There is a famous photograph – perhaps not as famous as it should be – taken in 1936 at the port of Hamburg , Germany. It shows a large crowd of dock-workers with a forest of arms raised in the Nazi salute. Just to the right of centre (ironically) stands a man with both arms folded resolutely, perhaps even defiantly across his chest.
It seems extraordinary that some 80 years on, we still know about this man (August Landmesser) for no reason other than his refusal to follow the herd.
Most of us are not blessed with Landmesser’s courage. If we were, self-evidently, there would be no herd to defy.
And yet today the name Landmesser elicits not even a nod of recognition.
What we see instead is public discourse carried out with all the aplomb of a lynching party.
Take for example the recent fracas over Senator Leyonhjelm’s aggressively intemperate outburst as viewed through the lens of the ABC’s Q & A (2nd July, 2018).
The incident is being held up as yet another example of men behaving badly towards women. One could hardly argue otherwise, and yet we miss the point entirely if we let the issue rest there. Far more tellingly, the incident is yet another example of the rampant adversarialism that suffuses every corner of the public space.
This is what we should be calling out. Human beings behaving in a brutally antagonistic manner towards other human beings, regardless of gender.
And yet, what do we see on the ABC?
We see the Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King, react to Leyonhjelm’s comments by referring to him as ‘a complete and utter dick’, in response to which the audience roars with approval - the kind of roar one normally associates with the Coliseum - and delivers a show-stopping round of applause.
This is the same audience that, minutes earlier, was venting its disgust at Senator Leyonhjelm’s behaving in precisely the same, primitive manner. Not a bunch of rejects from the Jerry Springer Show, but an elite ABC audience of students, academics and other assorted apparatchiks.
And what, of all things, did she call him? A knave? A fool? A ne’er-do-well? No. A dick. A male genital organ. As if that, in and of itself, suggested something irredeemably appalling. What if Leyonhjelm had referred to Senator Hanson-Young as a cunt? Would the applause still be ringing in our ears?
In a rare moment of sanity in this most gladiatorial of encounters, the Liberal Member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson – did I ever imagine, in my most fearful dreams, that I’d be agreeing with a Liberal!? – expressed her dismay at the unedifying tenor of King’s grandstanding.
Far from being chastened, King responded in typical alpha-male, kick-head, electioneering, playing-to-the-pit fashion by ‘thanking’ Henderson for her ‘lecture’ - a snide, needlessly aggressive, knee-jerk jab that garnered for her yet another round of approving laughter from an audience hell-bent on clambering into its handbasket.
To make matters worse, the Editor of The Saturday Paper, Erik Jensen, running with the bulls in a breathtakingly disingenuous mischaracterization of Leyonhjelm’s ‘logic’, signalled his virtue by stating that Leyonhjelm’s position was that it was ‘hypocritical of a woman to have sex with a man and then want to have a view on violence against women’. In point of fact, Leyonhjelm’s ‘logic’ – impeccable in its vile wickedness – asked why a woman who claimed that all men were rapists would want to have sex with them.
It’s not Leyonhjelm’s logic that’s at fault here – it’s his moral compass. And Jensen, if he weren’t so intent on joining the stampede, is smart enough to know the difference.
Yet we wonder why our society is riddled with misogyny – riddled with violence against women.
The reason – all too obvious to anyone prepared to move beyond the herd – is that we as a society applaud adversarialism, antagonism, obstructionism, aggression and violence in all of its most primitive manifestations.
In an age when the link between Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and contact sports has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the nation still comes to a standstill on Grand Final Day. We still egg on our boxers in the hope of seeing them knock their opponents senseless. We still whip up our Formula One drivers to speeds that place their lives in danger. We still punish our politicians for showing signs of ‘weakness’ or ‘indecision’ when, instead, we should be congratulating them when they exhibit circumspection or a willingness to entertain differing views. We still celebrate our press for doing everything in its power to foment conflict, hostility, animosity and strife instead of proselytizing for peace, understanding, tolerance and cooperation.
And yet we wonder why our society is riddled with violence against women.
It is we – through our values, through our behaviour, through our institutions - who are encouraging all the elements that lead, ineluctably, to the worst excesses of misogyny.
It’s time to stand up, arms resolutely folded, and be counted.