Friday, 30 November 2018

STEMinist – Sexism in the Workplace

13 years ago, as I prepared for college, my father (a mechanical engineer himself) warned me that mechanical engineering won’t be easy, that I would be working out in the field and getting tan, not the most desirable look for a good Asian woman, and I pish-poshed – silently, as would a good Asian woman – because that is precisely where I wanted to see myself in a few years’ time. What he meant is that I would be overlooked, second-guessed, objectified, undermined, spoken over, spoken about like I’m not right there, maybe even underpaid, and explicitly told at some point in my career that I was surely a “diversity hire.” 

Being in a field of work that is infamously rampant with toxic masculinity isn’t the only reason he was right. Women struggle on a daily basis to be considered as qualified as men in every field. The gender pay gap is a commonly quoted example of this. Based on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency under the Australian government, statistics from gender pay gap data collected as of August 2018 show that the national full-time gender pay gap is around 14.6%. This means women, on average, earn about $245 per week less than men. The graph below represents the fluctuation of the national pay gap over the last 20 years.

The agency goes on to show pay gaps by industry over the last year. Financial services, health care, STEM fields and arts show the highest pay gaps, ranging from 20 to 30% gap in pay. At the managerial level, women earn close to $90,000 less than men. The idea is that the higher the amount of technical qualifications asked of the employee, the higher the pay gap tends to be. In other words, women are trusted even less with work that demands expertise in each industry. So at this point, we aren’t talking about female representation lacking due to various societal pressures or predispositions. We’re talking about mistreating existing, qualified professionals. We’re explicitly talking about sexism.

In light of the #MeToo movement, companies have become more diligent about dealing with situations such as sexual harassment, which is good news for women in the workplace, although there is still a long way to go with that. Additionally, governments are becoming more conscious and diligent about trying to close the pay gap, which explains why gender pay gap in the public sector has steadily decreased and is, therefore, significantly higher in the private sector. Laws against sexual discrimination have improved over the years, and now include protection against discrimination during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Progress has definitely been made.

But overt sexism is easy to spot. It may be easy to find and stand up against unequal pay or sexual harassment, but most women will tell you that it’s the microaggressions that go unchecked. The one woman in a team of men will be the official card writer for birthdays, or the one organizing team lunches. The female designer will be given supportive projects while her male peers get the major assignments. An engineer is told to ‘smile’ while she is working. These are all personal anecdotes from my career or from those of female professionals around me. Recently, a supervisor emailed my male colleague about getting this one job on the factory floor done for me. While these examples sound reasonably benign, this behaviour is a major indication of women not being taken seriously in their careers. While this is a massive issue that roots all the way back to upbringing and cues from society, the question is, what do we do about it right now?

I believe that the foremost reason that elusive sexism at the workplace is allowed to go on is due to the fact that many women are desensitized to microaggressions and consider it a battle worth dropping in favor of bigger ones. The first step of solving a problem is identifying that there is one – and making those who don’t see it aware of it. One of the amazing things about the #MeToo movement was that so many men were completely blindsided by what constitutes ‘abuse’, and how common it was for women. So for those who haven’t faced it, it would be difficult for them to understand subtle sexism in the workplace unless we point it out as unprofessional behavior. Speak up at work; talk to your manager. Stop starting to share your opinion with an apology. Confront the aggressor directly. Take on and escalate people and situations that challenge your professional abilities. Ask for better projects. Say no if needed. Treat yourself as you would like your colleagues to treat you.

Lastly, but most importantly, educate yourself on laws that protect you from sexual prejudice at work. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 protects you from discrimination in various scenarios. Read more about it at

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Not All Men. But More Than Enough

If you've spent enough time in feminist circles and enough time engaging with allies, you are practically guaranteed to have heard the term "not all men!" If you had an automatic eye-roll reaction, I'll understand, and if not I'll explain. It's the sentiment consistently expressed by men in the face of stories about problematic male behaviour. Not all men, they will say. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are misogynists. Not all men are violent. All of these sentiments are true. But the expression itself is toxic - and I for one will no longer engage with anyone who employs this diversionary tactic any longer.

The reason is simple: it's not rhetoric that signals someone is a legitimate ally, it's a logical fallacy designed to derail an important conversation back to a topic they feel is more deserving - namely, men's problems. You might remember something similar in the #alllivesmatter response to the Black Lives Matter movement. There it was designed to accomplish the same thing - to divert attention away from a serious issue in order to accommodate the feelings of those who have no skin in the game. The men who descend like a swarm of flies on any feminist post simply to decry "but not all men!" are neither the victim nor the perpetrator in these scenarios - so what is it they'd like to accomplish by derailing the conversation?

I will address the rest of this essay to men. If you'd like to be an ally, listen and listen closely: we as women should not have to take the time out of our lives to pat you on the back for behaving like a decent human being. Indeed, it's alarming to suggest that the only reason you might have for behaving decently is the external validation it garners you. Rather, in an ideal world, if you read a headline, as you very well might, taking about the fact that 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence from men by the age of 15, or that 1 in 2 women has experienced sexual harassment at the hands of men during her lifetime, or that one woman on average a week is murdered by her current or former partner, you should not take that as an opportunity to let everyone know that you, as a man, have never murdered or harassed everyone. Literally no one is saying that you did - and taking issue with the phrasing of what is a statistically true sentence is a disingenuous act of derailing that needs to be stopped in its tracks, each and every time it's encountered.

The simple statement that men, as a collective, need to change, persecutes no one - and if you feel personally attacked by that statement, and aren't capable of understanding that if it doesn't apply to you, we are not talking to or about you, then you and your tone-policing, disingenuous rhetoric are no longer welcome at the debate table. So instead, let me just tell you what I do when I'm faced with a similar situation.

Recently, I came across an article in The Atlantic that was about the concept that, as the headline put it, "Women prefer male bosses." This sentiment doesn't reflect my lived experience - I've had both female and male bosses and tend to prefer the former. But here's what I didn't do: I didn't run to the comment section of the article to get belligerent and angry and bleat about how that wasn't true for all women. Instead, I acted like a reasonable adult and recognised that The Atlantic was employing a collective use of the word "women", which obviously applied to a large enough group to warrant the label statistically, acknowledged that it didn't apply to me, and just... Carried on with my day. Astonishing, I know!

When pondering this issue, Margaret Atwood's famous quote comes to mind: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." That's what all this really comes down to. Women's lives, versus men's feelings. It is a statistical fact that the overwhelming amount of sexual assaults and homicides are committed by men. No one is saying that all men are murderers. What we are saying is that it is an identifiable fact that most murderers are men and that this is a very legitimate issue affecting the lives of women, not only in Australia but around the globe. If men have a problem with that statistic, why don't they use that anger and hostility and direct it towards the perpetrating men giving the rest of them a bad name, instead of, once again, directing it back towards women?

There's a very good reason why - because it's not really about the problem at all. Rather it's the sort of creeping alarm about the changing status quo that indicates men's anxiety about having to make room for women's stories. When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels a lot like persecution - which is perhaps where the #notallmen victim complex originates. Join me in refusing to engage with these logical fallacies - because it is not all men. But it is more than enough.

By: Siri Williams

Friday, 23 November 2018

Tales of a Former “Edge Lord”, or, “I Went to Anti-Feminism and All I Got Was This Crappy T-Shirt”

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was supporting my best friend in leaving an abusive relationship.  It had honestly never occurred to me that the battle would begin after she had moved out. I should clarify, though, that she was the abuser, and he was the abused.

Prior to that point, my feminism had already been waning. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had been misinformed in my feminism from the start, to the point where my beliefs and actions had begun to feel quite extremist. There was another part, though, that was rooted in the fact that my male friends had started to consider me a sort of safe space, and an overwhelming number of them had been approaching me to describe relationship situations that were causing them significant harm. With these revelations, I became more and more disillusioned with what it meant to be a feminist. I started to notice the way domestic violence helplines were gendered, so that the only helplines targeted to men had already assumed their only role was the abuser. White Ribbon Day popped up again, and I was suddenly acutely aware of how specifically men’s violence against women was being given the spotlight, but nobody seemed to be offering a safe space or awareness platform for men in a similar situation.

The real nail in the coffin came, though, when my best friend returned from an appointment with a therapist that I had requested he see, feeling uncomfortable and entirely invalidated. He had tried to discuss his circumstances with this woman, and she actually responded to him with the following:

        Why didn’t you leave? What was in this relationship for you?
        I find it interesting that you feel like you were abused. Men aren’t victims of abuse. (Apparently being raped and told that you were going to be murdered in your sleep is an everyday relationship activity, nothing to be too concerned about.)

As you can imagine, this was…not the kind of thing one wishes to hear when seeking help. And it was this exact thing that led me to spend a great deal of time on men’s rights forums, and eventually establishing myself as a member of an anti-feminist community. Yep, even bought the Meninist t-shirt.
(I know you can only see the top of it, but it’s very obviously there. Oh past me, what were you doing?!)

I spent a couple of years in this community, engaging in what I thought was debate (that really turned out to be a massive circle jerk), and what I took away from it ended up very significantly informing the feminism I would later find my way back to. For the most part, I never considered myself, or the people I surrounded myself with, to be hateful. They were – for the most part - intelligent, kind, and compassionate human beings that were legitimately concerned with gender equality, but who did not want the “Feminist” label forced upon them and wanted to explore what this meant on their own terms.

What I thought I might try to address are some common criticisms and misunderstandings, and where these disconnects are coming from.

Misconception: “I don’t disagree with Feminism overall, but ‘modern’ feminism misses the point, and is ultimately socially damaging.”

Part of the issue here rests in the fact that Feminism does not align itself under a single, clear, and recognisable goal. Let’s be frank, it never has, but the beauty of hindsight is that all of the achievements made by Feminists in the past appear to have been as a result of specific and targeted resistance. Being in the thick of things as we are now means that these outcomes are yet to be determined, and as such, cannot be sourced as a means to “validate” what feminism aims to achieve.

The other part of the issue is that the description of Feminism as something that happens in waves is deeply flawed, and assumes that Feminism only pops its head up when certain issues become pressing and in need of attention. The reality is that Feminism has existed as a consistent social undercurrent for a very long time, and the peaks of these supposed “waves” are, again, outcomes that can only really be viewed in hindsight.

Misconception: “But the battle has already been won! Feminism isn’t relevant anymore, and at this point is only around to suck the fun out of everything.”

Typically, this boils down to not only not understanding the issues Feminists are addressing, but also not being aware of the fact that these issues

  1. have always been part of what Feminists have been rebelling against
  2. are still very real issues, but are typically expressed in way more insidious ways as a result of laws passed to combat these issues.

Being able to address these issues in a way that is not necessarily rooted in personal anecdote and is widely observable can actually go a long way towards communicating the ongoing relevance of Feminism. Personally, I would LOVE for Feminism to no longer be relevant. Nothing would give me more pleasure than being able to kick back and see that the fight is over. Sadly, I don’t foresee this being a reality within my lifetime.

As for Feminists “sucking the fun out of everything” or “not being able to take a joke”…well…unfortunately a lot of people who whine about society becoming “more P.C.” don’t tend to understand that the people that constituted the butt of these particular jokes were mostly being polite when they laughed along, and never really found it funny. It’s best to give these people the tried and true Greta Garbo blank and move on.

Image Source:

Misconception: “Feminists just want to play the victim.”
Female edition: “I don’t consider myself a victim, therefore Feminism doesn’t apply to me.”

This particular misconception is one of the most disheartening of the bunch, as it speaks to the way in which women’s very real problems are consistently devalued. Often, within the anti-feminist community, what constitutes victimhood tends to be rooted in one of two things:

  1. A general lack of belief that what women are revolting against are actual prevalent social issues, or that the real issue lies in a woman’s approach to her own trauma, essentially meaning that “victimhood” is a choice;
  2. The stand-out examples are often either sourced from feminists who are not as well versed in feminist theory and aren’t able to articulate themselves as well as they will be able to one day, or are pulled from highly sensationalised examples – often from college campuses – of students protesting gender issues and seeking to carve out safe spaces for themselves. (What a safe space represents to an anti-feminist is in itself an issue, and is more likely than not a problem that stems from a distinct lack of empathy, but can also arise from just not fully understanding the purpose of such a space,)

As far as anti-feminist women are concerned, a lot of this argument comes from a reasonably legitimate fear that being identified as a victim has the potential to undermine their strength or their achievements. This is a difficult thought pattern to break, and certainly isn’t helped by the ongoing perception of high profile Feminists as “professional victims”.

Misconception: “But you’re referring to men so generally, and I, a man, have never done these things, therefore Feminism is garbage.”

Apparently the same people who would refer to Feminists generally with no consideration of nuance don’t apply this same logic to themselves. Personally, I have a saved (and reasonably detailed) script that I send to people that argue “not all men”, because the required answer is almost always something that can be cut-and-paste with no alteration, but it’s really up to you if you can be bothered with this. I will say that providing a sufficient answer to this particular complaint can actually go a long way in maintaining the attention of someone offering their criticism of Feminist discourse, but I also understand that not everyone can be arsed explaining something that really should not require such an explanation.

Misconception: “Feminists don’t do anything to support men.”
Bonus Round: “Toxic Masculinity is really just another way to say ‘everything it means to be a man is bad.’”

I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s soooooo mind-numbingly common, and is really the basis for the majority of anti-feminist arguments.

For some reason, a movement designed to bolster women’s status by campaigning for gender equality is supposed to simultaneously coddle and boost men’s sense of self-worth. There’s no denying that the advent of Feminism has had the side effect of men’s primary social roles becoming displaced and unnecessary, and there hasn’t really been a significant movement that aided men in finding where they belong socially, and that empowered them to establish a new role for themselves now that they are no longer able to reasonably fit the role of “provider”. This has resulted in a visible backlash against moves to empower women, and as more and more historically male roles are now being shared across the genders, men are more or less being left stagnate.

That’s not to say that Feminism is wrong in its ambitions, as it’s certainly not. I’ve made this point to illustrate that there is a sense that men are being rendered unnecessary, which I’m sure you can imagine might be a little bit scary for them.

Compounding this, the components of the Feminist movement that have been developed to empower men in tandem with women’s empowerment are largely misunderstood. One such concept is that of Toxic Masculinity, which seeks to address and hopefully remedy the unfair expectations placed on men by pointing out aspects of traditional masculinity that might be damaging to men. In theory, this should address a number of issues experienced by men, including (but not limited to):

        High male suicide rates
        Poor treatment of men’s health (both physical and mental)
        Men’s unwillingness to speak up against sexual, physical, and emotional violence perpetrated against them

Where this falls apart is twofold. Not only is what Toxic Masculinity represents often poorly communicated, like much of the language fairly specific to Feminists, it’s also inaccessible to anyone that isn’t deeply familiar with Feminist theory. (Patriarchy also suffers from this inaccessibility, as anyone who has ever tried to explain Patriarchy to someone that has had limited-to-no exposure to Feminist theory will no doubt understand.)

What is often lost on people who make arguments of this nature is that not only do many Feminists absolutely give a shit about things that happen to men (you know, not being man-hating harpies and all), but often they are also big contributors to men’s causes. Unfortunately this does not quite fit the “Feminists just want to establish a matriarchy” narrative, so anti-feminists don’t tend to entertain the notion that this might be the case. Not much that can be done for wilful ignorance, I’m afraid.

There are ways in which Feminists do contribute to these misunderstandings, despite how understandable this might be. For one, after continuously beating your head into a wall trying to explain why Feminism is still relevant, it can be taxing to be placed in the position where you have to police your words, or educate someone on concepts they either don’t (or don’t want to) understand, or just plain bare your damn soul in an attempt to explain why Feminism matters to you.

On top of this, a lot of Feminist push back tends to be quite aggressive, and to someone who is of the mind that they have only asked a simple and reasonable question, the anger wrapped up in the response provided can be quite jarring. I’m not suggesting we sit down and be nice about what we have to say. Fuck no! We’ve been doing that for centuries. But I am saying that regularly engaging in self-care might address a lot of the burnout that accompanies ongoing participating in Feminist discussions, leaving you more capable of enduring these discussions. I would also recommend keeping notes on your phone that address and explain common points. I promise you, easy scripts make these discussions way less draining than constantly having to start from scratch.

Unfortunately, people outside of Feminism don’t seem to understand that the reason these issues are so tangled into our emotions is the fact that these issues comprise our personal, every day realities. Of course we’re upset/pissed off/worn out! We’re damn tired of having to explain to people that we are deserving of respect and equality, when such things should be a given.

So, how did I find my way back to Feminism?

Well, there’s no easy answer to that question. To some extent, Milo Yiannopoulos had something to do with it. Watching him “tear down Feminists” while not actually addressing their concerns made me realise that a lot of anti-feminists were doing much of the same. More to the point, this damaging, purposely contrary figure was actually being held up as a sort of icon within the community, and I found that more disturbing than I care to explain.

The realisation that every time I engaged with a Feminist in discussion of Feminist issues resulted in me constantly selling myself out as a woman, disregarding my own concerns and mistreatment, really drove me to explore what it was Feminism was fighting for. I started reading Feminist texts and writings, making a mockery of them as I engaged with other members of the anti-feminist community, but more and more it dawned on me that I agreed with the majority of the points being raised, and could not in good conscience continue to rip it to shreds. Instead, I allowed myself to absorb it, and forced myself to become better informed than I had been previously.

In addition to this, a girl I got along with that had been in the anti-feminist community as long as I had announced that she considered herself a Feminist after private, comprehensive research. Prior to this, I had honestly believed that this community did respect women, and did respect me, but the response to her admission was just so sexist and violent that I couldn’t view any of the people that I had considered “my people” in the same light. What she experienced really opened my eyes to the fact that these people did not care about me, the person, rather, they cared about me only as much as they could point to me and say: “See! Even women think Feminism is garbage!” I only mattered to these people to the extent that I was willing to degrade myself and deny the injustices I was becoming increasingly aware of. I couldn’t lie to myself that way anymore, and more to the point, I no longer felt safe around a lot of these people.

Finally, I no longer wanted to associate myself with a political statement that didn’t actually stand for anything. The fact is, anti-feminism doesn’t have any clear goals of its own. It has no platform on which it rests, and doesn’t seek to achieve a damn thing. While so many people that consider themselves anti-feminists are actually decent, kind, and compassionate beings (I’d like to think that my existence stands in testament to that), anti-feminism as a concept exists only to tear something else down. I’ve heard people refer to it as a movement, but in truth, I disagree. It’s not trying to enact change, it seeks only to perpetuate hatred against a legitimate movement that DOES want to work towards change, and DOES take steps to realise this change.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend my life fighting for the things I believe in and pushing to make the world better, than trying to destroy the people who do this.

By: Roxie Gray

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Forgotten Femmes - The Great Women in Australian Art

The common rhetoric blasted across our societal landscape is “The future is female”, but what if the past already was?

When you think about the art world, across a myriad of artistic movements, the main majority of modern artists were men. Whether it’s Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Warhol or Da Vinci himself, it’s clear that the mainstream rhetoric alludes to the masters of the art world’s past being predominantly male. Yes, there are the few outliers such as Frida Kahlo, Marina Abramovic who have managed to make a name for themselves over time but they tend to be the exceptions.

For every master of the art world, there is more than likely a female equivalent working within the same time period who is creating equally as innovative work yet has managed to go practically unnoticed as time has gone on. One classic example includes the previously neglected works of the Swedish artist known as Hilma af Klint. Klint was an abstract painter who was creating paintings within this visual style long before Wassily Kandinsky came into prominence in the 40’s. With her works now finally getting recognition, as seen with the recent exhibition in the Guggenheim, it is clear to see that the tide is finally beginning to change.

So, to further celebrate the works of powerful women artists, we at The Sydney Feminists have decided to shift the focus onto some of Australia’s finest female artists. Inspired by Zing Tsjeng’s ‘Forgotten Women: The Artists’ (2018), we’ve developed a thorough and comprehensive guide honouring some of the great Australian female figures who helped shape the art world. By placing a feminist lens on this revisionary approach, we’re doing our bit to help give these underappreciated visual artists the accolades that they deserve.

  1. Emily Kame Kngwarreye
The first Australian artist featured on this list is the Emily Kame Kngwarreye, a major figurehead within the Australian art world. Despite having no strong knowledge of the art world prior to her brief, but brilliant, eight-year art career, Kngwarreye’s unrivalled artistic skill allowed her to thrive until her death at the age of 86. Best known for her works including “Alhalker” (1992), ‘Awelye’ (1994) and ‘Emu Woman’ (1988-1989), Kngwarreye was celebrated for meticulous touch, distinctive brushwork and striking compositions. By creating over 3,000 works within her artistic career, Kngwarreye established herself as an accomplished artist who positively impacted the art community within her hometown, Utopia. At present, Kngwarreye’s artwork titled ‘Earth’s Creation’ (1994) has been reported to have been purchased for $2.1 million AUD. Her legacy continues to inspire artists both in Utopia and beyond.

Earth's Creation (1994)

 2.  Dahl Collings
Dahl Collings is an exceptional artist, heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement, whose impact on the Australian landscape must be celebrated. Known for a variety of artistic talents including graphic design, painter, photographer, filmmaker and commercial artist, this multidisciplinary artist has impacted the Australian landscape by blasting through the Australian visual trends of the 1930’s through the establishment of The Design Centre in 1938. Working with her husband, Geoffrey, Collings, she sought to introduce then modern art and design principles, such as Bauhaus, to the Australian Design industry. [2] 

This modernist style can be seen in Collings’ commercial and non-commercial artistic pieces. These principles can be seen in her designs for magazines such as ‘The Home.’ The sample below was created in 1940.  

Image Source: The Home (1940) 

When looking at paintings such as ‘Textile Design’ (1950-1953), it is clear to see Bauhaus elements were sound influences throughout her works.

Image Source:

Collings ability to work on both personal and corporate projects harmoniously has paved the way for artists to be true to themselves while also supporting themselves financially with their craft. With works ranging from abstract paintings such as this piece [4] to award-winning films such as The Dreaming’ (1964)[5], Collings proved herself a prominent multi-disciplinary artist who visually shaped the Australian landscape through education and artistic creation.

  1. Davida Allen
Davida Allen, a painter best known for her Archibald Prize win in 1986, is praised for her expressionistic brushwork that celebrates the emotions that come with motherhood. Allen’s influence stems from her ability to depict the range of emotions and experiences that come with family life. With textured, vibrant and heavily emotive paintings, Allen illustrates emotions ranging from tension to joy to turmoil throughout her impressive body of work. This mother, teacher and artist is best known for her painting titled Dr John Arthur McKelvie Shera’ (1986)[6].

With a painting career spanning over four decades, Allen has had the time to refine her expressionist style as she continues to create works addressing her role within her life with her family. As Allen transitions from mother to grandmother, she finds her new works such as ‘Hoping the donkey will take the carrots’ (2017) centering on the love and excitement and the small things that children do."[7]  Allen’s example has shown that it is possible for Australian females to have a lucrative art career well into motherhood and beyond and for that, she should be celebrated.

While these are some exceptional examples of influential Australian female artists, it is important to ensure that awareness within the Australian landscape goes beyond online articles. As it stands, in Australia 40% of artists represented in commercial galleries are female despite the fact that 75% of art degrees are obtained by women. When this is coupled with the recent findings that women earn approximately 81c to the $1 of male artists, it is clear to see that more needs to be done to validate the place of these talented female visionaries. [8] 

By supporting organisations such as The National Museum of Women in the Arts ( or the Art + Feminism Movement (, you can help do your bit to improve female representation within the art world. To have direct impacts on your local art scene you can show your support for exhibitions and non-profit art spaces striving for gender parity or, if you’re an artist, try and start an artist-run initiative and strive for change by organising your own event. Improve accessibility to the art world by doing your part to fight for equal representation among genders now.

By: Liliana Occhiuto


















Wednesday, 14 November 2018

NSW Law Reform Commission - Have Your Say!

Calling all feminist activists!!

The NSW Law Reform Commission is reviewing the law surrounding consent in relation to sexual assault. They have released the Consultation Paper, which you can have a look at. To review the law, they are seeking feedback in the form of actual, formal submissions and from a survey they have created. You can remain anonymous. I urge you to respond to this review.

This is a way to get your voice heard, and we must collectively shout our displeasure with the current law. The current consent law has a blind spot, which I’ve written about before but to save your clicks, I’ll summarise: In NSW, when someone is on trial for sexual assault, the crown has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant did not consent.
Anthony Whealy QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, explained what effect this phrasing has within trials:
“(this creates) the unfortunate consequence of focusing almost exclusively on the complainant ... and so the trials tend to excoriate the complainant, unfairly in many cases, and when you have a jury there, they can’t help but be affected by that sort of cross examination which can be very powerful and very damaging (to the complainant).
 …(in trials, the crown must also prove)… that the defendant knew that consent was not given or was reckless as to whether consent was given. Or if he had a belief that consent was given, that it has to be on reasonable grounds."
This phrasing resulted in a high profile case that was resolved with the Judge’s acknowledgement as follows:

“Whether or not she consented is but one matter. Whether or not the accused knew that she was not consenting is another.”

So we have a grey area. A blind spot. We need to correct it. Even if you don’t make a formal submission, it’s easy to do the survey. I’ve put together a quick explanation of each question within the survey, in case it’s too daunting to tackle.
I will stop here to explain that I am not a lawyer, my explanations are my own, and I only seek to share the survey in the hopes that more people will feel comfortable partaking.
The survey The NSW Law Reform Commission provided will take 5 to 10 minutes. I’ve put the questions down here so you can look and have a think before you start the survey, if that's your thing. It is split into parts, the survey constructors took time to explain what each part is about in a very clear way.

The Survey:

Steps 1 to 3 are generic questions about confidentially, contact details and the like.  If you select you want to remain confidential, the questions start at number 2.

The survey starts with a bit of background to the law.

Question 4: What are your views about the law of consent in NSW?
After this question is a free text box asking for your views on the current law.

Question 5: Do you think the law of consent should change?
Either way, (yes or no) you’ll be prompted to advise why. You don’t have to answer, but I answered yes, and spoke about the legal grey area we currently have, highlighted by the Lazarus failure.

A definition of consent is provided, as follows.

The law says someone “consents” to sex if they “freely and voluntarily” agree to it. The fact that a person doesn’t physically resist sex isn’t enough to show they consented to it.
Some people think this definition of consent should be changed. Some say the law should recognise a person’s consent only when they communicate it clearly through their words or actions. This is sometimes known as an “affirmative consent” standard.

Question 6: What do you think about the current definition of consent?
This is just a free text response.

Question 7:  Do you think the law should include an “affirmative consent” standard?
This is a yes or no answer, with a free text field so you can explain. I said yes.
To help understand this: Affirmative consent is the model used by Tasmania or Victoria. According to Anthony Whealy QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, in these states: “the crown must prove that the complainant gave free agreement to sexual intercourse taking place ... and the judge is asked to direct the jury that if the complaint said or did nothing at the time of the sexual intercourse, that means she did not give her free agreement.”
The survey then advises “The law lists some situations where a person can’t consent to sex.”

Question 8: In general, do you think the law should list some situations in which a person can’t consent?
This is a question whether you think the law should list situations.

Question 9: The law says that people can’t consent to sex in any of the following situations. Please tick the situations that you think should stay in this list.
e.g. They are unconscious or asleep

This question is about which situations should be in the law or not. I am fine with them remaining in the law.

Question 10: Should other situations be added to this list?

You can select yes or no, and you have a space to explain.
More explanatory text follows.
The law also lists some other situations in which the prosecution may be able to show there was no consent.

Question 11: In general, do you think the law should list some situations in which it “may” be shown the person doesn’t consent?
This is another yes or no with an explanation.

Question 12: The law says that it may be proven that someone doesn’t consent if they have sex for any of the following reasons. Please tick the situations that you think should stay in this list.
e.g. they were intoxicated

Then we have explanatory text about consent, and how due to our laws, the prosecution must also prove the accused knew the other person didn’t consent.
This is a very key part of the survey, in my mind.
To prove the accused “knew” there was no consent, the prosecution must show the accused either:
• actually knew the other person didn’t consent
• was reckless about whether the other person consented, or
• had no reasonable grounds for believing the other person consented.

Question 13: What do you think about the need to prove the accused knew there was no consent?
This is just a free text box answer.

And this is where the real difference, as I see it, comes into play. Succinctly explained by Anthony Whealy QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, explained what effect this phrasing has within trials:
“(this creates) the unfortunate consequence of focusing almost exclusively on the complainant ... and so the trials tend to excoriate the complainant, unfairly in many cases, and when you have a jury there, they can’t help but be affected by that sort of cross examination which can be very powerful and very damaging (to the complainant).
…(in trials, the crown must also prove)… that the defendant knew that consent was not given or was reckless as to whether consent was given. Or if he had a belief that consent was given, that it has to be on reasonable grounds.”
Our laws have the side effect on focusing how the accuser showed they didn’t consent, rather than how the accused understood they HAD consent.

Question 14: Some people say a person should take steps to check if their sexual partner consents. If they don’t take these steps, they shouldn’t be allowed to argue they believed there was consent. Do you agree?
This is a yes no answer, with space to explain.
I said yes. I do think that we as sexual partners owe it to everyone involved to “check in” – and I don’t think this is an onerous ask. My thinking on this runs along the lines of: If you can’t be bothered to check in, would be too embarrassed by the question, or are too scared to ask – why are you having sex with this person?
And that’s it! That’s all there is, really easy to do, so please have a go!

Tee Linden

Follow by Email