explainer

Bettina Arndt was named on the Australia Day honours list. 33,000 people want her removed.

The name Bettina Arndt was once synonymous with sex. In the 1970s, the then-sex therapist was famous for dishing out unabashed advice via the media, touching on anything from foreplay to the female orgasm.

But these days, Bettina has a new headline-baiting passion project: men’s rights activism.

She devotes her time to ‘social commentary’ — YouTube videos, blog and social media posts, media appearances, all geared toward highlighting what she calls “the anti-male feminist agenda”. Whether she’s railing against the #metoo movement or accusing the media of skewing domestic violence statistics to vilify men (more on that later), at the core of her activism is her belief that feminism has simply gone too far.

Watch: Bettina Arndt on being attacked by “desperate” feminists. (Post continues below.)

Video via Channel 10

It’s because of some of those views, that more than 33,000 people have this week signed a Change.org petition calling for Arndt to be removed as a Member of the Order of Australia.

Arndt was awarded the honour on January 26, in part, due to her services for “gender equity through advocacy for men”.

The petition, however, argues that Arndt’s ‘men’s rights’ ideology is “extremist” and has “has no place amongst our national awards”.

The petitioners aren’t alone in their criticism of Arndt’s honour.

On Wednesday, Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy confirmed that she wrote a letter to Governor-General David Hurley requesting that he overturn the decision.

“Taking into account Ms Arndt’s well-documented opinions, public commentary and media appearances — which include sympathising with a convicted paedophile and blaming and shaming victims — this award is an insult to victims of sexual abuse and to those of us who work hard every day to prevent it,” she wrote.

So how did we get here? How did Bettina Arndt go from empowering women to becoming one of Australia’s most controversial social commentators? And what exactly did she do that has people so outraged?

Let’s take a look.

From sex therapist to MRA.

After studying psychology at university in the 1970s, sex therapist Bettina Arndt rose to prominence courtesy of her role as editor of Forum: The Australian Journal of Interpersonal Relations. Despite the stuffy title, the magazine was somewhat of a bible for sexually liberated Aussies, covering topics from tantric sex to the issue of ‘jealousy among swingers’.

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From there came newspaper columns, TV and radio segments, and her own weekly sex-focused talkback show on Saturday nights on 2GB.

Speaking about her work as a sex therapist, Arndt previously told Mamamia that, as a young feminist, she was excited about the opportunity to introduce more choice to women’s lives and “orgasms were a good place to start”. But she said that in the decades since, something shifted. Feminism, in her view, became less about empowering women and more about victimhood.

Arndt largely put sex to one side and began a career as a social commentator, writing regularly for print and, later, online media on a broad range of issues.

Her work revealed her to be surprisingly socially conservative, with rigid ideas about relationships and family structures. She infamously questioned Julia Gillard’s suitability for the role of Prime Minister given she was unmarried: “as a popular role model for women, her lifestyle choice may influence other women into making big mistakes about their lives,” Arndt wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Women’s tiny reproductive window means they pay a high price for wasting precious breeding time in such uncertain relationships.”

Listen: The Quicky explores how Order of Australia awards are decided and why Bettina Arndt’s has stirred so much controversy. (Post continues below.)

Over the last few years, though, she’s dedicated her working life to “promoting men’s issues” and commenting on “anti-male culture”. Arguing her ethos during an address to the Sydney Institute in 2018, she said, “Feminism today is not about promoting equality but rather tilting laws, rules and regulations to advantage women at the expense of men.”

But in the process of speaking up for the blokes of Australia, Arndt has made a number of choices that have been controversial, to put it lightly. Among them, advocating for two sex offenders.

Advocating for sex offenders.

In an article published by Fairfax Media in 1997 (‘When Saying Sorry is Enough’), Arndt wrote an article about a Canberra doctor who had admitted to repeatedly sexually assaulting patients, including a girl who was 12 years old at the time of the abuse.

Arndt, who had previously been a patient of this physician, argued that the man shouldn’t face criminal charges because he had apologised and was no longer practising medicine. She also described his actions as “not an act of violence but rather an action that in another context would be loving and pleasurable”.

Then, in 2017, Bettina Arndt posted a 17-minute video to her YouTube channel in which she interviewed Nicolaas Bester, a Tasmanian teacher who was convicted of repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old student; a crime he later described on social media as “awesome” and “enviable”.

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In the since-deleted video, titled ‘Feminists Persecute Disgraced Teacher’, Arndt argued that Bester, who had served his prison time (19 months of his total 2-year-and-10-month sentence), deserved to be left alone to get on with his life. In doing so, she labelled the teenage survivor’s behaviour as “sexually provocative” and suggested school girls needed to be spoken to about “exploiting their seductive power to ruin the lives of men”.

In an interview with Studio 10 this week, Arndt conceded that portions of the video must have devastated the survivor, who at the time called it “shocking”.

“I can understand her point of view and I have apologised for the tone of some of that interview but I don’t apologise for addressing the issue of whether people who serve their crimes should be allowed to get on with their lives,” she said.

Domestic violence and the “fake” campus rape crisis.

The meat of Bettina Arndt’s work these days is in countering what she claims to be the demonisation of men via sexual and domestic assault claims.

She argues that media and (what she calls) “the domestic violence industry” have turned domestic violence into a gender issue by ignoring male victims: “The notion that family violence is all about men terrorizing women is a gross distortion of the true picture,” Arndt wrote on her blog.

While the experiences of male victims should never be dismissed, the statistics are clear: a victim of domestic violence is far more likely to be female. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare domestic violence report for 2019, one in 16 Australian men have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous partner since the age of 15. For women, it’s one in six. When it comes to perpetrators, 2019 research by the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that “men accounted for around five in six domestic violence offenders recorded by police”. And crucially, in the case of female offenders, “women are more likely to use violence in self-defence or in response to historical violence” at the hands of their partner.

Arndt also denies there’s a “rape crisis” on Australian university campuses. In fact, she embarked on a speaking tour of universities to argue just that — it’s called the ‘Fake Rape Crisis Campus Tour’. According to Arndt, universities have been bullied by feminists into adjudicating on students’ rape claims, resulting in unfair “kangaroo courts” that deny male students normal legal protections.

UTS Academic and Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Jenna Price, told Mamamia‘s daily news podcast, The Quicky, that she doesn’t see any evidence that fair process has been deviated from by any campus or university administration: “Can I just say that one rape on campus is too many. So getting the culture right so that doesn’t happen is an important thing to strive for. And I’m just not aware of any men being put in the position where they don’t get any representation.”

The backlash to this has been strong. The riot squad were called to quell protests when she appeared at Sydney University in 2018 and, in September last year, protestors at UNSW were met by 20-30 security guards and police.

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That campus lecture tour was listed in the citation for Arndt’s Member of the Order of Australia honour.

The AM and questions about qualifications.

Bettina Arndt was one of 837 people to receive an award on the ‘Australia Day Honors List 2020’ in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

The awards are voted on by a council of 19 members, including representatives from each state and territory, public office holders (the Chief of the Defence Force, for example), and community representatives who have been chosen by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Their decision to honour Arndt has been criticised not only by those who authored and signed the petition mentioned above but by a number of social commentators and gender-equality advocates.

Anti-domestic violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty was among those to publicly criticise the award. She told The Guardian: “I was completely shocked and then I was quite dismayed. I couldn’t help but wonder how it could be that somebody has been rewarded for work … that actually pits men against women.”

In response, Arndt wrote about Batty on Facebook: “Playing the feminist puppet is further damaging the reputation of this once admirable woman.”

As that criticism swirled, another controversy arose.

Media outlet New Matilda published an investigation that alleged Bettina Arndt repeatedly promoted material that represented her as a psychologist, despite the fact that she’d never been legally registered as such.

To call yourself a psychologist you must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. And though Arndt has tertiary qualifications in psychology, she never took this step.

Yet the publication cited 179 instances in which Arndt was described as either a clinical psychologist or a doctor, including dozens of media interviews and reports, during appearances at conferences and in parliament. Arndt republished several of the media reports on her website and social media channels without correction.

Mamamia is among the outlets named in the investigation. In a 2018 article, Mamamia referred to Bettina Arndt as a psychologist. Arndt had the opportunity to correct that information. She didn’t.

Arndt strongly denied any wrongdoing.

“I am not currently a practising psychologist. However, that was certainly my professional training when I started my career in the 1970s,” she wrote in a statement on her website. “It’s common practice for well-known people to use labels that include their professional background.

“I did not hang up a shingle nor tout for business as a psychologist.”

AHPRA is “looking” at the information presented by New Matilda.

As for the Member of the Order of Australia honour, that remains in place. For now.

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