Malcolm Turnbull in first TV interview as PM: 'Real men don't hit women'

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Jenny Noyes

"Real men don't hit women". Strong comments from PM Malcolm Turnbull earlier on TODAY.#Today9

Posted by TODAY on Sunday, September 20, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull has flagged the domestic violence crisis as a priority in his first TV interview as Prime Minister, saying the issue as been overlooked for far too long.

The PM told Today's Lisa Wilkinson that "the issue of family violence, or domestic violence as it's often called - which is just violence against women, which is the way I prefer to describe it - is an enormous one.

"It has been overlooked, ignored to some extent, for far too long - and we must have zero tolerance for it."

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Turnbull said a growing level of awareness of it is "vital". 

"Real men don't hit women," he added, "and we've got to be very determined to eradicate it."

While it's heartening to see the new Prime Minister drawing attention to the issue and taking a strong stance in his first television interview, the language he's using is problematic. Repeating the cliche that "real men don't hit women" is not a helpful way of raising awareness about domestic violence. Real men do hit women. The men who use emotional and financial abuse to control women are real. The men who rape and kill women and their children are real. 

Suggesting that men who commit domestic violence are somehow not 'real' or that their actions are at odds with 'real masculinity' not only fundamentally misunderstands the politics of masculinity and control - it obscures the very real structural inequality that leaves women vulnerable to abuse by their partners.

Domestic violence is not just 'hitting women', and it's not just caused by lack of moral fibre in individual men. Its causes are social and structural, and if we're to eradicate it this needs to be acknowledged and addressed. 

In pointing out that the issue has been overlooked and ignored for far too long, we can only hope that the new Prime Minister is planning to go further than simply throwing pennies at an awareness raising campaign aimed at shaming individual offenders. It's a far bigger problem than that, and women desperately need help now. 

As for raising awareness? The PM would do well to start by setting an example of respect when he talks to female journalists. In the very same interview in which he slammed men who hit women, Turnbull was happy to belittle Lisa Wilkinson in an effort to deflect questions about the fallout of his leadership coup.

Who knows, maybe that's just what 'real men' do.

 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.