'Radical' Q&A should be heard not silenced



The Q&A episode made in association with the Wheeler Centre's Broadside feminist festival was an interesting and challenging episode, the way Q&A gets to be when there are no politicians involved. It also resulted in 200 complaints made to the ABC and 53 more to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Mona Eltahawy on Q&AThe ABC has launched an investigation into the episode, presumably because of the number of times Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy swore (emphasising her point about the 'political importance of profanity'), and the accusation that some panellists were promoting violence.

When I heard Eltahawy wondering 'How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us and to stop raping us? How many rapists must we kill until they stop raping us?' I understood what she meant. On their own, the words are confronting, yet within the context of her argument, these questions were about flipping the balance of power on its head for a moment. It's not a call to action, but a thought exercise. What if men were as scared of violence from women, as women are taught to be of men? Eltahawy has confirmed this was her intent. 

What struck me was something she said a little later, which many women have said in different ways: 'How long do I have to wait to be safe?' We're still waiting. A woman on holiday. A disability advocate who was trolled online after posting photos. The never ending list of women who have died violently in Australia. 

One in five women are sexually assaulted since the age of 15. It's far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know. If you are disabled, queer, Indigenous or a person of colour, the likelihood increases significantly. What is rhetorical for some is the reality for too many. Which was in fact, the point.

Eltahawy went on to argue for the role of social media, in giving a platform to those who might otherwise remain voiceless: 'There are so many voices that have found their platform on social media, finally. After the gatekeepers refused to let us in for such a long time.' Jess Hill, author of See What You Made Me Do, said that while there are definitely negative elements to social media, she had those 'voices in [her] head and their voices on [her] shoulder and it made [her] write a better book'.

This is part of the power of social media, and indeed of the Q&A episode. The voices that are centred in discussions too often stay the same. Studies have shown that male academics don't reference women in their writing. Another noted that male journalists tend to retweet other male journalists.


"These voices have been talking for a while now. Perhaps it's time for all of us to start really taking note."


Historian Joan Wallach Scott wrote that even though women (and, I would argue, people of other marginalised genders and identities) have been present throughout history, they have 'been systematically left out of the official record'. Forums like Twitter and the Broadside Q&A episode go some way to redressing this.

In the episode, Kurnai/Gunai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer Nayuka Gorrie noted how Indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders experience both structural and interpersonal violence, which they described as a 'constant state of duress'.  The prevalence of disability gendered violence was addressed by question-asker Nicole Lee. The panellists debated ageism and whether masculinity could ever separate itself from toxicity. It represented a broad range of views within feminism, with each panellist having their own area of speciality and perspective. 

What we choose to focus on matters. Yet the episode has been taken off iView and only a transcript of the episode remains on ABC's website. The same story of erasure, both overt and covert, keeps repeating itself.

Even before the ABC's announcement, there seemed to be a sense of shock surrounding the episode. In the days immediately following its broadcast, the Age called it 'raw, rude and radical'. The Daily Mail said there were calls for 'the host to be sacked'. 

Yet none of the concepts these panellists were talking about are new. In their panel at Broadside, 'Who gave you permission: Speaking up and speaking out', Nayuka pointed out they had written about the issues before. Many of the other panelists had also written and spoken extensively about the topics they discussed on Q&A.

These voices have been talking for a while now. Perhaps it's time for all of us to start really taking note.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street and a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Main image: Mona Eltahawy on Q&A

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Q&A, Mona Eltahawy, violence against women, feminism, Aboriginal, disability



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Existing comments

In her essay "Lost and Found in Translation", Kim Mahood writes of one of the great Dreaming epics, Songlines - Tracking the Seven Sisters. It is a story of the physical and psychological terrain traversed by a group of Aboriginal women who are pursued by a lustful sorcerer Yurla or Wati Nyiru. At rare moments Yurla/Wati Nyiru experiences fear and shame when he wonders what is driving him. Women of all cultures find ways of expressing grief, revenge, remorse and they can not be silenced because traumatic events affect everyone.
Pam | 12 November 2019

As an avid watcher of ABC and Q&A I am relieved that I deliberately chose NOT to watch this episode. While expletives may emphasize certain expression their over-use by man or woman unchecked by the host or the producer has degraded the program which often encourages youth to watch. I'm as much a supporter of Feminism as my age would allow but hit a brick wall with the concept and implementation of Duluth (authorities immediate assumption and action based on the guilt of the male in any domestic violence situation). The fallout from the episode almost makes me want to watch but I fear it would just cause me anxiety; Feminism (and it's most outspoken) has become too militant for even it's strongest proponents; Germaine Greer might cringe at its direction now, using emotional emploring and desperation rather than the proud and deliberate path on which it embarked. Thanks for your article, it was a good feeling to know I dodged the Q&A bullet... I am content knowing that and the blissful ignorance that goes with it.
Ray | 12 November 2019

"What if men were as scared of violence from women, as women are taught to be of men?" If that's what it takes, bring it on. I did not hear anything on that episode that shocked or offended me. On the other hand, though I am disgusted by the hysterical over-reaction to it, I am not shocked by it. It is to be expected in a society where white male entitlement infects not only most white males but (probably) most males and females of all ethnic variants of Australia. I have written to the ABC requesting that the episode be reinstated on Iview.
Paul Smith | 13 November 2019

Congratulations to the ABC for having this panel. Yes, this story of the battering and rape of women is not new. It is a shocking story, and a very old one. Has anyone read the diaries of Lancelot Threlkeld, including this 1825 excerpt : “. . . I have heard at night the shrieks of Girls, about 8 or 9 years of age, taken by force by the vile men of Newcastle. One [Aboriginal] man came to me with his head broken by the butt-end of a musket because he would not give up his wife. There are now two government stockmen, that are every night annoying the Blacks by taking their little Girls, and I am now waiting to be informed, when they are in the native camp to get them apprehended, but then, as was the case once before the evidence of the Black cannot be admitted, and indeed they are really terrified to speak.” Perhaps those who object to the "radical" Q&A would want to censor Threlkeld also?
Janet | 13 November 2019

The answer is never violence or revenge and advocating that a raped woman should kill the rapist is not the answer. This 52 year old Egyptian American, who describes herself as “ a secular, radical feminist Muslim” is talking murder and revenge. As for swearing and bad language, so what, we can all use vulgar language but most choose not to, as it indicates an inability to better articulate or even a paucity of an argument. It seems to me there is an education problem. From observation in my own childhood, I could see that people learn more and thrive better from love and kindness than anything else. If our society really is concerned about disfunction, then we need to be teaching courtesy no matter what. You don’t have to like someone but you do have to be polite. The next level up from courtesy is kindness. I far prefer to encourage the teachings and life role model of Jesus Christ. The world would be a far better place were these values taught more widely. We all need uplifting and dare I say enlightening.
Jane | 13 November 2019

Please can we have a balanced view. If you like the 'reversing the situation' argument what would be your comments on bible-based Christians say for example that the man is the head of household as Christ is the head of the church? I can only imagine the comments.
Greg | 13 November 2019

I am a avid watcher of Q&A, as is my wife, I chose not to watch this episode as I realised quickly where it was headed. The use of repeated expletives on the electronic media is a sign of our society "going down the gurgler". It is unnecessary and crude, particularly on the public broadcaster . The Moderator, in my view failed to exercise control over the use of poor language. I don't agree with the decision to pull it from "I-view" , however a warning should be inserted warning viewers. It is a great shame that all us males are tarred with the same brush. The vast majority of us are brought up by our parents to respect women, and we do . One bad apple spoils the barrel. Maybe better education at school might help?
Gavin O'Brien | 13 November 2019

This is obviously a serious matter and deserves the best attention. I know no man who does not want to improve the terrible situation. However the end does not justify the means. And to blame one part of a social system for the failure of it all is unsatisfactory diagnosis. This is likely to find blame subjects but not fix the underlying problem. The 'arrest the usual suspects' approach is likely to convert male allies into defendants. We need to know more about what underlies violence other than only gender.
Michael D. Breen | 13 November 2019

Thank you Neve for your insights into the Broadside Q&A session which I also found confronting as I nodded "yes". It exposed the real rage and truths about the violence against women! Interesting that the ABC received so many complaints that it had to be withdrawn from iView. I feel bad that I didn't send positive feedback! Particularly chuffed to find this article in Eureka Street!! Well done!
Anonymous | 13 November 2019

I saw the program, while it is not my language it had a point. If you are upset by it turn off the program. Why prevent others seeing it. Shame ABC for again responding to conservative group of 200 who complained. I can work out if I want to watch it or not.
Pat Rayner | 13 November 2019

Mona Eltahawy is a performance artist and I think the problem here is that her questionable performance overshadows the serious causes she espouses.
Edward Fido | 13 November 2019

Good point, Michael Breen - as long as we conceive the issue only in dialectical terms of a power struggle between males and females the status quo will not change. We need to rediscover the complementary nature of our different genders and the necessity of respect.
John RD | 14 November 2019

Thank you for this article! So important to have free speech in this country, even when it is controversial!!!
Leonie Lane | 14 November 2019

It is great to see that Mona Eltahawy‘s words were understood here. It doesn’t matter how many still pretend that it’s ok for man subjugate, rape and kill women, thus women cannot even express themselves and genuinely frustrations publicly without be condemned. Mona is getting a lot of deserved attention, that’s why the attacks. Her story of life is an example for never being taken as a granted. She is a an outspoken survival and as you well said, she deserve to be heard not judge.
Magda Tatar | 15 November 2019

Since toddlerhood, I was brought up with domestic violence. My mother - a good wife and mother - had a terrible existence until my father deserted her to take off with another woman. It is lifetime damaging. So I stayed single, and independent, and had a good career.
Lynne | 16 November 2019


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