“I want my daughters to grow up to be fierce, strong, independent, amazing people. I think they can still do that and show kindness to other people and be polite and have manners.” That’s what Jenny Morrison said during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s appearance on 60 Minutes last night. It was in response to Grace Tame’s now-famous appearance at that Australian of the Year event – and those viral pics of her not smiling next to the PM.
Search “politeness” and you’ll find synonyms like “civil” and “courteous”, “being socially correct” and “the absence of rudeness”. All of these are grey-area concepts that rely on what one party deems to be acceptable and unacceptable. Mix in a little historical misogyny and you’ve got one hell of a problem term when it’s applied to women.
Jenny Morrison’s comments pissed me off so much, and I think it’s because what she’s essentially asking for is for women to stay quiet. If we are talking specifically about Tame’s actions at the Australian of the Year event, then it’s implied that smiling and appearing happy to be standing next to the prime minister is polite, even if you’re not happy to be there and, actually, you’ve got major issues with his policies and attitudes. What “politeness” asks for is that Tame should suppress those feelings. We expect men to hold this opinion, but it’s particularly shit when it’s women championing these toxic norms.
Politeness is shutting the hell up and not rocking the boat. Don’t make men feel uncomfortable. Don’t make waves. Maintain the status quo. Don’t stand up for what you believe in if it will cause a scene. Be dishonest if you need to be! Straight up fucking lie so no one feels weird!
Why on Earth would you want anyone to grow up and embody that? I don’t want my future children to keep the peace. I want them to challenge it and stand for what they believe in.
Look, I get it – she’s his wife, and it can’t have been enjoyable for Scott Morrison to experience that on a national scale. Obviously she would feel empathy for him. It was embarrassing, fuck even I had a knee-jerk initial reaction to the photos, feeling sorry for Morrison even though I personally don’t support him in the slightest.
But then I read Grace Tame’s tweet about it. “Survival of abuse culture is dependent on submissive smiles.” I realised that even I had ingrained misogyny. Even I expected women to maintain this toxic politeness. It wasn’t a fun realisation, let me tell you.
I thought about it some more. I am such a fucking people-pleaser. The pressure to be polite is why my instinct is to smile and laugh, even when that grotty waiter made a sexist AND racist joke. It’s why I kept nodding and smiling when that dude in the bar queue continued to flirt with me, even as I reared back every time he blasted whiskey breath in my ear. Shit, it’s why I’ve stayed for TWO DRINKS on dates where the dude has given me major alarm bells.
I struggle to rock the boat, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. Even when my actual safety is on the line. Men have gotten away with a lot of bad shit because of my politeness.
So you know what? Enough. Fuck your politeness, Jenny. I will make my feelings known and not be afraid to stand for what I know is right. I won’t be fake for the sake of others’ comfort. I will let go of this idea that standing in my truth is rude, because actually, it’s not rude to be authentic. It’s rude to expect someone to be fake so everyone else feels comfy and secure.
It’s impossible for women to be strong, independent and fierce if we’re only allowed to be strong, independent and fierce when it’s comfortable for others.
When it’s “polite”.
Melissa is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram here.