Instrumentalities of the Settler State 3i - White Male Violence and MMIWG


White male violence and MMIWG

An Aboriginal woman lays on the ground facing the camera with her body strewn across the floor. A blanket printed with the words 'Defiled' is draped over her waist, hips and legs. Two white settler men stand above her as if they have been caught while hunting their prey. One holds a rifle which is pointed down towards her and stares into the camera. The other appears preoccupied with something he's holding in his hand.

[imagecaption] ‘Bearing Witness IV’, Bearing Witness, inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, 150 x 100 cm, 2009. Artist: Fiona Foley. Image courtesy of the artist [/imagecaption]


‘Why are we so hesitant to name white male violence as a root cause, yet so comfortable naming all the “risk factors” associated with the lives of Indigenous girls who have died?’ 

Sarah Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw writer, educator and activist)

In Australia since invasion, heteropatriarchal violence against Indigenous bodies is inextricable from settler colonialism. Contemporary attitudes relating to entitlement and consent are shaped by the ways in which the bodies of Indigenous women and girls were regarded by the white colonisers.

In a 2018 report by Our Watch on understanding violence against Indigenous women and children, Antoinette Braybrook challenges the perception that the perpetrators of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. This perception is compounded by media reports that rarely focus on non-Indigenous men as perpetrators (20). While family violence happens within Indigenous communities, evidence suggests that Indigenous women are targeted and hurt by men from many different cultures and backgrounds. This calls for a much broader response informed by a historical understanding of the roots of settler violence against Indigenous women and girls.

In Badtjala artist Fiona Foley’s work, ‘Bearing Witness IV’, an Aboriginal woman is sprawled on the ground, her lower body covered in a blanket labelled ‘defiled’. Two white men stand over her. One, holding a gun pointed toward her, stares defiantly at the viewer;  the other, carrying a riding crop and mobile phone, is seemingly unperturbed by the sight before him. The riding crop references the weapons of white male violence used to terrorise Aboriginal women. It also refers to the historical fact that, in settler contexts, the ‘men who associated with Aboriginal women were known as “gin jockeys“.’  The work bears witness to the forms of entitlement to which Aboriginal women’s bodies are subject under the colonial gaze. The woman and the armed man face the viewer, forcing viewers to examine our own complicity in the violent gendered and raced power dynamics being played out.


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