By Alessia Anderson and Erin Longney
On the 26th January 2020, men’s rights activist Bettina Arndt was presented with an Order of Australia for her "significant service to the community as a social commentator, and to gender equity through advocacy for men".
The decision to award Arndt with this honour was met with much dismay and backlash from feminist activists and sexual assault survivors, including Australian of the Year (2015) and domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty, as well as Victoria’s attorney general, Jill Hennessey.
Talking to the ABC, Hennessey stated “Taking into account Ms Arndt’s well-documented opinions, public commentary and media appearances - which include sympathising with a convicted paedophile and blaming and shaming victims - this award is an insult to victims of sexual abuse and to those of us who work hard every day to prevent it.”
One of the most significant incidents that have warranted such backlash to the decision was her interview with a convicted paedophile, Nicolas Bester, who was imprisoned for grooming and raping his 15-year-old student. In the video, titled “Feminists persecute disgraced teachers,” Arndt discusses how “sexually provocative behaviour from female students” left male teachers vulnerable, and stated that women should “behave sensibly and not exploit their seductive power to ruin the lives of men”.
The victim of Bester’s crimes, Grace Tame, spoke out against Arndt’s award, telling News Corp that “honouring someone who actively defended a paedophile on a public platform is a blatant example of the protracted, systemic moral corruption that still hampers our society”.
The video was not the only issue that has prompted such backlash to awarding Arndt with the Order of Australia. In recent years, Arndt has engaged in a university campus tour where she claimed a ‘Fake Rape Crisis’ was allowing women to falsely accuse men of sexual abuse in order to seek revenge. Some of her talks, including ones at the University of Sydney and La Trobe University were met with fierce backlash and protests.
Arndt claims that she once considered herself a feminist, but can no longer identify as one due to her belief that “feminism has evolved from being something that is about equal rights into something that is all about destroying men's lives”. This way of viewing feminism is something I fear is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. I fear that people are starting to believe that feminists are out to vilify all men. That feminists hate men. That feminists are a type of women who are crazy, unapproachable and should be feared. As author Kathy Caprino describes it, feminists are associated with “strong, forceful and angry women, and our society continues to punish forceful women”. Hence, I fear that the word ‘feminist’ is becoming taboo.
Narratives perpetrated by figures like Bettina Arndt fuel these misconceptions that feminism supports women at the expense of men.
Arndt’s work ultimately undermines the positive steps our world has, and continues to take towards an impartial future regarding gender. We urge those involved with the Order of Australia recipient selection, as well those who support men’s rights advocacy groups, to ascertain that the term ‘feminism’ does not aim to undermine the status or worth of men in society, rather, advocate for women to be treated with equality and justice.