What is wrong Australia? Another day, another woman killed by a man. According to advocacy group Destroy the Joint, as of March 17th, before Masa Vukotic’s death on Tuesday, 22 women had been killed in Australia in the first 11 weeks of 2015. Two every week, and double the average from the past few years. Seriously, what is wrong?
Inevitably, when a woman is killed in our streets, close to home, we talk about women’s safety. Over and over again. Of course safety is important, and must always be a consideration, but where is the discussion about men’s violence and why these deaths are so common? Almost exclusively, when a woman is killed it is by a man. And while killings that are perpetrated by men in our streets in seemingly random attacks grab the attention, overwhelmingly, women are killed by men that they know. They are often a family member or an intimate partner; a man who at some stage has told the woman he has just killed that he loved her.
Why aren’t we talking about this as the national emergency that it most certainly is? Why the hell aren’t we talking about the violence against women epidemic that we currently find ourselves in? Is it because female deaths don’t matter as much as men’s? In 2014, NSW introduced legislation practically overnight following the deaths of two men in Sydney. Sweeping changes were made to liquor laws and sentencing for those found guilty of ‘one punch’ attacks was increased dramatically. Where is the political will, at a national level, to address women’s deaths in the same fashion?
We are in a fortunate position at the moment, particularly in Victoria, where domestic violence is on the public agenda. We have our first minister for the prevention of family violence and there is also a royal commission in to this problem. But still, within all of this, a discussion on men’s violence is largely missing. We’re still talking about why a young woman was walking on her own through a park, or whether it’s safe for a woman to run on her own, or why a woman doesn’t leave a violent relationship. Why aren’t we seriously asking ourselves why men in our community are committing such horrible acts of violence against women?
As a society, we must take responsibility for the culture we have created where to be a man often means to be violent. Where if, as a man, you are disrespected or ignored, you use your masculine power to reassert control and reclaim dominance. Where, if you are viewed to be weak, you are less of a man, and the target of ridicule. We must acknowledge that we all contribute to this in our definitions of manliness and our expectations of men. How many times have you heard someone tell a young boy to ‘man up’, to ‘be a man’, or ‘don’t be a pussy’? Countless times I’m sure. There is no doubt that every one of these seemingly benign statements contributes to a broader culture of violent masculinity.
Every time we hear in the news that a Muslim man has assaulted a woman, or a group of Indian men have raped a girl, we, as the dominant group in Australia point the finger at those cultures as having a problem with women. What’s ignored is that we in Australia also have a culture, and it too is killing women.
These acts of violence, no matter how random or how deliberate, exist within a culture of violence and inequality, where women are largely seen as less valuable and less important. All over the world, research tells us that men’s violence against women is caused by gender inequality; the higher the inequality, the more prevalent and more extreme the violence. Not because of alcohol, not because of mental illness, not because of a ‘bad apple’, but because societies all around the world see women as inferior.
In writing this, I anticipate the usual, ‘but not all men’, or ‘how dare you tarnish us all with the same brush’. If your first thoughts in reading this are along those lines, you are part of the problem. To borrow a phrase from someone else (from whom I can’t remember), if you’re getting angry about being ‘tarnished’ by this, you’re getting angry about the wrong thing.
Where is your own, and our collective, anger about the women being killed in their homes and in their streets every week? Get over being so sensitive. Of course, the overwhelming majority of men choose not to use violence, but men’s violence against women, and also against other men, is one of the biggest issues our society faces at the moment. Terrorism always scores political points, and should not be ignored, but you only have to look at some basic statistics to see that men’s violence is doing far more damage in our homes, in our families, and in our communities.
If you are a man who cares about this, speak up about it, and don’t get defensive. We need to shift the focus from what women are doing, to what men are doing, and we need to acknowledge that while this issue effects everyone, it is primarily men who are violent. Understand that these acts of violence don’t exist in a bubble, but within a larger society that often encourages, condones, or excuses violence. This has to stop.
Unfortunately, men will often only listen when other men speak up about this issue. While we as men don’t have all the answers, we definitely can have influence. We need to harness this power and use it for good, to promote gender equity, to denounce violence, and to challenge traditional notions of masculinity.
To borrow yet another phrase, if you are a man who cares about this problem, and you have the ear of other men, tell them to listen to women. We need to create a space for women’s voices to be heard, so that young men respect women, will listen to women, and will see them as their equals. Only then will this epidemic of men’s violence against women begin to shift.
This is an edited version of a post that was published on Luke’s Tumblr and is republished with permission.