Women don't owe you a smile

Abigail spoke on the current state of gender equality in our community - we still have a long way to go.

Abigail said:

Who would have thought that in 2022 there could be so much fuss over what a woman does with her face. We are many decades past the days of women being frowned upon for wearing pants. It is no longer acceptable to deny women the same legal rights as men or to tell us that we can only do certain jobs. We no longer have to ask permission from our husbands to own property. In fact, we have laws preventing discrimination on the basis of being a woman. One could be forgiven for thinking that we were living in a society committed to equality for women.

But that was before Grace Tame stood next to the Prime Minister and did not smile. She did not use her face in a manner that is customary to please a man. Even worse, she did not conduct herself in a way to prevent that man from being uncomfortable. Across Australia women scowled with the knowledge that we have so very much to do to tackle sexism in our society, because when was the last time the media went bananas at the idea that a man was not smiling at a public meeting? When did we last hear a "tsk tsk" from the right-wing shock jocks about a man posing for photographs and not smiling? I cannot think of a single time that has happened, because the expectations of women's behaviour are still very different to the expectations of men.

This was a woman who was not just not smiling; she was not behaving and she did not know her place. Let us put to one side the very good reasons she had for having nothing to smile about in the company of Morrison. The fact is that however toe curling her encounter with Morrison may have been and however disgusted she may have been feeling, the expectation was that she would still manufacture a smile. How is that any more acceptable than being told to smile by random men when we walk down the street? It is not. In a world where women are constantly fighting for bodily autonomy and the right to control their own lives, and when we have made such strides in asserting that we do not need to be told what to wear, where to go or who to be with, it turns out that we do not even get to do what we want with our own faces.

It does not stop there. Heaven forbid a woman speaks loudly or assertively—she is labelled "shrill", "shrieking" or "emotional". We have heard similar criticisms made of women right here in this Chamber. The truth is that we are still only at the beginning of the fight for equality for women. But it is people like Grace Tame who give us hope. Her term as Australian of the Year was glorious. I enjoyed so much of what she had to say and I admired her stunning courage in the face of people determined to silence and discredit her. The discussions she spurred have taken us that much further in what is unfortunately going to be a long battle for true equality. I thank Grace Tame. She has made me smile, and that choice to smile was mine to make.


The full transcript can be found in Hansard here.

Join 50,494 other supporters in taking action