Safeguarding masculinity, protecting our borders: the banality of sexual violence in the public sphere in Australia



Publication Details

Chalmers, S. & Dreher, T. 2009, 'Safeguarding masculinity, protecting our borders: the banality of sexual violence in the public sphere in Australia', in T. Dreher & C. Ho (eds), Beyond the Hijab Debates: New Conversations on Gender, Race and Religion, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. pp. 134


Since 2001, the "ethnic gang rapes" committed around the Sydney suburb of Bankstown have been repeatedly invoked in public debates about multiculturalism, Australian values and the "war on terror". These rapes were sensationalised not only because of the public outrage at the viciousness of the attacks but also because they were repeatedly, symbolically tied to other contemporary political events-both local and global. The perpetrators and the assaults were characterised as both foreigners and foreign to Australian life and values. The public discourse around these events has been analysed in terms of the racialisation of crime (Poynting et al. 2004; Manning 2004) and more recently, a growing scholarship has focused on questions of gender and masculinity (Serisier 2006, Grewal 2007, Baird 2009 forthcoming, Abood in this collection). In this chapter we extend the analysis of "stories that are constructed about this crime" (Wilcox 2005: 516) to highlight two interrelated concerns. Firstly, we explore the ways in which public discourse on the "Bankstown gang rapes" has in fact served to reproduce the invisibility of everyday sexual violence in Australia. Secondly, we argue that these discourses reflect not only processes of racialisation and the normalisation of male sexual violence, but that crucially, they are shaped by a pervasive heteronormativity. Indeed, we maintain that the categories of gender, race, ethnicity and heterosexuality are in fact intimately connected and mutually reinforcing, such that the national project of "protecting our borders" becomes focused on the paternalistic project of "protecting our women" as reproducers of a white heterosexist national narrative. Within this account,as other feminist theorists have previously noted, interracial sexual contact is the most dangerous and intimate of all border crossings (Nagel 2003; McClintock 1995; Frankenberg 1995; Davis 1981).

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