treatment of women are becoming the norm and it cannot be ignored any further. Please advise me on receipt of this letter and I would appreciate any update on the progress in seeing these real concerns through.

I welcome your views and questions and I have colleagues in Australia who share our zero tolerance attitudes on sexism and misogyny and would be available to meet with you or one of your team to discuss this further.

On Tuesday you expressed beautifully: “And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.” Let us see you put these words into practice and live up to your powerful and just assertion.

Yours truly,

Sarah Cloutier
Dual Australian and UK Citizen currently living in the UK

20 thoughts on “Letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard

  1. Sarah, your clarity of expression leaves me speechless, except to express my whole hearted support to all that you have said in your letter to Julia Gillard – I in my own life and the corporations I have worked in have been apathetic and not taken responsibility to speak up about the many things you cite in your letter. I now feel deeply inspired to speak up, and express the truth about these things. As you say – enough is enough.

  2. Sarah, you are inspiring. This letter is amazing and says what we have known and felt for a very long time but have not had the courage or self-love to express. May other women, and men, be inspired by you to express the truth of what they know. With love, Anne.

  3. Sarah, this is so well said, thank you for voicing these issues on behalf of me and my daughters and in fact all women I know, as these issues are common to all in today’s society. Even Julia Gillard, who has risen to be the first female PM and clearly is so capable of doing the role, has had to endure sexism constantly and even worse, outright abuse.
    If we can’t spare the leader of this country from sexism, it’s gotten to a very deep level and this must change.
    Thank you Sarah for calling it out

  4. An amazing clarion call for those in power, and indeed all of us, to step up and take full responsibility for the horrendous state of affairs in which we live, that continues – unabated – to allow women to be so heinously denigrated (& all suffer). It’s time to open our eyes and see the full extent of this, and in response, open our voices and speak up. May those in power hear this call to all that true governance can be, and every one of us rediscover the simple power in saying that NONE of this is ok, regardless of the apparent ‘strength’ of prevailing attitudes. Thank-you Sarah – you say it all, and yet with no malice or aggression. This is how true change begins…

  5. Wow ! thank you Sarah…your writing is powerful. Truly inspired. We all have our part to play as far as calling our the injustice and i am going to be more aware from here on. I have actually use the term ‘pear shaped’ myself without ever considering it may be referenced to a female body, rather that what i was referring to just wasn’t ‘whole’ or ‘well rounded’. Where did I get that from? These held and accepted sexist attitudes become entrenched and unconscious. Thank you for your clarity. We all are response -ible.

  6. Thank-you Sarah…for your voice on our behalf..strong words yet so true as this has gone on too long now to be ignored, we no longer need to live in the dark ages …..

  7. Sarah this is such a great letter to the PM. The clarity in which you write is truely amazing. I have had to stop and look at myself and what I have accepted as the ‘norm’ after reading this.

    Thank you.

  8. Thank you Sarah for expressing so clearly what we have accepted for so long as individuals and as a society and nation, and what is now, and has never, been acceptable. Thank you for expressing this truth on behalf of us all.

  9. Great letter Sarah, I agree it is absolutely time to call a halt to the lack of respect and equality shown to women. It has come as a real shock to me that this still goes on, but perhaps that is because like so many I have had my head in the sand.

  10. This is amazing Sarah. Your voice is strong and clear, cuts through the complacency we have been enjoining and wakes us from it’s stupor. Thank You.

  11. Thank you so much for expressing this the way you have. It is a very serious issue and as you say enough is enough. I totally agree with all you have said. It is time all of us addressed this including our government.

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