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I have some questions for Australia’s men.

If you were there when Jill Meagher was being dragged down an alley by Adrian Bayley toward her rape and death, would you have done something?

If you were there when Darcy Freeman was about to be dropped to her death by Arthur Freeman, her own father, from Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge in an act of twisted revenge on the child’s mother, would you have done something?

If you were there when Mayang Prasetyo was being murdered by her boyfriend Marcus Volke, who went on to dismember her remains, would you have done something?

What if you were there, in my childhood community, when the mother of two of my school mates was murdered by her partner? She was assaulted so violently she was found pinned to the mattress with a knife where she bled to death, the man having fled and driven himself to his death under the wheels of an oncoming truck. I’ll never forget the faces of the boys when they came to school, having been robbed of the most important thing in their world. Her name, ironically, was Joy.

I’m pretty sure I know the answers, for most of you, to these questions. You would have acted to stop it. Because the fact is, most Australian men are good, brave men when we are called to be. Most of us simply are not there when this is about to happen. Brendon Keilar and Dutchman, Paul de Waard, proved it on our behalf when, in 2007, they intervened to save Kara Douglas from a violent assault. It cost Keilar his life. De Waard and Douglas were maimed.

This stuff is hard to write about. I hope it’s hard to read about. The sickening fact is I could go on because at a rate of about one per week, an Australian woman loses her life to the man in her life. We men, we who are meant to be the protectors of the vulnerable and the weak, we who are meant to stand in defence, we are killing the ones who chose to trust us and the ones born into our care with stupefying regularity.

I’m not going to call it domestic violence. That simpering term serves to set this class of violence apart as somehow less serious, less the business of others. I’m with Charlie Pickering. When we say domestic violence, what we mean is men’s violence against women. To stay one step ahead of the trolls, yes, men are also subjected to domestic and sexual violence. Less than one percent of the violence experienced by men occurs in the domestic setting. For women? It’s one third. Men are predominantly impact by violence committed by, that’s right, men.

So for my regular readers I’m going to talk about men’s violence against women for the same reason I talk about nuclear power versus coal more than I do about LED light vs incandescent: we are morally and pragmatically obligated to tackle our biggest problems first and hardest, and our biggest problem here lies with men. Anyone saying differently is a coward.

Let’s also be clear, the difference between good men and bad is a matter of degree. There is a long pathway of behaviour and choices that men can explore that determine the sort of society we create and accept for our women. For every act that demeans, degrades and undermines our girls and women that some men choose to ignore, permission is implied to some other men to move to the next step. And the next. And the next. Make no mistake, at the end of that road lies violence, terror and death for our girls and women.

Society is a bell curve. We will, sadly, always have with us men who are capable of terrible acts. But how many men, how often they will act, how easily they are permitted to pass through those gateways of increasingly dangerous behaviour unchallenged, unpunished, reading our implied permission, developing a taste for, and a level of comfort with, the notion that women can be treated in these ways… that is a societal choice. It’s a choice we all need to take a damn sight more seriously.

And what about when the man himself is struggling? What about when he needs help? What about when he is not ok, when he is hurting? When he is playing out his own history of abuse in strange ways? We men need to be there for each other and our boys to offer safe, supportive outlets. These demons will not be contained, and too often their release will be directed at vulnerable people… behind closed doors… when no one else is there.

Speaking of demons, this is not the preaching of an angel. I’m a man in this society too, complete with my own shortcomings and failings. Maybe it’s something to do with raising a daughter, but I’m now choosing to live with my eyes wide open to the realities of the society we men are choosing to make, and my part in it. Open your eyes with honesty and you won’t believe the things you see.

Only so very rarely will we good men be there when violence is about to happen. So if we can’t be there?

We need to be here, at one of the many White Ribbon Day events coming up in November.

If I’m right about you, if I have read you truly, and you would step in if you were there, visit the site, find your local event and take part.

In 1867 philosopher John Stuart Mill said “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing”.

If we are the good men, then doing nothing dishonours us. It’s the choice we must stop making.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Special thank you to my friends Scott and Jaz for exploring this issue with me over the last little while, and to my wife Gemma of Inkling Women who’s amazing work brings me such incredibly valuable perspective and insight on gender issues.

7 comments

  1. I wrote somewhere once that while cruelty may be welcomed in by naiveté, it is given shelter by indifference. So much can be achieved by the simple act of holding ourselves accountable to the world. To those we don’t know, beyond the comfortable confines of our homes, families and communities of choice. A shift in what it means to live a good life.

    You hit the nail on the head. It is implied permission we are giving, and it is a societal choice to look the other way, but to know better is to do better, and every word written or spoken about our responsibilities to each other paves the way to the honourable life you rightly defend, so good on you, for that alone, and much more I’m certain.

  2. Thank you for this article Ben. We live in what we thought was a safe neighbourhood until a few weeks ago when a man jumped a female jogger on a main, well-lit road at 7pm. Luckily she fought him off. I’m at a loss to know how to tackle the problem of male violence towards women and children. Unfortunately, the men who wear the white ribbons will probably not be those perpetrating the violence.

  3. There’s that scene in American Beauty where Ricky Fits is screening his windy plastic bag footage and describing his overpowering emotions from all the beauty in the world. I think I understand the sentiment, but in my case it is when I allow thoughts of the kinds of horrors faced by women, children, and indeed gentler men, past and present, at the hands of those who dominate, victimise and kill them.

    We’ve recently entered an era where the taboo has been discarded. We can talk openly about it, seek advice, consider what we’d do if personally confronted by it. Trials of offenders are public affairs. Publicly-funded education campaigns. Research. No institution, no matter how high its moral authority, is immune from scrutiny. Despite the still sickening statitics, do those among us lacking in conscience largely hold back, knowing it’s almost too hard to get away with it anymore? I hope so, and on that assumption I’ll always scorn thoughtless nostalgia for the “good” old days.

    1. I am greatly heartened by what I learned reading the work of Steven Pinker on violence; fundamentally, the whole world is getting much, much better in that regard. There certainly wasn’t a good old days as far as violence was concerned.

      Part of that process is that we keep highlighting and tackling the next problems, and the next. Do I think violence against women is much higher now? I’m quite sure it isn’t. What I think is that it’s time we, as a society, tackled it much, much harder to create a lasting improvement. A bit like the culture of drink-driving. That HAS changed, massively, over two generations.

      1. I personally like the work of Dr. Micheal Dye in his “The Genesis Process” program (not affiliated in any way) for helping men and women that are struggling to change the behaviors in their life that they can’t seem to control whether it be rage, isolation, pornography, gluttony, critical attitudes, controlling, and all other destructive behaviors. Mr. Dye has stated and it has been my experience that those who desire to change and go through the process have a 60 – 70% chance (prior to this new process, his traditional counseling practice, real progress in deep addiction was around 4 – 5%) of making significant progress in replacing these destructive behaviors with positive ones. I believe that you are absolutely right that it is our obligation as men and women to engage with our brothers and sisters to speak truth about all of our faults, encourage each other with our own efforts to change and celebrate together in our successes. Here is the Mr. Dye’s website if you would like to look into it. http://www.genesisprocess.org/

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