Stat of the day: 1 in 6 Australians thinks “no” means “yes”

A new national study of over 17, 000 people found that 1 in 6 of my fellow Australians believes that, when it comes to sex, when women say “no,” they sometimes mean “yes.”

The numbers in this survey are really fucking grim, and what’s more depressing is that the views on sexual and domestic violence have barely shifted since the survey was last conducted, in 2009, or since it was first conducted, in 1995. You read that right: attitudes about intoxicated women being “partly responsible” when another adult makes the decision to rape them have not progressed in my home country in almost two decades. Get it together, Australia.

It gets worse:

  • Fewer than 10% of Australians believe that you can be raped by someone if you’re in a relationship with them.
  • Almost 40% of Australians agree with the statement, “a lot of times women who say there were raped led the man on and later had regrets.”
  • Only 9% believe that “a man is less responsible for rape if drunk/affected by drugs at the time.” To be clear: 9% of Australians think you should go easy on a guy if he rapes someone while intoxicated, but 16% think that it’s partly a woman’s fault if she’s raped while intoxicated.
  • 12% Australians – that’s more than 1 in 10 – believe that “if a woman goes into a room alone with a man at a party, it is her fault if she is raped.”

The survey also reveals that, across the board, since 2009, Australians have become more likely to hold sexist views about gender roles in the public sphere. Whether they’re asked about education (“university education is more important for a boy”) or the workforce (“when jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women”) or about politics (“men make better political leaders”), Australians are more likely to agree with those sexist-ass statements than they were four years ago.

The survey doesn’t account for why Australians have become more likely to endorse sexist ideas, particularly when it comes to women in government. But if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that this is backlash against the short and tumultuous tenure of Julia Gillard, the nation’s first woman Prime Minister, who took office in 2010 and was ousted in 2013. You remember Julia Gillard – she’s the one who delivered this epic parliamentary smackdown about misogyny and sexism last year. You might want to watch it again, just to get you revved up and righteous on a sleepy Wednesday morning:

The misogyny that was unleashed in the wake of Gillard’s ouster of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the barrage of sexist bullshit that was thrown at her while she was in office, was predictable, but it was still incredibly disheartening to witness. And it’s clear that that kind of media coverage both reflected and shaped public opinion about women in public life, such that Australians are now less likely than they were a few years ago to believe that women make good politicians (Australia’s current Foreign Minister is a woman, by the way).

Again, this survey doesn’t look at causation, so we’re left to speculate about why Australia seems to be slipping backwards. But I’d be willing to bet that Gillard’s less-than-smooth tenure has more than a little to do with it. As I wrote about “Prime Ministering while female” in 2012,

That Gillard has had a rocky run as PM is not in itself what concerns me. What concerns me is that, because she is Australia’s first woman PM, there is a risk that Gillard’s rocky run could make both parties, and the public, gun-shy on the question of voting for another woman as party leader or as PM.

This is not fair to Gillard, of course, but it is the burden that is borne by first-anythings and by tokens; they are taken as representative of an entire group. Just as Barack Obama’s performance as President carries extra weight and significance for the leadership prospects of African Americans, so does Julia Gillard run the risk of “ruining it” for any woman who comes after her. It’s an unfair burden – running a country is quite enough to be getting on with – but that is how these things tend to work.

It looks like that’s exactly how that worked. So right now, Australians are less likely to want women in government than they were five years ago, and 1 in 6 Australians believes it’s your fault if you’re raped while you’re drunk. It would be great if we had some more women in government to help make the kind of policy and cultural change that can eradicate beliefs like that. If only women didn’t make such terrible politicians, amirite?

Avatar ImageChloe Angyal came out of the womb opinionated.

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Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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