Fierce. Formidable. Fearless.
That’s how the media described Brittany Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s address at the hotly anticipated Press Club address last month.
Their message was loud and clear: the plight of sexual violence survivors would no longer be shoved under the rug.
That it’s time we insist on shedding the negative stigma attached to talking about sexual harassment and assault.
That enough is enough.
Michelle Arrow, a historian of the Australian women’s movement, described in the “feminist insurgency” spearheaded by Higgins and Tame as “extraordinary to witness”.
“Not only are we living through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has had profoundly gendered effects, we have also experienced a feminist insurgency that has placed the issue of women’s safety, and men’s abuses of power, at the centre of our national conversation,” she said.
“While many activists, journalists and advocates contributed to this insurgency, it exploded largely thanks to two young women: 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame and former parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins.”
So how have young people managed to break free of the cultural scripts about sexual assault and abuse that silenced the generations before them?
And what does it mean for Gen Zs?
The digital native generation
Hannah Joseph, a Gen Z writer, suggests young people’s unfettered access to the internet growing up has played a significant part in shaping Gen Zs openness towards discussing difficult topics like sexual violence.
“(In the past), women have been afraid of speaking up for reasons such as being labeled as attention-seekers, having their reputation and work criticised, or blamed for what has happened to them,” she wrote.
“Whereas we’ve been exposed to conversations about sex-related issues previous generations haven’t. This generation of young girls can and will change the culture surrounding sexual misconduct by removing the stigma from conversations about it, and instead making our voices heard.”
But it’s not just Gen Z women who benefit.
After all, young men are also coming of age in a generation that speaks more openly about sexual violence and misconduct.
“I think Gen Z boys are going to be different compared to men of previous generations because they are growing up in a time where women are more likely to speak out about sexual misconduct and understand that mistreating women is not acceptable.”
Sounds like the long-overdue catalyst for change to us.