A screengrab from the White Ribbon day advertisement.

A screengrab from the White Ribbon day advertisement.

In the process of writing this article I attempted at least seven introductory paragraphs, each time deleting them in a fury, until I realised the best way to begin this piece was with the simple facts: there are men in Australia who took the time to complain to the Ad Standards Board that this campaign for White Ribbon Night was sexist:

Why the complaints? Because White Ribbon Night (and presumably by extension, White Ribbon Day, and White Ribbon itself) is a campaign to stop violence against women, not violence against women and men, therefore it is sexist. One of the complaints submitted to the ASB ran: “The advertisement is deceptive as it only condemns domestic violence against women and therefore is misleading people to believe that only women are the victims of domestic violence and implies that only men are the perpetrators. The advertisement is sexist as it only condemns domestic violence against one gender – women.”

I wonder why that might be? Could it be because White Ribbon is a men-led campaign that encourages Australian males to help stop violence against women? Might that be it? Did these campaigning wits for men’s rights bother to read White Ribbon’s ‘About’ page before they began papering the ASB with complaints? Did the tagline “Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women” not clue them in?

White Ribbon responded to the complaints in an impressively measured fashion: “White Ribbon Australia’s advertisement is an animated advertisement to raise awareness of violence against women and promote the organisation’s fundraising initiative to help stop this violence. The advertisement alerts the viewer to the fact that in Australia at least one woman is killed every week by a former or current partner.” Yeah, but, but, but, that’s sexist against men! Right?

There exists online (but also in ‘real life’, as this infuriating string of complaints demonstrates) a variety of man who is so incapable of sitting quietly and respectfully while problems facing women are discussed that he must immediately chime in with how said issue also affects men, inevitably seeking to engage other commenters - and, indeed, the author - in a witless game of “what’s more tragic?” in which statistics are swapped until nobody can work out exactly what the point was to begin with.

Here’s the thing: discussing one issue does not negate another’s existence (though that concept seems to be difficult to grasp for these particular men). The fact that, in this case, violence against women perpetrated by men was being discussed doesn’t mean we don’t care that some men are abused by their partners (male or female); it just means that, right now, and on White Ribbon Night, we were talking about something different. The conversation doesn’t have to cover all bases at all times. 

Additionally, there’s usually a reason something is being addressed as specific to women. As Finally Feminism 101’s excellent entry on these derailing tactics put it, “Understand that if lots of women say something is important, it is. Your opinion, as a man, about the extent and nature of the problem is not valuable when the specific problem pertains to women’s experience”.

It’s not as though these men will listen to other men on the topic, either. Victoria Police’s Chief Commissioner Ken Lay had this to say about violence against women in July, and how it was men’s responsibility to help put an end to it: “Just a few weeks ago the World Health Organisation released its findings into violence against women and described it as a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions’. Their multiple studies found that 1 in 3 women worldwide had been either physically or sexually assaulted. Linger on that statistic. It’s appalling. Violence against women everywhere is very, very common.”

Of course that doesn’t stop these men. Rape, intimate partner violence, abortion, you name it: if a problem is widely acknowledged to affect women, this particular bloke will be there within seconds trumpeting “I can’t believe you didn’t mention how this also affects men”. Indeed, he spends so much time derailing discussion of women’s issues that it’s difficult to imagine that he has any time left over to campaign directly for the men’s issues he feels are so sorely underrepresented by the media.

It is men’s responsibility to create spaces to discuss men’s issues, not to invade women’s spaces and demand they tailor their content to fit; that men are surprised when they come to a female-focused site, read commentary about issues that relate specifically to women, and find no discussion of how rape/abortion/divorce/domestic violence affects men is their problem.

If these men read the opinion page in the newspaper and find it lacking in voices about men’s issues, then they should be submitting pieces to the opinion editor, not complaining that “space is being wasted” talking about violence against women “again”. To quote again from Finally Feminism 101’s derailing entry, “the appropriate response to a thread about women is not to post a comment on it about men, but rather to find (or make) a discussion about men”.

And guys, next time you see a campaign about violence against women, just remember: it’s about women.