A week ago, tens of thousands of women (and some men) rallied all over Australia demanding justice for women and protesting systematic and embedded violence towards women in this country.
In 2019 an ex-political adviser alleged that she was raped in a parliamentary minister’s office. The country’s Attorney-General has been accused of the 1988 rape of a woman who has since taken her own life. Grace Tame, the recently named Australian of the Year, is a survivor of sexual assault and has delivered some blistering attacks on the lack of governmental action in the face of these and other cases of violence against women.1
Against this backdrop the rallies for justice took place. Notably, the (male) Prime Minister refused to face the rally in Canberra (Australia’s capital.)
Sexism and misogyny are widespread in Australian society (as they are in most western-styled countries.) Soon after I arrived in Australia (from New Zealand) in 2012 one of the first speeches I heard from within the Australian parliament was that of the then Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) accusing the Leader of the Opposition of sexism and misogyny.2 Her speech went viral and has been voted as one of the most unforgettable speeches in Australian political history.
Yes, sexism and misogyny start at the top of the political hierarchy. But don’t be fooled; sexism and misogyny are also attitudes that come from the ground-up.
Women in this country (and many others) have been yelling that “enough is enough” since long before Julia Gillard’s speech. The recent March 4 Justice rallies are only the most current.
Have men (whether an MP or an ordinary man-in-the-street) been listening in all that time? Some have, it is true, but that is not the point. To say that some have is simply a way of saying, “Oh look, it’s really not all that bad.” It is bad. Sexism and misogyny are bad ideas, bad attitudes, bad behaviours.
Fix it, or Take Responsibility
So, what should men do in the face of the calls, cries, rallies, marches? First, the listening is vital. Just listen to the women. But, we men must not just listen. At no time in all the rallies and cries have I heard women say “Men, no need to do anything more, listening is enough.” That is not what the “enough is enough” cry is about.
Men could try fixing it. Men could suggest solutions such as: don’t go out at night, watch what you wear, get a consent app on your phone… Men could step into the fray and try to fix it for women. By doing so men frame the issue around women being victims and needing to be protected – from other men (oh no, not me!) Men wanting to fix it frames the issue as a “women’s issue,” abdicating any sense that the issue may be one performed by men.
Or, men could take responsibility. Men could recognise that men are, by and large, the major perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual violence. In Australia, in 2018-19, by far the majority of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male (97%) 3
Men could also take responsibility by recognising that young boys will look towards their fathers, and other men, as their role models.
Men could take responsibility for the comments, jokes, and behaviours of their male friends. To listen, for example, to a sexist joke is complicit behaviour.
Men could take responsibility for educating themselves. Sexism and misogyny do not operate in a vacuum. They exist within institutional and cultural systems. Learning about such systems is a response that men could make.
No, men do not need to fix it, in fact, cannot fix it.
However, men can take responsibility – personally, socially, and culturally.
1. To watch a Youtube clip of Grace Tame responding to ineffectual response by government and calling out what she terms “cover-up culture” go here.
2. An excerpt from Julia Gillards misogyny speech.
3. Sexual Assault in Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Government, August 2020.