A passionate discussion on Q&A about the sexual harassment and assault crisis engulfing politics was brought to a crescendo with drag performer Courtney Act’s observations on how she is treated by men while presenting as a woman.
Providing a fresh perspective on Australian politics as several men face allegations of sexual assault yet remain in their positions, Act was praised on social media as she called for more women in charge.
She said her experience living as both Courtney Act and Shane Jenek has made it clear just how necessary it is.
Act, who is gender fluid, said she was blown away by the difference in how she is treated while in drag.
“I’m like a pretty blonde and men treat me exactly like you would expect the archetypal pretty blonde,” she said. “I get flirted with, patronised … It is fascinating … I don’t think women understand how differently they are treated by men.”
She went on to call for change within the Liberal Party in particular, to put women with “lived experience” at the forefront.
“We can’t teach consent in our schools appropriately … The Police Commissioner and his suggestion of a consent app — he doesn’t understand what consent is or how it works. He’s the Commissioner! Scott Morrison not being able to have empathy unless it was seen through the eyes of his daughters and wife.
“It just seems the men in this country don’t have the capacities for empathy. And we need to see more women, particularly in the Liberal Party, taking control because then we will have less of these issues when women who have lived experience are in charge.”
Responding to the moment on Twitter, viewers were full of praise for the star.
Act’s comments came after an audience member posed a question to Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie, who resigned from the frontbench in February last year, about equality in politics.
“My question is to Senator McKenzie because you are the only person to step down as a result of the so-called ‘sports rorts’ matter,” the audience member said. “Why is it when these things happen in parliament, it’s always women who lose their job? You lost your job. Christine Holgate lost her job and so did Brittany Higgins. I’m a man and I’m quite fed up with it.”
Maintaining that it was her decision to resign, host Hamish Macdonald pressed her to comment on the current events.
“It should be noted you were one of the few Coalition MPs that attended the March 4 Justice in front of the Parliament House,” he pressed.
“You many have observed everything with ministers embroiled in standard, MPs not stepping down, do you think the standards are applied evenly?”
Senator McKenzie responded: “With respect to the March 4 Justice and the issues that that raised, I think we had two substantive issues on this side. The allegations of rape, et cetera, colliding with what I think is the lived experience of women across this country.
“Everyone has a story to tell. And that — these two issues galvanised and collided with that broader issue within society and women just went, ‘You know what? Sexual harassment, violence against women is not OK.’
“That’s why I went to the march. Was I there for the broader agenda and the log of claims that that brought forward? No. I was there for every woman who told me her story — for everybody that wants to stand up and say it’s not OK.”
She went on to assert that when these issues are “politicised”, it is women who suffer.
“You know who misses out when this politics gets played? It is women. It is women. And so if you want to stand up and be loud and proud about women’s rights and be a feminist in this space, you better be a feminist and stand up for all women.
“That includes women whose beliefs you don’t agree with. Like [Liberal MP] Nicolle Flint, [Assistant Minister for Women] Amanda Stoker, like me sometimes, because we should be, I think, galvanising about the things that unite us rather than, again, dividing and then women end up losing.”
Disagreeing, Act pointed out: “Amanda Stoker doesn’t stand up for all women, though, because she has an anti-trans petition.”
The Queensland Senator has previously championed a petition titled “stand up to the transgender agenda”.
Reiterating her point, Senator McKenzie concluded: “I’m not Amanda Stoker. I’m Bridget McKenzie. I’m here saying that the only people that miss out when we politicise this are women.”
Elsewhere, Labor’s shadow health minister Mark Butler praised his party for inclusion before a brusque interruption from Macdonald, who noted that women in the ALP are not leaders or deputy leaders.
“I lead the Senate team. We’re 80 per cent female,” Mr Butler rebutted.
“They are smart, articulate, passionate regional women … Now nearly a third of our party room is women. That is just transforming. It’s been transformative.
“I think once you get women into these positions, then it is about positions of power. It is about who the factional leaders are within the Labor Party rather than just who is holding the leadership positions. For us, it’s making sure there is pathways to ministerial positions. So they can have real power.”