This article was written by the executive director of White Ribbon Australia, part of a global social movement working to eliminate gendered violence. Replace “Australia” with “South Africa” and everything he says is equally true of our society. Inequality is so deeply embedded structurally that men and women alike see nothing wrong with mother-in-law jokes or quips about women drivers. For every man who says, “But I’m not like that; I respect women,” this article is for you. Most of us do not behave violently towards women, but, “We have been taught – either subtly or overtly – that because of our gender we deserve a special kind of respect.” Let this be a wake-up call.
Reprinted from the Guardian, by Brad Chilcott – 2020-0-07
As White Ribbon’s new executive director, I believe it’s worth mobilising the movement towards meaningful action
“Why?” has been the most consistent response when I’ve told my progressive friends that I’ve taken on the role of executive director of White Ribbon Australia for its next chapter. They didn’t miss the organisation that had first become publicly synonymous with ending family violence and then famous for problematic ambassadors and financial ruin. As a volunteer White Ribbon supporter myself, I agreed with much of the criticism – and yet I continue to believe it’s worth mobilising the tens of thousands of Australians who constitute the White Ribbon movement towards meaningful action.
Gender inequality is structural violence. It creates the space for acts of gendered violence by normalising disrespect as it socialises the idea that one gender is more valuable or capable than another.
It is clear that men’s violence against women is an ongoing systemic crisis – from the murder of more than one woman a week, to Australian police responding to family violence once every two minutes, to the sexual harassment experienced by women in the workplace – and when we know that approximately 80% of women who experience violence don’t report their abuse we begin to comprehend the vast scale of this emergency.
Gendered violence begins with the idea that you are entitled to obedience, sex, authority or a different set of freedoms because you are a man. That you have the intrinsic right to treat someone else in a way that you would not be treated. It is expressed in coercive control – exerting power over your partner’s finances, social life, clothing, career or otherwise reducing their individual agency.
I grew up in a religious environment that taught that men were the head of the house, that women couldn’t perform certain rituals, weren’t able to teach men or take leadership positions. When I was a child, my default image of engineers, pilots, football players and prime ministers was male. I said “policeman” instead of “police officer” and assumed my doctors would be men and my nurses would be women.
None of these things automatically turn me into a man who uses violence in my intimate relationships. But they demonstrate that many men in Australia – religious and otherwise – have been raised in cultures that share a history of entrenched gender inequality. We have been taught – either subtly or overtly – that because of our gender we deserve a special kind of respect. We have been raised with a certain expectation of male power and to have control of our homes, partners, children, faith communities, sporting clubs and workplaces. To believe that men have a right to decide what happens to women’s bodies.
Many of us have had this perspective role modelled to us, and indeed have seen the violence – whether physical violence, emotional manipulation, sexual exploitation or spiritual abuse – that men have used to dominate, control and harm women. We have seen men desperate to hold on to their power as they grow insecure in a changing society. We might say that not all misogyny leads to violence but that all violence starts with misogyny.
So yes, “all men”, to varying degrees. Therefore, our first responsibility in responding to this national crisis is to reflect on our own beliefs and attitudes, our culturally acquired perception of gender norms and to consider and change the ways these translate into our behaviour. We need to take ownership of the ways we create the environment that allows men to believe they are entitled to a greater share of power in society and relationships – and often exercise that power to harm others.
The abuse of power is violence – whatever form that takes.
If you’re monitoring your partner’s phone, telling them what they’re allowed to wear, if they have to ask your permission to spend time with friends or family – that’s not equality, it’s an abuse of power.
If, because you’re a man, you think you have the right to be obeyed, to make all the decisions, to be the head of a house, to have an unequal share of power – or indeed to be paid more, have more social freedoms, that your opinion is more important – then you are promoter of gender inequality. If you use any form of coercive control over your partner to enforce that privilege, then you’re a perpetrator of gendered violence.
How do we respond? Perhaps understanding that aspiring to be a good male role model is about much more than controlling aggression. It’s a man who is willing to listen and learn. Who is aware of their power and privilege – and chooses to utilise them towards cultural and political change. It’s someone who is determined to share power in their relationships and hold on to their privilege loosely, knowing we all benefit when everyone is equally valued, included and given the opportunity to flourish.
In some quarters it seems controversial to say that men have a role to play in eliminating gendered violence and advancing gender equality. What is certainly problematic is placing men on a pedestal for not using violence or not acknowledging the decades of tireless campaigning by women that built the foundation of awareness and positive change that male advocates stand on today. However, as it is men that need to stop being violent and to break the cycle of generational misogyny, they must be part of the solution.
Certainly, the men who hold on to the majority of the political power in Australia have not responded to the terror and suffering experienced by women in Australia in a manner commensurate to the crisis, nor with the magnitude of money and commitment expended on their self-identified priorities. A willingness to listen to and learn from women – and then act not only decisively but also proportionately – would go a long way towards creating safety for women now and pave the way for equality into the future.
• Brad Chilcott is executive director of White Ribbon Australia
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Contact Family Lawyers Cape Town for help
As family lawyers, our job is to protect the vulnerable members of a family. Both women and children are at risk from structural gendered violence. If you are experiencing gendered violence, whether physical abuse, emotional manipulation, or coercive control, Cape Town Divorce Attorneys can help. We now offer online consultations. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email email@example.com today, and we’ll call you back to schedule a meeting at a time that suits you, on the platform of your choosing.
Important contact numbers:
GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428 / *120*7867# from any cell phone
Women Abuse Helpline: 0800 150 150
Childline: 0800 055 555
SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111 / SMS Crime Line: 32211
GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 firstname.lastname@example.org
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