From left: Michaelia Cash, Rosie Batty, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Ken Lay. Photo: Eddie Jim
Over the two, long years that Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, very little was done to address the scourge of men's violence against women. This sustained, brutal form of misogyny currently sees around 6 women killed per month while claiming the lives of just under 60 women this year*. Despite the arrogant appointment of himself to the office of Prime Minister for Women, Abbott's interest in issues affecting women's lives remained rooted in the retro ideology that assumes our greatest challenges lie in feeding our families and keeping our energy bills down.
Indeed, rather than direct even a skerrick of the attention given to combating fictional terror threats and desperate refugees fleeing war-torn countries, the Abbott government actually withdrew funding from organisations offering vital services to the victims of family violence. During the exit speech supposedly listing all of the successes of his government, Abbott reemphasised his disinterest in the impact of family violence when he said, "Then there's the challenge of ice and domestic violence, yet to be addressed." [emphasis mine]
In contrast, it has taken only eight days for the Turnbull government to not only raise the issue of domestic violence but to announce a $100 million women's safety package aimed at substantially addressing it. Money will be directed across a range of services, including $21 million to help Aboriginal women and women in remote communities, $5 million to the 1800-RESPECT line and funding to help improve training for frontline services. In announcing the move, new Minister for Women Michaelia Cash emphasised that men's violence against women was "absolutely a national emergency".
Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Eddie Jim
This is an excellent move. But what else is needed in the fight against violence? Here are just three considerations to take on board.
1. Radically address the language used to discuss violence
If the Turnbull government is truly serious about a comprehensive approach to ending men's violence against women in all its forms, it has my full support. And having heard Minister Cash speak on the subject, I have faith that this is one area on which we probably find much common ground.
Public service minister Michaelia Cash: Her Employment Department has rejected a pay offer for a second time. Photo: Andrew Meares
But the way we use language is also vital to the problem. Well may the Prime Minister say 'real men don't hit women', but this narrative of heroic men doing the right thing doesn't actually help. It's not even new - that little gem has been around for decades and what has it achieved? Nothing. Men are still beating women, and still being supported not only by their own consciences but often the communities they live in to use caveats and justifications for their actions.
Last year, there were over 12,000 men in NSW alone who assaulted their partner or ex-partner. These incidents are not the province of a small sub-section of society whose inhabitants walk on the fringe in easily identifiable uniforms. All men who beat women are 'real men'. They are fathers, husbands, friends, colleagues, sons and brothers. They are living, breathing humans and they carry the same capacity as the rest of us to present themselves as the exception. One may reason that exposing misogynists to the judgment of men is the surest path to ending violence, but unfortunately it's just not true.
2. Stop massaging the feelings of men threatened by the discussion of men's violence
To substantially understand violence, we need to understand its patterns and the continuum within which it operates. And unfortunately, a core part of that continuum is one which positions men as the dominant members of a patriarchal society. Expecting men to act like 'heroes' and 'champions' and 'do the right thing by women' isn't the progressive approach to violence that people think it is. Rather, it is a movement which subtly and subconsciously replicates the imbalance of power that already privileges men over women and allows for the execution of that power to embody its most dangerous forms.
Similarly, while I understand some of the language used by Turnbull in addressing men's violence, we shouldn't need to continuously acknowledge that 'most men are good men'. Adopting a zero tolerance attitude towards family and gendered violence must be about more than sloganeering and jingoistic phrasing about how 'un-Australian' it is to hit women. Women don't need to be shielded and protected like delicate creatures - we need to be respected as human beings and treated equally.
3. Recognise that violence takes on many forms, and much of it is insidious
After the Prime Minister announced his new Cabinet, the Liberal Party of Australia's Facebook page was flooded with comments whining about the elevation of more women to portfolios. Marise Payne was particularly targeted by people - many of them men, but not all - who seemed outraged at the appointment of a woman to the Ministry of Defence. Travis Linthorne suggested the new female appointments hadn't earned their positions, but were being rewarded for loyalty from Turnbull (as if this is something that never occurs with male politicians). David Foster complained that 'Meritocracy was being thrown out the window', and that women were being given portfolios just to appease quotas and 'feminists'. Patricia Gaul argued that 'defence is extremely important to Australia, and not a job for a woman'.
These may seem like the irrelevant rantings of the conservative party faithful, but this is actually pretty representative of how large segments of the Australian community view gender equality. Sexism is par for the course, with even Peta Credlin arguing (too little, too late) that she has been the target of vicious abuse because she's a woman. All of these attitudes underpin the mindset which elevates men's status to greater than that of women, and convinces those inclined to violence not only that they are in the right but that they have a right to exert their power and domination.
If we're truly serious about addressing gendered violence, we have to see it as part of a much bigger picture. This isn't just about individual male outliers rejecting what is supposed to be a social code of respect. That social code barely exists. This is evidenced by the way people speak about and to women, the judgments made about women's behaviour and capacity to lead, and the casual misogyny exercised by our most prominent commentators and their followers. It's demonstrated by the decision to celebrate the move to deny a visa to musician Chris Brown because of his criminal record related to domestic violence while ignoring the fact that men like Wayne Carey still have lucrative media careers alongside colleagues like Sam Newman, whose violence against women is translated via ongoing verbal derision and ridicule.
We have an opportunity to radically change the way this country addresses the real violence of real men against women in ALL its forms, not just the ones which involve physically beating and/or killing women and children. The only question that remain is this.
Do we have the real leadership to do it?
*63 women have so far lost their lives to violence in 2015, but not all of these incidents have been perpetrated by a man or intimate partner.