Clementine Ford: The Longer Setka Stays In Power, The More Entitled Abusive Men Might Feel

The Labor Party continues to wrestle with the refusal of union boss John Setka to step down from his position as head of the CFMMEU, despite his conviction this week for harassment.

On Wednesday, Setka pleaded guilty to the use of a carriage service to menace and harass. That same day, Emma Walters (who is married to Setka) confirmed that she was the target of the harassment, which included upwards of 40 text messages that variously labelled her a “sneaky c**t”, a “f**ken dog” and a “weak f**ken piece of shit”.

The two adopted a united front before both the court and the media, with Walters denying her husband was a misogynist and saying she had accepted his apology. Additionally, the pair released a joint statement in which they both blamed accumulated stress and a previous arrest on charges of blackmail for Setka’s behaviour. Those charges were later dropped.

Right. Cool. Cool, cool, cool. He was stressed. Work’s hard. Pressure. You know, just the same old excuses used for and by aggressive, abusive men for the scant amount of history in which they’ve actually been expected to be accountable for menacing their wives.

WATCH: Anthony Albanese Faces Crisis Over Union Boss John Setka

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Walters’ support for Setka has been used in some quarters as confirmation that he should be allowed to continue in his role as union boss. But as resolute as Walters might be, Setka’s suitability to continue representing workers and the Labor Party exists well beyond her own feelings now. Women who have been victimised by their partners are often well-practiced in returning to them, defending them and attempting to rehabilitate their reputation in the community.

As resolute as Walters might be, Setka’s suitability to continue representing workers and the Labor Party exists well beyond her own feelings now. (Image: AAP)

Indeed,  I think the act of publicly participating in this rehabilitation is sometimes part of a continuing dynamic of intimidation and violence. It isn’t clear that this is what’s going on in this particular case -- but nor is it out of the realm of possibility. 

Here’s why decisive action on Setka is paramount, regardless of how many union members join Walters in backing him.

As a community, we are finally beginning to understand the complexities of men’s violence against women. But men’s violence against women is not a series of isolated, unrelated events that only counts as real violence if it turns physical. It is part of a culture in which attitudes to women (not to mention the seemingly endless number of chances men are given to continue recovering from hurting us) pave the way for violence to play out on a continuum.

Verbal harassment and abuse -- and yes, this includes telecommunication based harassment, degradation and dehumanisation -- is a deeply entrenched part of that narrative. And each time a public male figure is supported to get away with modelling misogyny and disrespect to women, it makes it easier for all men to think this kind of behaviour is normal.

The fragile emotional landscapes of men and their inability to appropriately deal with stress are still used to excuse the violence they perpetrate against women, regardless of whether that violence is physical, emotional or financial.

But women do not exist to absorb men’s emotional distress. We are not the conduits for their pain and frustration.

The union movement is for everybody -- and that includes women. We are not peripheral to it, but central. But what we are being told by Setka’s ongoing presence in his role (and his obstinate refusal to step aside for the good of the movement) is that our dignity and right to live free from men’s misogyny and harassment isn’t as important as the rights of men to maintain power and control.

It is irrelevant whether or not Walters has accepted Setka’s apology and determined to work with him to save their marriage. Her willingness to forgive him isn't the thing standing in the way of his ability to do his job -- his own actions are.

Abusive men exist in the union movement. This is just a fact. And the longer Setka stays in power, the more entitled those men will feel to continue their abuse behind closed doors.

Who will speak for the women they hurt when it's clear even their union won't?