By Kat Vella
Two recent moments in my life have been bothering me lately.
The first took place in a meeting with only women present. All there to brainstorm ideas to help local women leave abusive relationships. To be fair, this particular occasion could have been a carbon copy of the many moments I have experienced this sentiment since moving to the country, but this one has stuck with me.
Tears welling in her eyes, one participant of the meeting shared her thoughts on the topic of gender violence.
“Men aren’t the enemy,” she implored. Her point was that the issue of violence against women is bigger than individual perpetrators and that having broader conversations about our culture is what we need rather than treating men ‘like the enemy’.
“That is a fair point,” I thought. I went on to say that it is often easier to scapegoat than to understand. (Is that what we are doing? Scapegoating men?)
The second event was a comment in a group chat by a male friend of mine. For context, the group chat had both men and women, couples and singles and we are all reasonably good friends, some of us closer than others, but friends. Some of the single guys in the group started chatting to organize a ‘Boys’ Night Out’ to which one of them chimed, “It’s time to go hunting.” Some of the others responded with LOLs and various memes of wild animals, everyone else went on with their day.
In both situations I felt disappointed with my reaction, or lack thereof. I stewed for days needing to better understand why I was seething when everyone else seemed unperturbed and in the case of the woman in the meeting, vindicated.
For me, it wasn’t that the comment in the chat was literally referring to women as wild animals, it was that no one else saw it as problematic enough to point it out. In fact, the man who said it was so confident it was acceptable that he typed it plainly for all to read – including the women in the group. He didn’t bother to save it for the ‘pub chat’ later. When I brought it up with some of my girlfriends later, almost all of them brushed the comment off as harmless and you know, “he’s a really sweet/friendly/GOOD guy. He’s not the problem.”
I want to be proven wrong here and I’d love to hear your examples in the comments but seriously what are the men in our lives doing to address violence against women? What are they doing to take responsibility for the problem of violence that exists in their ranks?
Since 1981 and the declaration of International Day against Violence Against Women, feminist and other women-led activist groups (why don’t we all identify as feminists again?) have worked tirelessly, year on year to bring attention to and change the horrifying statistics of femicide, abuse and sexual assault of women throughout the world. In Australia, it has been especially felt since Grace Tame’s tenure as Australian of the Year.
What I wished I had asked that woman in the meeting and my friends from the group chat was this: While you are defending all the ‘good men’ in your lives from being tarred with the same brush, what are the men in your life doing to address this ‘culture’ or ‘problem’ you mention?
Women are campaigning, petitioning, lobbying, arguing, fundraising, drafting meaningful solutions that get thrown in the bin if they don't suit, and spending a substantial amount of their time, energy and money trying to address the issue. And men? Well, they're getting on with their lives.
I want to be proven wrong here and I’d love to hear your examples in the comments but seriously what are the men in our lives doing to address violence against women? What are they doing to take responsibility for the problem of violence that exists in their ranks? And sorry, I don’t want to hear about men being good blokes and ‘being respectful to women’. That is the bear minimum of being a decent human being. I want to hear about what the men in your lives are doing to actively oppose the cultural attitudes within their circle of influence that bely acts of violence against women.
Referring to going out with mates as ‘hunting’ truly suggests that this man thinks of women as targets for his sexual advances. I know you are probably busting to tell me "lighten up Kat. It was probably only a joke." Well yes, and I'd suppose it'd be funny if the predator-prey dynamic weren't so fucking true when it comes to dating! Perhaps he knows when ‘no’ means ‘leave me alone’ but I wonder if the thought ever occurred to him that maybe women are out at a pub to just enjoy themselves with friends, dance, get drunk and be left in peace? That perhaps they don’t want to have to be put in the dicey situation of politely telling him that they are not interested or having him monopolize their time because they fear rejecting him at all.
Men have access and power over other men that women do not. Workplaces, pubs, locker rooms, boys’ trips – where 'boys being boys’ is on full display and locker room talk flows unashamedly. All of the men in our lives have most likely been present in one of these scenarios, and what do you think would have been their response to the inevitable sexist comment? Maybe they have never committed violent acts against women, but do they defend or dismiss thoughts, ideas or attitudes from their peers that render women as objects? Do they chortle when a mate shares a private message or a nude photo of a woman because really, what did she expect? Do they ever speak up when someone complains their partner nags or is on his back all the time? Or how about a wife or girlfriend who’s ‘let herself go’ or doesn’t ‘put out’ anymore? Would they conceal or hide these comments from you if you asked? The “Bros before Hoes” kind of mentality?
Or worse, do they just ignore the facts and simply pretend none of this even exists in their world?
I didn’t interrupt the ‘banter’ in the group chat because I didn’t want to be ‘that woman’, again. The she’s-too-sensitive woman, the here-comes-the-fun-police woman. I'm ashamed that those types of retorts would bother me, but I, like many women, have a lot of unpacking to do when it comes to being ok with not being liked. There are very real social and sometimes physical consequences for women who speak up.
In my defence however, the comment’s brazenness caught me by surprise and I regret I didn't call it out. But I also feel why should I have to? Men’s violence is something that affects the entire community, it’s not just a woman’s role to call it out anymore or to do the work. It’s time to demand more than being ‘nice guys’ of men. It’s time to call for allies. It’s time for men to step up.
Monas, your challenge (if haven’t already done so) is to ‘poke the bear’ so to speak. Challenge your partners, fathers, brothers, male friends on their attitudes towards women and see how they respond. Word of warning however, (and it makes me sick that I feel I should add this) if they respond with anything but reflection, empathy, and honest, open conversation, he may not be such a ‘good man’ after all.