Following on from the #MeToo movement and her 2015 book Whispers from the Bush: The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women, researcher and Associate Professor Dr Skye Saunders from the University of New England believes critical voices are missing from the sexual assault discussion in Australia – those of men in rural and regional communities.
“This notion of sexual harassment has really saturated us as a nation on a daily basis; when we open our newspaper or turn on our radio – so I just want to hear from men about their perspective”, said Dr Saunders.
Her landmark study of female perspectives from “all over the country, about their experiences of workplace sexual harassment in places like cattle stations, the mines, small town police stations” shows how isolated, traditionally male dominated places engage with women and sexual harassment.
This time, her project Boys from the Bush is set to study what remote men think.
"I think it's important that we listen to raw and authentic, on-the-ground perspectives without judgement or blame, because this is a really important viewpoint to consider within the context of holistic cultural change," she said.
“It’s my hope that men will feel that this is a welcomed opportunity to actually share their voices on a topic that is really sensitive for all of us as human beings.
“I think we have really situated now in the literature the fact that sexual harassment is something that has primarily impacted women, there are a lot of reasons why the research shows that this is the case – but that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of hidden complexity about the feelings that men have in that space”.
Dr Saunders believes we need to recognise that women have moved naturally into these male dominated work places and for some people, this has created a sense of encroachment and discomfort.
“Sometimes individuals seek to target women, subconsciously or consciously, to remind them that these are male spaces and that women should 'count themselves lucky to be there'. For women, this can lead to a sense of being an 'outsider' in their own workplace." Said Dr Saunders.
Through Boys from the Bush, Saunders is determined to investigate what men make of all this and how they see their role, especially in this era of cultural reform.
"According to my preliminary research, sexual harassment is so normalised in rural Australia that men tend to completely underestimate its impact," she said.
“Some men are genuinely unclear on what actually constitutes - and doesn't constitute - sexual harassment.
“It is really important when we approach a conversation about culture, like this, that we actually listen to everyone’s perspective so that we can actually look for solutions that really do meet the different lenses that people apply to the same issue – which is sexual harassment”.
Dr Saunders believes Boys in the Bush is “an important piece to the puzzle.”