The disturbing backlash on speaking out about violence against women

Clem Ford.

Clem Ford. Photo: Supplied

As Margaret Atwood famously once said, men's greatest fear is that women will laugh at them while women's greatest fear is that men will kill them. Nowhere is this more starkly demonstrated than in feminist discussions of men's violence against women.

Last month, student and feminist activist Grace Mann was murdered after she stopped in at home in between attending two political events. Police allege she was bound and asphyxiated by a male housemate, possibly in retaliation for her part in helping to suspend the University of Mary Washington's rugby team, which had come to the attention of school administration for performing a 'violent rape chant' at a party. Mann was a member of campus group Feminists United, a women's group active in challenging misogyny in the school environment. Incredibly, a men's rights blogger has labelled Mann's murder the inevitable result of "feminist jokes about misandry".

And here I was, thinking it was about men's violence and male entitlement.

Things are no better in Australia. Last year, Destroy the Joint's Counting Dead Women project revealed that women were being killed here at a rate of roughly one per week. The majority of these homicides were perpetrated by men, and the majority of those men were known to the victims in some form of intimate or familial capacity. By the end of 2014, 52 men had murdered their female partners, and approximately 30 more women were killed in other acts of violence.


That's shocking enough. But this year, that figure has doubled.

So far, 2015 has seen 35 women murdered in acts of violence, with the latest unnamed victim discovered overnight at a property in Dallas, Victoria. At least 29 of these murders are alleged to have been committed by men. The majority of these alleged perpetratrors were in or had previously been in a form of intimate relationship with the murdered women.

As the statistics stand now, two women are killed every week in Australia as a result of violence.

And yet, naming the problem of men's violence, as Grace Mann and her peers at Feminists United did and as countless other women also do, invariably results in a backlash. It is astonishing how much more offended men seem to get by the possibility that they'll be lumped in with a group known to pose a risk to women than they are by the fact that, empirically speaking, the greatest risk to women's lives is men.

Here are some other facts: 1 in 3 women over the age of 15 in Australia will experience some form of gendered violence in her lifetime, and 1 in 5 women over the age of 15 will experience sexual violence. And aside from offering the odd platitude about opposing violence and 'protecting' women, it still seems as if not enough people care to do anything really significant about it. Women are murdered in their homes and in public spaces, mostly by men they know and sometimes by men they don't, while refuges and women's health services are being defunded all across the country. And the only solutions that people can seem to come up with in regards to preventing men's violence against women involve telling those same women how to adjust their behaviour to avoid 'dangerous' situations.

The reality is that simply being alive constitutes a 'dangerous situation' for women. But if we attempt to talk about that - if women attempt to wrestle back control of the narrative of violence and its impact on women's lives - we are accused of misandry and sexism. We're chastised for not including caveats that remind people that 'not all men' are involved in this extensive war on women. We're bullied for the 'sexism' of focusing solely on women, as if we should be prioritising the minute numbers of men who are victimised in hostile domestic situations although overwhelmingly not at risk of domestic homicide. In the most extreme of cases, as with Grace Mann, we can be physically punished and even killed.

Men, on the other hand, are empowered to discuss whatever they like. In regards to men's violence against women, they're praised for even acknowledging the problem, festooned with compliments and gratitude simply for offering what should be the fairly standard view that "it's not on mate". Men are allowed to tell women what the world is like for us and how we should respond to it, because the world is constructed to prioritise male opinions and supposed objectivity. And they do this because it's a way of maintaining control and power, insisting that other men are the enemy but that this man must be freely accepted as a protector and ally.

Think about how women are treated when we speak out about violence or even general forms of sexism. Most often, we are belittled, ridiculed and abused. I have an entire folder of emails sent to me by men talking about me being raped, killed or just 'taught a lesson', and the sending of these missives always spikes after I write about men's violence. Only a week ago, a man sent me a video of a woman being sexually violated and degraded on film, and told me that it was a video about me. Last year, a man sent me a message asking me when was the last time I was 'doggy styled so hard I ended up in tears'. A few days after a construction wall fell on three people in Melbourne, killing them all, someone emailed to say that they hoped a wall fell on me. I have received countless messages from men telling me that they only reason I care so much about opposing sexual violence is because I'm too ugly to be raped. Other men have written to me to call me a slut and a whore. One man once responded to me defending Muslim Australians against bigotry by saying, "Love to see them rape the shit out of you."

Women still aren't allowed to take ownership over our own defence and protection. Apparently we still need to defer that role to men, all of whom are free to stand around and talk about enacting revenge on 'the bad guys' while being roundly congratulated for being such good blokes. But if we're serious about tackling the epidemic of men's violence against women - if we want to truly bring an end to it - we have to stop prioritising men's feelings and allowing them to dictate the terms of engagement. Men's violence is the problem. Let's name it, and let's end it. Yes, it might hurt men's feelings to hear these things. But when women keep losing their lives to homicidal male violence, those feelings should be very low on the list of priorities.