‘We have made huge gains in becoming aware of the realities of many women’s and girl’s lives, and have a greater understanding of what can be done to call men to account and invite them to change’
As readers would know, I’m always encouraged when men decide to speak out against the objectification of women, sexualisation of girls and violence against women. On Wednesday I published a piece by Simon Kennedy on how City Beach acclimatises boys to porn, and his plea for something better. (It was originally sent in as a blog comment, I thought it deserved more attention). Today I run the second piece in a row by a man.
Danny Blay is Executive Officer at the ‘No To Violence Male Family Violence Prevention Association (NTV) Inc’ Incorporating the Men’s Referral Service in Melbourne, Victoria. Danny was heavily involved in ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’, which began on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ended last Saturday, International Human Right’s Day. I asked Danny to write a piece for the MTR blog on what led him to be involved in addressing violence against women.
Men: We Need to Change
‘If there’s war between the sexes then there’ll be no people left’.
This phrase from Joe Jackson’s 1982 hit ‘Real Men’ has stayed with me since then. At the time I was only a young bloke, but in amongst the turmoil of the Falklands War, fighting in Lebanon, Ethiopia and Somalia, the launch of the then strange but intimidating and short-lived National Action party in Australia and the inner mayhem that is early teenage years, I not only became aware of the young women around me (where were they before?), but also how many young men had begun sprouting muscles, height, pimples and troubling attitudes and language towards and about girls.
From the end of primary school, gender became a reference point to everything. Relationships, sporting prowess, politics, authority, social status – especially through male commentary. Girls were rated on the basis of looks, and boys muttered what they would do to (not with) them if given half the chance. Relationships started forming and breaking, sex was spoken about relentlessly, and boys came to school on Mondays bragging about the number of impossibly pneumatic and athletic older women they bedded over the previous couple of days. All of this of course was bullshit.
Not that I thought there was anything wrong with it. Indeed, I participated. That’s what you did. That’s how you fitted in, in a dire attempt to not be classified as a nerd, gay or both. Boys had to be loud, obnoxious, resistant to authority, and defined by their sexual observations, desires and lies. Of course, not all boys were, or are, but the attention and oxygen such boys demanded seem to prevent other ways of relating into the space.
I never really thought objectively about gender until much later when re-evaluating my career options and found myself volunteering for the Men’s Referral Service.
The training program to become a telephone counsellor was one part counselling skills and two parts being confronted with the realities of the everyday lives of so many women and girls on the receiving end of violence and abuse. Until then I didn’t really consider the realities of the lives of the women around me – the people you associate with are often part of the furniture, until some realities are exposed.
I had initially thought becoming a volunteer telephone counsellor with the Men’s Referral Service was a means to an end – perhaps some further study, a job in a local community service that would do slightly more good for the world than my then soul-destroying corporate gigs. Little did I know that I was on a journey to bigger things.
Family – or domestic – violence was a term I was aware of but in the abstract. I didn’t think I saw it, nor did I think it affected anyone I knew. It was like considering major disability or some exotic disease – it affected others, but nobody in my world.
But the realities started becoming difficult to ignore. One in three women experience violence in a relationship. It is hard not to immediately reflect on the women in our lives when confronted with this statistic. Partners, daughters, relatives, friends, mothers of friends, work colleagues, shopkeepers, bus drivers, politicians, someone pushing her pram through the park when you take the dog for a walk, another doing the shopping and comparing the prices of mince. Counting one in three became overwhelming – almost threatening. All these people. Why?
Volunteering at the Men’s Referral Service, by its very nature, got me and my colleagues thinking not only about the people who overwhelmingly experience violence within relationships and families, but the people using the violence. The people doing the damage. Almost entirely men.
That meant me.
I can confidently say I have not used violence or abuse towards women, but I became aware that for many of us, our gender identity is our identity. I started thinking about my every day. Dressing, walking, driving, speaking, observing, thinking, assuming, accusing, judging. Why this way and not some other way? What is it about my gender – and that of my fellow blokes – that informs how we engage with the world?
I didn’t know it then, but am much more aware now. The vast bulk of prisoners, users of violent crime, the dead and injured on our roads, sexual offenders, those suspended and expelled from school… are all male. Call it standard male behaviour (simplistic), oversupply of testosterone (erroneous), biologically determined (naïve) or a misguided sense of entitlement (now we’re getting somewhere), but I began to realise that so many men make poor decisions that end up having massive consequences.
In my current role at No To Violence Male Family Violence Prevention Association and the Men’s Referral Service I sometimes think about what life would be like if there was no gender difference in behaving badly – and dangerously. But that’s like wondering what the world would be like without any gender bias – that is, a world where men don’t overwhelmingly hold the power, cash and means to exert control over others – often women and girls. It’s a nice thought, but distant from much of our reality today.
We have made huge gains in becoming aware of the realities of many women’s and girl’s lives, and have a greater understanding of what can be done to call men to account and invite them to change. But it’s slow going.
I think that my career in male family violence prevention over the last fourteen years or so has influenced me as a man, and in particular how I relate to my partner, my children and the people around me. Yet it worries me that this might be because of the impact of my work on my personal life. What of the other men? How are we trying to invite them to consider things differently?
This year NTV distributed ‘16 Actions, 16 Days’ – real, tangible things men can do over the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. It was borne out of a frustration that most men believe that violence against women is wrong, but they struggle to conceptualise what that means in their daily lives, and consider what small things they can do to affect change.
Ultimately, we’re inviting men to think about sexism and patriarchy as reality, not in the abstract. We can think that we aren’t part of the problem, but there are things all around us that suggest otherwise. And we can stop it.
Many would consider ‘war between the sexes’ as a glib and poetic fictionalised perception, but it’s the reality for many women and girls. Actually, ‘war’ implies two sides fighting, whereas with violence against women, it’s mostly one way.
Until we immerse ourselves in their world and their experiences, violence and abuse will continue to be used against the one in three women in our lives – partners, daughters, relatives, friends, mothers of friends, work colleagues, shopkeepers, bus drivers, politicians, someone pushing her pram through the park when you take the dog for a walk, another doing the shopping and comparing the prices of mince.