Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Goodes, Gillard, and Australia's sick culture of victim-blaming


Adam GoodesBeing victimised is not only a horrible thing to experience — it's also not going to win you any friends. On top of being initially mistreated you can generally expect further discrimination for speaking up about it. Don't expect the Australian public to sympathise with you — or even believe you.

This may be confusing for you since your unfair treatment at the hands of others seems so obviously wrong. For example, someone yells a racial slur at you while you were just trying to do your job. Then you get booed for months for publicly celebrating your cultural heritage. You might think, how can anyone say this is okay? With the evidence brought to light, how can it be denied or, worse, condoned?

But the truth is that siding with the bully or perpetrator is psychologically far easier for your average self-serving person. If anyone with a sense of morality allows themselves to be aware of someone being victimised for being who they are — whether that be Indigenous, LGBTQI, or just from a different mould — it demands that they either take some action or feel shame for doing nothing.

American social worker Michelle Sicignano touches on this in a 2013 article on Social Justice Solutions stating, 'Victim blaming alleviates the burden of guilt for doing nothing.' She quotes a 2005 article by Levin, Palmor, Branch, and Harris in the Encyclopedia of Ageism: 'Victim blaming is the tendency to attribute a problem to the characteristics of the people who are its victims.

'An important function of victim blaming', they continue, 'is that it allows those in the advantaged segment of society to avoid blaming themselves for the problems experienced by a subordinate group. From this viewpoint, little reason exists for the members of a majority group to address issues of inequity, discrimination, or bigotry.'

This is a big part of why over recent months we have had a whole lot of Australians booing Adam Goodes, and a whole lot of Australians deeming it acceptable.

Last week, shock jock Alan Jones went on the attack saying that Goodes 'is always a victim' — the implication being that it is Goodes' mindset, rather than his treatment, that is the problem. Several other similarly white and privileged public figures echoed Jones' sentiments.

People like Jones will almost never side with the victim except in one of two cases: either they can closely relate to the victim (thus, self-interest), or it happens to be the unequivocally popular side to take, in which case it is also self-serving.

In response to anti-Semitic attitudes during WWII, German sociologist Theodor W. Adorno described the practice of blaming the victim as 'one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character'. These are worrying words when you consider that we have commentators condemning Goodes for 'being a victim' when he is being so blatantly targeted.

With the West's notion of the all-powerful, autonomous individual as the sole director of their own life, it has become our white middle/upper class luxury to lay the blame for every problem at the feet of the person suffering it. This has everything to do with the fact that most of the injustice is not happening to us. It allows us to dismiss systemic injustices and relieves us of the responsibility to bring about change.

'You deserve what you get' rolls easily off the tongue for people who enjoy privilege and therefore have the luxury to declare that it doesn't exist.

We can breathe a sigh of relief believing that we are not complicit in the abuse of a great Aboriginal Australian to the extent that he is now considering bowing out; or the abuse of our capable first female prime minister who was harassed out of power by continuous attacks mostly unrelated to her leadership.

Must we blame asylum seekers for trying to survive? A woman for daring to lead? Adam Goodes for having feelings? Whether it is the far-right labelling Julia Gillard an 'eternal victim' or rape victims being asked what they were wearing or why they were out alone, victim blaming is a dangerous cultural sickness. It's a sign of a nation too lazy to progress beyond old prejudices.

We increasingly have a reputation as a racist, sexist 1950s-throwback of a country — and, more terrifying still, some are even proud of it. Australia is a new nation and, generally speaking, one that seems yet to exercise the intellectual capacities that should come with adolescence. If this kind of argument uncomfortably stretches the intellect of some, well, growing up can be a little painful.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer, journalist and occasional blogger.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Adam Goodes, Julia Gillard, victim blaming



submit a comment

Existing comments

A sadly necessary and accurate critique of the contemporary national character and of the many contributing to it.

SMK | 03 August 2015  

An excellent analysis and statement of this large festering sore in the side of Australian society.

Ian Fraser | 04 August 2015  

Wonderful article about a shocking episode. On this occasion though; I think the shock Jocks have been silenced by the greater goodwill of the vast majority of people. I hope good will triumph over evil at least this once.

Bruce Ingrey | 04 August 2015  

Thank you, Megan, but what am I to make of the PM's suggestion that Mrs Bishop was a victim of that terribly hard to understand Parliamentary Entitlements system?

Uncle Pat | 04 August 2015  

I have not seen anyone say that booing goodes is acceptable, only that it is not racially motivated. How many of the 71 AFL indigenous players are being booed? None have been identified. How many non indigenous AFL players have been booed? Plenty

Peter | 04 August 2015  

The article is, sadly, a reflection on where Australia is at. Megan Graham has accurately summed up the situation by telling us how it is. it's a pity our political and spiritual leaders haven't the courage to do the same.

Jeff | 04 August 2015  

Thanks Megan, good piece. The attacks on Adam Goodes, Julia Gilard, Gillian Triggs and others is a sad indictment of Australia's slide from progressive humanitarian polity to racist redneck land. Our treatment of asylum seekers is a national shame. What can we do to change it? I am stumped. But the support given to A Goodes this week is heartening.

Karen | 04 August 2015  

No-one has claimed that 'every single instance' of booing Adam Goodes is racially motivated and therefore 'every booer' is racist. This is a straw man argument which obfuscates the very issues Goodes raises. The consistent ongoing booing of him has coincided precisely with Goodes calling out and confronting racism. It wasn't occurring before this. What distinguishes Adam Goodes from the 71 or so other Indigenous AFL players 'is' his publicly highlighting racism, coupled with his high public profile. Goodes as champion footballer was applauded. Goodes as champion for the Indigenous is castigated. And when such championing manifests as a public confrontation of the shameful status quo, and not playing the expected role of the quiet, grateful Aboriginal performing for our entertainment, predictably some see that as an uncomfortable betrayal of an implied contract where applause and approval is contingent on never mentioning the elephant in the room.

Rashid.M | 04 August 2015  

Thank you for those words in defence of Adam Goodes and Julia Gillard, people who I admire, and for your observations about the tendency in this society to "blame the victims". Goodes and Gillard are both capable, accomplished, competent, admirable people and should not be victimised simply because of the colour of the skin of one, and the gender of the other. Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt jumping in and calling Adam Goodes names and further inflaming the situation has proven that sense and sanity, once again, has buckled under the pressure of self interest and bullying. Alan Jones has never demonstrated sensitivity to people's feelings, and continually demonstrates his alignment with the status quo, the male-dominated society that is Australia, and his own self-interest to be amongst the (self-appointed) ruling class. Shame on the football fraternity for taking so long to get behind Goodes. Wake up Australia - show some respect - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Merlene Abbott | 04 August 2015  

i cannot agree with what has been espoused in this article. As a fan of Rugby League it has never occurred to me that there are differences in the genes and culture of the players. I just enjoy watching the game. I haven't heard booing and i don't believe a lot of booing in the AFL games is racist - it could be attributed to the Aussie habit of the tall poppy syndrome or the player's efforts on the field not being to the liking of the crowd, or just because the booers are not fans of a particular team, or they just might not like the player. Booing is part of what happens at events where there are competing teams. i resent being labelled a racist because i won't join in the current atrtribution of what is happening to Adam Goodes as racist rants. we all need to take a deep breath and let Adam get on with his job - and please will all media leave off this silly naming and shaming of anyone who won't agree with the racist appellation to anyone who boos an indigenous player for his actions on the field.

Pat Cannard | 04 August 2015  

Australians are guilty of not accepting recent Australian history. I was in Darwin at the time of the 1968 referendum.'a year before it was decreed that Aboriginal stockman had to be paid the minimum wage and not just be rewarded with rations. In the 18th century theologians were even debating whether Aboriginals had souls. We have come a long way since then. (I hope).

john ozanne | 04 August 2015  

Pat, the unprecedented booing campaign against Goodes - as opposed to the occasional booing comparable to the booing of other players - began when he did an Aboriginal war dance to celebrate a goal during the Indigenous round. I'm not sure what other evidence is needed to confirm that there is very obviously a strong racial element to the booing (even if not every person who has ever booed Goodes did so for racial reasons).

Megan Graham | 04 August 2015  

I feel sorry for the West Coast supporters who happened to be at the game which brought the Goodes saga to a head.Early in the game he displeased WC supporters by flattening his young opponent & then marking the ball- It looked bad but I agreed with the ump it was fair.However shortly afterwards both players went to mark the ball Goodes went for a dive &received a free-I agreed with the spectators it was wrong.As is normal the crowd kept venting their unhappiness with Goodes.WC has probably hosted and applauded more aboriginal players than any other club.Their reactions were typical, as at every game they either cheer or boo as they pass judgement !!

Brian.Martin | 04 August 2015  

Lumping Gillard in this is ridiculous when she was responsible for the worst and most brutal abuse of refugees, aborigines and kept insisting that real migrants like her parents are upset about refugees getting ''special privileges'', Gillard was despised by many because she was a bully, not because she was a woman.

Marilyn | 04 August 2015  

Thank you for this article. So often the smart "caption" labels the victim. We saw the in the way the Libs taunted Julia Gillard

Lois Young | 04 August 2015  

Thankyou for a fair and just appraisal of what is happening in Australian Society to people who stand up for what is decent.

whatismore | 04 August 2015  

Thanks for that, Megan, I really enjoyed your pithy summary of something that is such a serious and deep problem for Australia (and elsewhere, presumably). It helped clarify for me the psychological syndromes that contribute to the widespread, if not mob-like, targetting of the 'outsider'. It is no wonder that people like Jones et al feed off the destructive elements of our mob behaviours - fomenting fear and distrust so effectively and totally failing to engage in the honest and necessary analysis that your article offered. Excellent.

Marion Barker | 05 August 2015  

Brilliant! You covered every side of the issue clearly, concisely and cuttingly. This article needs to be on the front page of all the popular newspapers! It would shame those whose fears, ignorance and lack of empathy bond them to form a faceless hoard with a dangerous mob mentality. Perhaps a few more would then come out of the crowd and begin to care and stand up for those who are unjustly treated. Perhaps they would even question the morality and intentions of those in power who condone or support such attitudes and behaviour. Bravo! You are a wonderful journalist. :)

Annabel | 05 August 2015  

This article should be read widely. The decline into open racism which we are witnessing is worse than it was while Pauline Hanson was in the media every day. Now we apparently have a silent federal government approving of this trend, emboldening the extremists to the extent that they parade their swastikas in the city. The days when white racist countries were tolerated has passed. We will suffer as a nation if we do not address this.

Bilal | 06 August 2015  

We blame the victims of terrible murders if they happen to be domestic. We blame mental illness or the relationship break up for men (mostly) killing their children and the innocent ex wife is seen to have contributed substantially to his state of mind.

Julie | 07 August 2015  

Very thought provoking article. What has happened to our ethos of giving all a fair go .. .. and not kicking a person when they are down?? Were these always myths.

Anne Zevis | 07 August 2015  

Thank you Megan. Great and truthful article! In the 1970s I worked with an Indigenous community in NW NSW. Here, I constantly encountered the kind of victim-blaming attitudes towards the people I worked with. They were strong, brave people who addressed racist attitudes front on, and it was a privilege to know and work with them. I learned a lot which set me up for future experiences of victim-blaming, particularly in the areas of disability, homeless people, and people caught in addictions. Best wishes.

Margaret Armstrong | 07 August 2015  

The animosity towards Goodes with the booing began before the tribal dance. My theory is: some are racist, others dislike him because of his outspokenness (which can be perceived as arrogance) and stupidly call him derogatory names and others just boo because he's on the opposite team. I never saw Hasem El Masri, Jonathan Thurston or other indigenous/ethnic athletes get booed. Plenty of white athletes have been booed and pegged with objects. Warwick Capper in his time copped a lot of flack but was his treatment a result of discrimination against dumb blondes? Point is we cannot lump everyone in the same boat. As for Gillard she doesn't count- half of the animosity stemmed from how she grabbed the leadership off a popular PM not because of her gender, though like Goodes it came into play when people couldn't think of any other insults.

Alf | 15 December 2015  

Similar Articles

Four preconditions for supporting marriage equality

  • Frank Brennan
  • 12 August 2015

I readily accept that the Commonwealth Parliament will legislate for same sex marriage in the foreseeable future. When Parliament does, I will be fully accepting of that decision. If asked by politicians how they should exercise their conscience vote, there is no way that I would say that they should not support civil recognition of same sex marriage. But neither would I say that they must support it NOW. If I were a member of parliament, I would want four assurances before I voted for same sex marriage.


Should Labor break ties with the unions?

  • John Warhurst
  • 03 August 2015

The formal link between trade unions and the Labor Party is sacred in many quarters, and has sustained both sides of the relationship for 120 years. The revelations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, despite its anti-Labor political origins, may eventually generate change. But the question has been around for decades, and any move to break the link would be vigorously opposed.