"To really bring an end to violence, we need to challenge the root system."
In case you hadn't yet heard, this week is marked as the global YWCA's Week Without Violence. Week Without Violence aims to prevent violence in all its forms, while showcasing the particular efforts of women to target violence.
Referred to generically, 'violence' can mean a whole host of different things. But because my particular area of interest and activism is in challenging the violence that targets women, I've lately been taking care to deliberately name it for what it is - men's violence against women. Although it is frequently blamed on mental illness and depression, it's actually a choice. We need to be vigilant not only in remembering that, but also reminding those people who would seek to excuse or explain it away.
It's a phrase that immediately raises the hackles of some people who prefer to imagine violence as an equal opportunity offender. Attempts to discuss the specific terrorisation of women by men are frequently derailed by claims that 'men are victims too', while discussion of sexual violence instantly veers away from the high statistical probability that women will experience it and over to their capacity to inflict it.
Both of these things are true. Men can be (and frequently are) the victims of violence. And women are certainly capable of perpetrating sexual violence.
But the dual existence of these statements of fact shouldn't preclude the specific discussion of either one of them. That is to say, we should be having robust discussions about men's experience of violence. But we should be talking about how men's victimisation so frequently occurs at the hands of other men, in response to the same impulses and stereotypes of traditional masculinity that serve no benefit to any one at all.
We should be talking about how patriarchy assumes that sexual assault perpetrated by women against men and adolescent boys isn't 'as big a deal', because that same patriarchy also assumes men's relationship to intimacy and sex is one of unwavering need and desire. In all of these situations, we can link back to the fact of patriarchy as a key cause of gender inequality and harm.
Yes, we should be having these conversations. But the conversation I am specifically interested in writing about is that of men's violence against women.
Despite the horrifying subject matter, it has been gratifying lately to see more opposition to how the matter of men's violence against women is typically discussed. The ghastly coverage of Marcus Volke's murder of his partner Mayang Prasetyo was met with community outrage. More than 25,000 people have signed a petition which called on the Courier Mail to apologise for articles in which Prasetyo was referred to a 'shemale' and other associated transphobic slurs.
This can be attributed in part to the tireless advocacy that comes from within the trans community, a clear demonstration of how social change is made possible by people who refuse to accept the status quo as is. As a community, we should consider it an egregious embarrassment how little time has passed since the days when it WAS considered perfectly acceptable to use violent, derogatory slang to refer to trans people on the covers of newspapers and in public discussion.
This fact alone indicates to me that beliefs which are considered immutable are actually the opposite. If we are unable to name the problem, how can we expect people to see it? I accept that violence - particularly men's violence against women - stems from patriarchal attitudes of traditional masculinity, which include beliefs in dominance, entitlement, male superiority and a bizarre faith in biological determinism.
Emma Watson had it half right when she addressed the UN on the issue of how expectations of gendered behaviour results in 'men's imprisonment', but she unfortunately got her solution the other way around. Watson urged us to liberate men, because then the liberation of women would happen as 'a natural consequence', no doubt missing the unintended irony in arguing that a structure which favours men ought to first focus on releasing them.
In fact, what makes more sense is this: If we liberate women from patriarchy and dismantle it, men's liberation will follow.
How do we do this? Well, people make the mistake of thinking that oppression and violence against women are outliers, practices disconnected from the so-called morality of society. But men's violence against women exists as an entire root system, not a separate entity.
To really bring an end to it, we need to challenge the root system. In the case of men's violence against women, its very growth comes from deeply ingrained ideas about the roles that men and women are supposed to play - roles which assume the economic and social domination of men while enforcing the nurturing, subservient role of women. I mean the kind of insidious subservience which causes women to remain quiet rather than to challenge the views of men, lest they be met with hostility or even violence.
As difficult as this may be to understand, it is something that needs to be read and accepted - when men participate in sexist or intimidating behaviour towards women, they are actively colluding with the same system which sees women beaten, raped and murdered as a consequence of men's anger.
If you are a man and you want to be not just a good ally to women, but someone who actively seeks to destroy the systems which oppress both them and you, here are some basic things you can start with to try to make a difference in your own social sphere.
* Oppose sexist behaviour and language where you see it. Remaining silent confirms to the person perpetuating the behaviour that there's nothing wrong with it.
* Be an equal participant in the domestic side of your work, social and home lives. Women perform the vast majority of the world's unpaid work, and you are likely benefiting from it. Identify your shortfalls, and make some changes.
* Listen to women when they speak about their experiences, and resist the urge to defend yourself as part of a collective. If you insist on making it about your own imagined 'marginalisation' even when she's talking about her experiences of discrimination with other men, then you are part of the problem.
* Understand that your privilege doesn't disappear just because you become aware of it. You are still favoured by the system, and you will be required to interrogate and challenge that every day. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you've done enough just because you've said some pretty words about how sexism is bad.
These are just a handful of things to be mindful of every day. There are many more, and to find out about them you can check out the website, What Men Can Do. This week marks the YWCA's Week Without Violence - but it is the duty of all of us to work towards a world free from violence, period.