Wellbeing — Gender violence and men

I was eating dinner with my family over the weekend watching the news report on the death of Eurydice Dixon. I also see that the memorial has been defaced and vandalised, probably by young men. This, unfortunately, is more evidence of the issue facing us as parents and carers for our own young men. The same report noted that domestic violence accounts for 50% of police work. That figure astounded and horrified me.

The pictures of local football players paying their respects to Eurydice at the makeshift memorial reminded me of the murder of Masa Vukotic, in 2016. At the time, I was also at football training and distinctly remember the helicopters overhead. I assumed it to be an accident on the freeway. I walk my dog there often and have never felt in danger… but then, I’m a male. While there may be a risk to me, I don’t have to constantly worry that I might be raped or murdered while on an evening walk. In fact, it made me change my own behaviour in that I would often pause if trailing a female walker, just so they wouldn’t feel intimidated or threatened. To this day I can’t walk past the place of that murder without feeling sorrow and anger that a man was able to perpetrate that act of violence on a woman for no other reason than he could. It’s sad that I have to tell my own children to be aware of this fear that women may have of us simply because of our gender.

Over the past week, I have also been preparing for a presentation to our senior school students on gender violence and how the impact of societal views about the role of men and women contribute to this ongoing scourge in our homes. I have two sons, a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, and I am acutely aware of the necessity to model, teach and act in a way that challenges these gender stereotypes.

At De La Salle College, we are committed to raising young men who are aware of their responsibilities when discussions about gender and role present themselves. It is crucial that we educate your young men about the dangers of gender stereotyping, not only because it can help in addressing gender violence, but also because we know that rigid adherence to the male gender stereotype is one of the leading causes of suicide in men aged 16 to 45. Violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness of women aged 15 to 44 years. It would seem that nothing good can possibly come of sticking to arbitrarily defined roles that developed in different times but no longer serve or suit the world our sons (and daughters) are living in.

One of the most common replies to this argument is that “men are subjected to violence as well.” While that is true, it is men who they are assaulted by in 95% of cases. I would argue that this is again part of the male stereotype, we use violence to resolve issues and worry that a challenge to us must be meet with a violent response or we lose ourselves.

Causes of gender violence

Unequal power – the fact that women and men do not have equal power or resources and that their voices, ideas and work are not valued in the same way.

Rigid adherence to gender roles – for example, the idea that women and men should act in certain ways or are better at certain things based on their sex.

Attitudes, norms, behaviours and practices that support violence – for example, the idea that violent acts are ok in certain circumstances, that some violent acts are not serious and that violence is a normal way of resolving conflict or that men cannot be held fully responsible for violent behaviour.

Blame shifting – violence from the perpetrator to the victim or hold women at least partially responsible for their victimisation or for preventing victimisation (she should not have dressed that way etc.).

Raunch culture – culture that promotes overtly sexual representations of women, for example through the acceptance of pornography, stripping and nudity in advertising.

This last point is pervasive across advertising, music culture and pornography. At the same time that pornography has become more mainstream and accessible, it has also become rougher and more aggressive. A recent content analysis of the most popular porn found:

  • 88% of scenes included acts of physical aggression.
  • 48% of the scenes contained verbal aggression.
  • Slapping in 75% of scenes.
  • In 95% of incidents, the aggression was met with either a neutral or pleasured response by the woman being aggressed.
  • In 94% of cases, the aggressive acts were directed at female performers.

The aggression in mainstream pornography is overwhelmingly directed towards women, and viewers see more than sex, aggression and degradation. They also see the performers’ responses to these acts.

From next year, The College will be introducing the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships Curriculum, as all Catholic, State and Independent schools across Victoria are obliged to do. In the meantime, I would ask that you challenge notions of gender inequality in yourself and others at home and in public.

  • Start by looking at your own attitudes and behaviours towards women and men. Do you treat men and women differently? Do you expect them to act differently? Ask yourself why.
  • If you hear someone blaming a victim of sexual assault by asking: “What was she wearing?” or “Was she drunk?” tell them that those kinds of attitudes contribute to a society that excuses violence against women. The only person responsible for sexual violence is the perpetrator.
  • Promote and role model equality and respect between men and women in all elements of your life – at home, at work and in your community.
  • Model equality at home and in your relationships – make sure your children see you talking through problems in an open and respectful way and sharing jobs at home equally. Make efforts to highlight female and male role models who are succeeding in non-traditional careers.

Young men are a joy. They are full of hope, of possibilities, of courage, of ideas, of love and of care. Teaching them to embrace these gentler qualities is our responsibility. Teaching them to support people, male, female, old, young, rich or poor is also our responsibility.

I’ll leave you with a link to a video that shows how gender stereotypes influence our thinking and with three quotes about fatherhood that I love and I think fit well into this topic:

One of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” – Howard W. Hunter

My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.” – Clarence Budington Kelland

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

Mr Anthony Freeman
College Psychologist — Kinnoull 

Back to The Duce Issue 2018 09 - 21 June 2018