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Bringing the 'gynocide' home to Aurukun

By Caroline Spencer - posted Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Most things feminists say don’t get reported in the popular press. There’s probably a whole load of reasons for this, but I won’t go into them. But the gap this has created between feminist and mainstream conversation means that even core feminist ideas look like they’ve come from outer space when they get a public airing.

It also means that the things feminists are saying to each other about current affairs are different to what people think we are saying.

Take, for example, the Aurukun case. The “feminist” response generally reported in the popular press is that the courts need an overhaul, there needs to be more public education about violence against women, and better public services for women and children.


There’s certainly nothing wrong with this response, and feminists wouldn’t oppose it. But it’s not actually what we are saying about the case.

There’s also misunderstanding about what aspects of the case feminists think are important. The popular press seems to focus on the attitudes of the rapists, the courts, and local communities. There’s also discussion about inadequate sex education given to young people, and racism leading to Aboriginal women and girls being left unprotected from men, both inside and outside their communities.

These are all important points, and are understood by feminists. But, again, they’re not what feminists are talking about.

Since the Werribee case, and now with the Aurukun case, the feminist conversation became deadly serious - which is a worry since we weren’t really known as fun people to begin with. We’re now talking to each other about unmentionable things. One of these things is “gynocide”.

In the 2006 Werribee case, two males orally penetrated a cognitively impaired 17-year-old girl while 12 others stood around and chanted. The media described the incident as “shocking”, but feminists who see this kind of male sexual violence every day weren’t that shocked. The shock for feminists was that no one described it as rape, and the perpetrators received non-custodial sentences. All because the girl “agreed” to meet the males, and “agreed” to go with them to the riverbank.

In the Aurukun case, too, the 10-year-old girl “agreed” to meet her attackers. She had apparently been “offering to perform sex acts in exchange for cigarettes and alcohol”. This led the judiciary to view the sexual acts of a number of men against a girl who also had a cognitive impairment as not warranting punishment. In other words, the courts saw the girl in the same way the men did.


The idea of gynocide has been in feminist thinking for more than 30 years now, and could be described as a core idea. It refers to men creating a social system where women live entirely as instruments of men’s interests.

This doesn’t mean that every single woman works to serve men’s interests in every single situation. It just means that major social institutions, and the way most people (men and women) think, don’t consider women as having a viewpoint different to men. (Just like the definition of genocide in international law, “gynocide” doesn’t need women’s bodies piled in the streets.)

The idea can be most easily understood in relation to men’s sexual behaviour. If women aren’t considered to have a viewpoint different to men, rape is not possible. Social institutions and individuals simply believe that women want whatever men do to them. Women always “consent”, in other words, because no view different to that held by men is permitted or recognised.

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About the Author

Caroline Spencer is a Melbourne writer.

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All articles by Caroline Spencer

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