Today, a woman’s smile—or rather, lack-there-of—filled half the country with joy, and sent the other half into an apoplectic fit. I am, of course, talking about Grace Tame’s photoshoot with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
It was a photo seen around the country. A sullen-faced Tame, her fiancé Max Heerey, the Prime Minister, and his wife Jenny, arriving at the Lodge in Canberra to celebrate the 2022 Australian of the Year finalists.
For many women (this author included), Tame’s expression summed up everything this past year has asked us to weather. We’ve offered our trauma for public perusal, and instead of the systemic change so desperately needed, found meaningless platitudes instead.
However, for some people, Tame refusing to play to the feminine mainstays of smiling and making nice was simply too much. In comments sections, national broadsheets and even in the posts of our elected officials, she’s been called childish, disrespectful, and ungracious.
Childish? For what? Refusing to provide a PR-friendly photo opportunity for a Prime Minister who has—in my opinion—failed repeatedly to lead when it comes to women’s safety? Attending an event where she was a guest of honour?
As Nina Funnell, the journalist behind the #LetHerSpeak campaign that allowed Grace to tell her story said: “What exactly did they think would happen when they organised this photo op? Grace Tame is not the type to lie about how she feels. And nor should we ever put her in a position where she is expected to.”
It’s hard to believe that it was only 12 months ago that Tame was announced as the 2021 Australian of the Year, an event that no one—not Tame, not the public, and certainly not Scott Morrison—could have anticipated would spark such a domino effect.
It was seeing Tame side by side with the Prime Minister that inspired Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal party staffer, to speak up about her alleged sexual assault. She has inspired countless other conversations—around dinner tables, workplaces, and amongst friends—about the evil truth of child sexual abuse in this country. She’s even been responsible to a 30-year high in people accessing sexual assault support services, with many saying they felt it was okay to access help after seeing Tame speak.
During these last 12 months, Grace Tame has worked tirelessly to bring cultural and structural change towards ending sexual abuse of children and others. She’s retraumatised herself again and again, left herself open to personal attacks, and does it all—most of the time—with a grin.
“It’s terrifying to do something in the face of evil, but what’s more terrifying is not doing something,” she told marie claire Australia in 2021. “There’s so much more potential suffering to come from doing nothing.”
So no, she’s under no obligation to smile next to the man who had to think of workplace sexual assault “as a father”, rather than a leader. (“Having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience,” Tame said at the time.) She shouldn’t ‘have’ to smile next to a man whose government created an action plan to address violence against women and children that contained “no genuine commitment, no legitimate action, just hollow words”.
She doesn’t owe you a smile. If anything, Scott Morrison might want to try wiping off his.
Lead photo: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage.