opinion

'If you're telling Grace Tame to smile, you might just be part of the problem.'

This post discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

A photo of Grace Tame standing next to our Prime Minister Scott Morrison has gone viral. Why? 

Because she wasn’t smiling. It was a powerful image and the reason the photo has already managed to take over the national conversation is because the absence of her smile signals so much to all of us. 

It shows she’s fed up, she’s angry, and she’s refusing to pretend she’s a fan of Morrison's and honestly, why should she?  

Watch "Things that people say are totally heartless" Grace Tame on her experience in the public eye. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Yesterday, Tame came face to face with our Prime Minister while attending The Lodge for a morning tea ahead of the Australian Of The Year Awards in Canberra. The Guardian reported Morrison congratulated Tame and her partner Max Heerey on their recent engagement news but that Tame refused to meet his eye. Later, when they posed for the now infamous photo - Tame didn’t smile.  

The powerful photo op has kicked off a frenzy online. 

Feminist commentator Jane Caro tweeted, “Smile, girlie, and be nice. All our lives smiling, smiling, smiling till our jaws, hearts and brains ache. Thank you @TamePunk”.  

ADVERTISEMENT

On the other end of the spectrum, Liberal Senator, James McGrath, in a now deleted Facebook Post, called her behaviour, “childish,” - a particularly cruel remark considering Tame’s childhood was marred by sexual abuse.  

Meanwhile, The Project’s host Peter van Onselen said Tame was, “ungracious, rude and childish, refusing to smile for the cameras, barely acknowledging his existence when standing next to him. The footage tells the story free of overstatement.” 

There has been much online discussion over Tame’s frown with some people, (mostly men), arguing that it is Tame’s role to smile and be polite to the Prime Minister and others, (mostly women), arguing that Tame doesn’t have to smile and she owes Morrison nothing.  

Here's the problem with telling Tame to smile or to be more polite. 

It’s sending a message that all women should be polite - no matter what. That they should respect people in power and not speak out against their actions. 

Horrifyingly, it also fits in with Tame’s own story, she has spoken at length about finding it hard to speak out against her teacher - a man in power - and now she’s at a point where she’s finally in a position of power herself and she’s being told to just smile? To respect a man in a powerful position, regardless of how she feels about it?

ADVERTISEMENT

It is beyond offensive.  

And surely this isn’t the time to stay quiet. According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2.2  million Australian women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. One woman a week is killed by her husband or intimate partner. This isn't a time to say nothing and smile.

How can Tame’s story not be a reminder that we need to empower women to feel comfortable sharing their stories and speaking up when they feel something is wrong. Founder of The Sexism Project, Laura Bates told Stylist: “Being told to smile is one of the most common ways in which women’s privacy is invaded in public spaces. It might sound minor, but it is part of a spectrum of behaviour that normalises the idea that women’s bodies are public property: fair game for comment and instruction from strangers.” 

And where is the line in all of this? 

If we tell a woman to smile, do we also then get to tell a woman to be quiet? Do we also get to tell a woman who to sleep with? It’s a slippery slope and I’m certainly sick of seeing Australia slide down it.  

Tame has spent a year sharing her trauma and advocating for victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse, mining into the deepest parts of her personal trauma to help others. She was the face of the #LetHerSpeak movement - advocating for laws to allow for victims to speak about their abusers.

She’s also spent a year disagreeing with Morrison over the decisions and comments he makes, the decision and comments that affect vulnerable Australian women.  

How can we forget that when Brittany Higgins came forward with her allegations that she was raped in a Federal Minister’s office, Morrison took a day to respond before saying: "Jenny and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls? Jenny has a way of clarifying things — always has."

Listen to No Filter's episode with Grace Tame. Hosted by Mia Freedman. Post continues after podcast. 


Basically, Morrison needed his wife to understand the severity of what happened to Higgins.

At the time Tame responded and told The National Press Club: "It shouldn't take having children to have a conscience. And actually, on top of that, having children doesn't guarantee a conscience."

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, this wasn’t the only time Tame and Morrison disagreed. In December, Tame called out Morrison for his response to the Jenkin’s Report - a report that found one in three workers in Parliament House were sexually harassed and one per cent had been sexually assaulted. 

The report outlined 28 reforms. Morrison has yet to introduce any of them. In response, Tame said: “Actions speak louder than words. It remains to be seen that there’s any actual change.” 

Tame also called out Morrison’s decision after he appointed Lorraine Finlay as Australia’s next Human Rights Commissioner. Finlay has previously shared that she opposes an affirmative consent model, a reform Tame advocates for and supports. At the National Summit on Women’s Safety, Tame called Morrison’s decision, “a grave mistake.”  

When Morrison temporality chose to give Christian Porter more power and promoted him to leader of the House of Representatives Tame appeared on ABC’S 7.30, where she said the appointment “sends a message of skewed priorities.”  

Tame also told the Betoota Advocate that after her famous and moving Australian Of The Year Speech, Morrison said, “Well, gee, I bet it felt good to get that out” - yes he actually said "gee". 

But sure. She should have smiled. 

Last night, during a fiery debate on The Project, between Peter van Onselen and Carrie Bickmore, Bickmore summed it up nicely when she said: “Why should she have to be silenced and quiet, why can’t she go and make a statement?”  

Putting all of that in context, it makes sense why Tame may not wish to stand beside Scott Morrison and seemingly support him in a photo opportunity. I imagine she turned up to honour the role of Australian of the Year. 

Smiling would be a betrayal of her beliefs, opinions and passion for what she believes needs to happen to support women and prevent violence against them.

So if you're one of the people telling Grace Tame to smile, or in support of those who have, perhaps it's time to ask yourself - are you part of the problem?

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: AAP.