Culture

Guys, It’s Time To Stop Being Part Of The Problem Of Violence Against Women

"If you have to remind us that 'not all men' are like that, then perhaps think about the kind of man you are protecting."

This post discusses domestic violence and sexual assault.

Sexism and its ugly cousin, Fear of the Feminisms, is alive and well in Australia. Today in 2016, the gender pay gap continues, women bear the burden of household duties that men collectively view as beneath them, and women remain grossly underrepresented in positions of seniority across the nation. At the pointy end: seven women have been allegedly killed through intimate partner violence in the last 18 days.

Despite this, one of the ABC’s highest-rated and highest-regarded current affairs programs (on tour in the world’s most liveable city) last night affirmed how some men still refuse to acknowledge both their privilege or the full scope of the problem.

“Not All Men”

Last night’s episode of Q&A featured a broad range of topics under the banner “Industrial Relations and Respectful Relationships”, so it wasn’t all that surprising to see some questions pop up on Donald Trump. The young man who first raised the topic asked about the relevance of the US presidential candidate’s now-infamous comments about sexual assault from 2005, querying why we’re concerned about them when they occurred in a personal capacity.

The man asked whether we should be allowed to judge a candidate’s suitability for public office based on “comments made in a purely private capacity”.

Greens Leader Di Natale responded first. Unsurprisingly, he was critical of Trump and hoped that he becomes a “footnote in history” following the election. He said the statement should have disqualified Trump from the race and called him “repulsive”. Yet as Australian columnist Grace Collier and IPA Director John Roskam became involved, the conversation suddenly became about minding what you say in the digital age, rather than addressing the issue of what Trump actually said.

I was left dumbfounded as I witnessed the entitlement and misinformation emanating from my LED display. Maybe it’s just me, but when a person running for office openly advocates for the sexual assault of women, we ought to think about their fitness to run. Do we expect better from our leaders or are we content to allow privileged and entitled men to behave with contempt and disregard for half the human population?

Though the man who asked the original question agreed with Di Natale that Trump’s policies can be “horrendous”, he maintained that comments of a personal nature should not be given such weight.

Later in the program, conversation shifted from sexist comments to the role of education in preventing violence against women. In Victoria, Daniel Andrews’ Labor government is ostensibly aiming for a higher standard of “locker room talk”, investing $21.8 million over two years to incorporate “respectful relationship education” into the school curriculum.

The program, Respectful Relationships, has opponents who question how this will tangibly work to end family violence. However, it’s supported by evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Family Violence which suggests it will do just that. As it was found that school-based efforts are required as a long-term prevention strategy, the program will endeavour to reduce the incidence of family violence by holistically educating children about equality and respect. This was tested in 2015, during the Our Watch Respectful Relationships Education in Schools (RREiS) pilot.

This was all raised by another questioner last night who suggested we should look for a more “egalitarian” way of combating domestic violence. Though he may not have had all this background knowledge, he suggested that by positioning women as victims of men’s violence, the program assumes that all men are violent. Noting that “men can be victims too”, he pointed out that not all men are abusive.

Labor MP Tim Watts spoke in favour of the program and cited the prevalence of family violence in his electorate. Trade unionist Ged Kearney echoed these sentiments, saying she didn’t see how there could be an issue with encouraging children to behave with mutual respect. Richard Di Natale also spoke eloquently on the topic of male privilege.

But many of these responses lacked the necessary information to educate the young man about the full extent of the problem. It ignored the fact that that on average, at least one woman a week is killed by a current or former male partner in Australia. It ignored the fact that one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

The premise of such questions, and the entire #NotAllMen movement, seeks to derail the work done to prevent violence against women, in particular by ignoring the fact that women are three to four times more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence, and worse still, it does little to support men who actually are victims.

We’ve Been Here Before

Back in July, I asked a different Q&A panel what the media can do to challenge attitudes that normalise violence against women, in response to Eddie McGuire’s “joke” about drowning Caroline Wilson. Steve Price didn’t like it. He interrupted co-panellist Van Badham 13 times and labelled her “hysterical”.

What ensued was the kind of awful treatment that women experience daily: harassment, bullying and dehumanisation. Badham received death threats! Let’s think about that for a second: sticking up for the basic human rights of women to be treated with some semblance of dignity resulted in Van receiving a torrent of criminal, online abuse.

Unfortunately, my question wasn’t fully engaged with but the outcome led to a long overdue national conversation about how language shapes community attitudes and the role of the media in stemming the trend of violence against women.

What transpired on Q&A last night was a largely ill-informed discussion about gender inequity and the drivers of family violence, courtesy of two young male questioners and a panel that, with the notable exceptions of Tim Watts MP, Ged Kearney and Richard Di Natale appeared largely reluctant to call out their ingrained sexism.

But this isn’t really about the two men on the screen. They’re mouthpieces for how our society views the role of women and men and how male privilege (and narrowly defined ideas of masculinity) are as damaging to men, as they are to women. These ideas breed a toxic culture of dominance, hostility and aggression.

Toxic masculinity contributes to the health problems that impact men, as well as women. It creates conditions that allow violence against women to flourish. When the issue is minimised, excused, or reframed around a minority of male victims, it dehumanises every victim and their family.

Men, you have the power to call out sexism from a position of entrenched privilege. Fight for equality and respect between the sexes; not because you have a sister or a mother, but because you’re a human.

Men, if you’re not violent, if you’re not sexist, then we’re not talking about you. We were never talking about you. If you’re not actually sexist and violent, but want to remind us that “not all men” are like that, then perhaps think about the kind of man you are protecting.

Men, be better than that. It’s time to stop being part of the problem.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

Tarang Chawla advocates against men’s violence. He works with No To Violence/Men’s Referral Service, is an Our Watch Ambassador, White Ribbon Ambassador and Board Member of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council. Tarang’s sister, Nikita, was murdered by her partner last year, aged 23. He tweets at @tarang_chawla.

Tarang was also a delegate of Junket 2016 where he ran a session on toxic masculinity in Australian culture. We’ll be sharing thoughts and features from some of our other 200 delegates on the topics they raised in the coming months.