Sexuality in the shadows



Publication Details

Dreher, T. and Chalmers, S. (2005). 'Sexuality in the shadows', The 8th Women in Asia Conference: University of Technology, September 26-28, Sydney (pp. 29-30). Australia: University of Technology, Sydney.


The latter half of 2001 saw the development of a media and political spiral of racialisation which represented Muslim women as the quintessential 'other' in the public sphere in Australia. At the end of July, news reports emerged of a series of vicious sexual assaults in Sydney's western suburbs which were categorised as 'a new race crime'. While these events still dominated talk-back radio and political and social commentary, subsequent events including the Tampa incident, September 11, the children overboard scandal, and the federal election campaign shaped by a discourse of fear around 'border protection' were reduced to a monolithic political diatribe of terror, threat, national and personal security. Previous research has found that these events were explained by categories of culture, 'race' and religion as opposed to other social factors such as socio-economic issues and social exclusion.

What has been missing from public debates has been a rigorous interrogation of the racialisation of gender and sexuality. The only attempts at focusing on the gendered and sexualised nature of the initial sexual assaults was to either frame the victim as innocent, pure and white, or, alternatively to blame the hyper-masculinity of the perpetrators on the assumed oppression of Muslim women. Scholarly research has produced detailed analyses of the racialised discourse around these events but little scrutiny has been directed towards the complexity of the intersection of race and sexuality. Indeed, they have been interrogated as mutually exclusive and as a consequence common sense understandings of sexual violence have become normalised.

In this paper we highlight a range of concerns that have remained in the shadows and argue for a more sophisticated and complex approach to understandings ofthe cultural inter-connections between gender, sexuality, 'race', and ethnicity in the contemporary Australian body politic.

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