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The bitter irony of men now supporting women's claims against Don Burke

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?Former celebrity Don Burke is a misogynist. According to hundreds of allegations, the once famous gardener is a serial abuser and groper of women who, at the height of his fame, enjoyed humiliating his female subordinates with grotesque sexual innuendo.

At times, he was a problem the Nine network appeared to need to "handle". There is an account of him boasting about inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl. Another person claims Burke hid in the dark hotel room of an inebriated 18-year-old girl, waiting for her return from an industry party and claiming she had invited him there to practice on-camera presentation. There are reports of second-hand stories swirling around about him for years, with one person calling him a "horrible, horrible man".

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Don Burke denies allegations

Don Burke has denied extensive allegations of sexual harassment on A Current Affair by stating that he could not remember any of the incidents and would never say the things he was quoted as saying.

Under normal circumstances, accounts like these would be met with suspicion and cynicism. Why didn't any of this come out at the time?! This sounds like a lot of disgruntled women looking for their 15 minutes of fame! What happened to innocent until proven guilty?! And (one of my recent favourites), it's a witch hunt!

Friends, we can rest easy and push aside any of these doubts. You see, we've had men also speak out against Don Burke. And apparently that changes everything.

Of the numerous allegations levelled against him, all of the ones listed above were made by men he either worked with or for. In fact, the person who referred to him as a "horrible, horrible man" was none other than David Leckie, the former CEO of Channel Nine.

Peter Meakin and Sam Chisholm are two other high-profile television executives quoted in Kate McClymont and Tracey Spicer's recent expose of Burke. Suddenly, it becomes a little trickier for people to dismiss outright what's being alleged. Because unlike women (scorned, all of them!), these men don't have a reason to lie about other men.


If I've learned anything in my years as a feminist writer and professional man-hater (apparently), it's that testimonies of assault, violence or sexual predation become automatically more believable to the general public if an impartial, logical, rational man has been there to bear witness to it rather than a?hysterical witch flying around on a broom.

It isn't just Burke whose allegedly criminal antics are given weight by the presence of male witnesses.?Think back to Bill Cosby. Allegations and rumours of Cosby being a serial sexual offender had circulated for decades, and yet none of them were taken seriously or even delivered into the public consciousness until Hannibal Buress unequivocally referenced them in one of his stand-up routines.

It didn't matter that scores of women had come forward over the years with stories about Cosby drugging and raping them. What matters is that a man –?and yes, a well meaning one, who absolutely did the right thing in speaking up when so few men do –?stood up and gave legitimacy to these rumours.

Ronan Farrow is doing exceptional journalism in his expose of men like Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein, but his voice also lends credibility to the claims made by his sister Dylan and Rose McGowan. In a more general sense, think about the hero's welcome given to men who vaguely speak up about women's rights as opposed to the onslaught of death and rape threats directed towards women who work in that space every day.

I call this the Brock Turner effect. You might remember him as the former student at Stanford who raped an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party in 2015. Although Turner had his share of defenders, the usual cultural response (he's a young athlete with a promising future, she was drunk, she probably consented and then made this up to appease her boyfriend, he's really sorry, who can say what really happened etc) was remarkably muted.

I'm too jaded to believe public animosity towards Turner arose solely out of the publication of an excoriating victim impact statement written by his victim. I think the truth of it is that Turner's assault was interrupted by two Swedish students who happened to be riding past on their bike; men who accosted Turner when he tried to escape and held him down until the police came.

Their presence and later testimony didn't just provide two sets of impartial eyes. They also presented an opportunity for men?to identify with someone else in the story –?the heroes who rescued the damsel and displayed good moral fibre.

Women are accustomed to hearing from men that they oppose misogyny and sexism in all its forms, but we're not so accustomed to seeing that actually put into action. Instead, we are questioned and undermined whenever we speak out against the harm that has been done to us, whether that be casual street harassment or serious sexual assault.

Women are not considered reliable witnesses to the facts of our own lives because we are apparently too susceptible to bias, manipulation and even our own irrational insensitivities. But when men speak ... well, they do so with no agenda or ulterior motive so they can be relied upon to provide a more accurate summary.

The fact of the matter is, just like the women victimised by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Brett Ratner, Bill O'Reilly and so on and so forth, women spoke out against Don Burke for years –?decades even. And men knew.

Men who sat at the top of the food chain heard these stories repeatedly and still kept Burke in play.

It's a great irony that the voices of Leckie, Chisholm and Meakin now are likely to make the claims against Burke more convincing in the eyes of the public, because they had a choice a long time ago to do something and instead chose to stay silent.

Think of that as you hear the cascade of allegations that are about to come out. Because this isn't the end. The season of the witch is upon us, and she's coming for all of them.


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