Real change requires work - something not all men understand


Clementine Ford

If you really feel like it's not about you, stop making it about you.

If you really feel like it's not about you, stop making it about you. Photo: Stocksy

The last few years in Australia have seen significant progress made in opening up dialogue on men's violence against women. Thanks to the work of incredible campaigners like Rosie Batty and Phil Cleary (the latter of whom has been working for decades to highlight the links between violence and misogyny), we are at a point where the general public has some kind of inkling that this kind of violence is a problem in need of a solution. Men across the country are accepting the basic truth that we are all responsible for change, and thus taking it upon themselves to challenge attitudes about violence in their own communities. Although we have a long way to go, we are finally managing to break down some of the previously ingrained ideas about complicity and blame.

It's disappointing, then, to hear one of Victoria's more prominent talkback radio respond to an article about the root cause of domestic violence with what can only be described as a petulant dummy spit. Earlier this week, 3AW's Tom Elliott had an extended tantrum on air over an article written by Libby Davies, the CEO of the White Ribbon Foundation. Davies was defending the organisation against an excoriating (and brilliant) piece written by Nina Funnell, in which Funnell argued that White Ribbon's advocacy focused most prominently on promoting their own brand. Davies disagreed, arguing that White Ribbon focuses on primary prevention. She wrote, "Our remit is to stop violence at the source, and the source is men."

It was this that raised Elliott's hackles. Where was the qualifier, he wanted to know, the reminder that this was only a problem perpetuated by SOME men and NOT ALL of them? Outraged, he tried to take Davies to task over her failure to adequately placate the untested 'vast majority' of men out there who are good and decent and kind and all of the things we're forced to hear whenever conversations of this nature arise.


"I'm a man and I find this offensive!" he declared.

Of course, there are lots of things to be offended about when it comes to violence. The fact that one woman is killed every week by a partner or ex-partner is a fairly good starting point. This is followed closely behind by the news that one in three women over the age of 15 will experience physical violence in her lifetime and one in five women will experience sexual violence, and that more than 90% of this violence is perpetrated by men. Of course, we shouldn't forget about men (and I do mean that sincerely) which is why we should be equally offended that almost 75% of violence experienced by men is at the hands of other men. Government statistics very clearly support the assertion that the overwhelming majority of Australia's violence is perpetrated by men, regardless of whether or not their victims are male or female.

I'm no great fan of White Ribbon, but the very least offensive thing about Davies article was the fact that she correctly cited men as the source of most violence (particularly when it falls in the intimate partner or family violence bracket). But attitudes like Elliott's are not uncommon, even if they are eye-rollingly childish. That he cannot see beyond his personal feelings of indignation at being 'targeted' by correct conclusions drawn about violence isn't just sad, it's also indicative of how much some men seem to need to be acknowledged and rewarded for being basically decent human beings. The majority of violence is perpetrated by men. This is a fact. Why would acknowledging this make anyone feel 'targeted' in any way, unless what they would prefer to experience (indeed, what they may be used to experiencing) is constant gratitude for being a Straight Up Bloke?

We have to get over this need to be validated for expressing even the vaguest support for social justice campaigns. As a person with white skin, I don't feel entitled to recognition for being not-racist. I'm not hanging out for a medal or trophy to recognise how supportively not-racist I am, nor do I need public discussions of racism to begin by acknowledging my brilliant, supportive existence and reassuring me that hey, it's okay, we're not really talking about you here because you're one of those amazing not-racist white champions.

Why do some men then seem to feel entitled to being excused from the table whenever these conversations arise? Oh, you mean you don't hit women personally? Why didn't you say so! Of course you don't have to sit here and acknowledge the deep cultural problems we have with male violence and perpetrators! You can leave, but don't forget to grab your handful of delicious cookies on the way out and sign up for the Aren't Men Amazing parade that's happening next week.

Imagine if Elliott had spent that ten minutes trying to actually learn something! After all, a station that basically employs as talkback hosts only white men over a certain age exists as somewhat of a contradiction to the idea that men are being super hard done by here.

Listen. If you really feel like it's not about you, stop making it about you. You shouldn't need to hear 'not all men' every time discussions about violence arise, just so you can pat yourself on the back and continue doing precisely nothing to help initiate change. Real change requires work. It needs us to feel uncomfortable about our place and the privilege we have. It especially needs us to feel uncomfortable about our complicity in structures of power. Not all men are violent, but the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men. If you care about stopping that, get over yourselves and your need to be rewarded all the time. Just roll up your bloody sleeves and do the work.