24 November 2021
A headache inducing web of hyperbolic outrage and gaslighting culminated early this month with Defence Minister Peter Dutton appearing to suggest that due to his purported abhorrence of misogyny and contribution to preventing sexual assault from occurring throughout his service with the AFP, the label of “rape apologist” was particularly hurtful top him personally, and as a result led him to break Parliamentary principle and use defamation proceedings to silence a random social media critic.
The technical legal questions of whether defendant Shane Bazzi’s single tweet reading “Peter Dutton is a Rape Apologist” (under a link to a news article citing comments the minister made in relation to female refugees’) amounts to the tort of defamation is currently playing out in court. But Dutton’s justifications for bringing the claim have already shone a light on the politician’s relationship with misogyny and toxic conception of victimhood.
Emphasising the anger and hurt experienced with the vehemence of a someone for whom outrage equates to moral superiority, Dutton was not content with merely rejecting the label of rape apologist. He sought public acknowledgement that, given his integrity, the very act of questioning his respect for women was an offence more reprehensible than rape apology itself with his lawyer describing the tweet as having “attacked him for something he’s felt he’s done a very great deal to prevent over the years.”
Aside from the fact that a willingness to “prevent” sexual assault is base level human empathy which all but the very worst of predators hold naturally, to suggest Dutton’s upstanding conduct in one area of his life disproves this particular allegation fundamentally misunderstands the nature of misogyny. Humans compartmentalise, and it’s entirely possible for a man to love and respect his wife and daughter while expressing misogyny through other outlets.
It’s important to note that Bazzi was not personally harassing Dutton with baseless claims. He posted the political commentary in response to Dutton’s accusation that asylum seekers were “trying it on” with sexual assault claims, and his description of the rape of his party’s former staffer “a he-said, she-said affair.” But between Bazzi, sexually assaulted refugees, and women like Brittany Higgins who experience rape culture at its most damaging, it was Dutton who claimed the role of the victim.
The most infuriating part? While aggressive silencing allegations of sexual impropriety and undermining the wellbeing of survivors, Dutton has co-opted women’s rights issues and positioned himself as an ally. It’s a cynical attempt to discredit his critics, while he uses the goodwill generated to rally support for his battle with actual feminist activist Shane Bazzi.
Describing Bazzi’s tweet as “going to another level,” there’s little doubt that Peter Dutton was genuinely angered and offended by the tweet. After all, society considers rape apology to be an abhorrent thing, and no-one likes being labelled as abhorrent. But Dutton would have us believe that outrage equals innocence and seems to think that his aggressive disavowal of the claim equates to a disavowal of misogyny. Conversely, he implies that the depths of his respect for women makes misogyny accusations particularly hurtful.
But would a man with upstanding, consent-positive and healthy attitudes toward women necessarily be more upset than a low-key misogynist?
It’s very possible to be offended when being labelled something generally reviled- even if that thing does not particularly phase you.
And it’s also possible to be outraged be a label that happens to be true.
Before he can truly respect women in the way he claims, Dutton needs to examine where his outrage really stems from, and learn the difference between hating misogyny, and hating being called a misogynist.
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