Speech by Dr Michael Flood, Be The Hero event, Melbourne Town Hall, February 16, 2012.
Contact: Dr Michael Flood
Senior Lecturer, University of Wollongong
Writings / publications: http://www.xyonline.net/category/authors/michael-flood
I have four messages today.
1. We know a fair amount about the problem – about men’s violence against women.
2. Men are now part of the solution.
3. We face real challenges.
4. It’s time for a fresh approach.
1. We know a fair amount about men’s violence against women.
We know a fair amount about men’s violence against women. The phrase ‘men’s violence against women’ refers to a wide range of forms of violence, abuse, and coercion perpetrated by men against women. We know now that there are a wide range of male behaviours which women find to be threatening, violent or harassing. We have names now for forms of violence and abuse which had been invisible, or seen as normal or acceptable.
Say the words “domestic violence”, and lots of people think of a man hitting his wife in the face. Sure, this is sometimes part of domestic violence. But what defines domestic violence is that it’s a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviours. He is putting his wife or girlfriend down, controlling her movements, pressuring her into sex, and threatening her or the people she cares about. He may not be hitting her, and he may not be obviously breaking any laws. Domestic violence is about one person using a whole range of controlling and abusive strategies against his partner.
We also know a lot about the causes of men’s violence against women. Above all, this violence is shaped by gender inequalities – by patterns of inequality between men and women. Whether you look at relationships and marriages, or communities, or entire countries, there are strong links between violence against women and unequal gender roles and sexist gender norms.
That’s what we know. So what have we done about it? I’m glad to report that in Australia, there has been real progress in reducing and preventing men’s violence against women. This has been pioneered by the women’s movements, and it’s been taken up by communities, governments, and others. Laws have changed, there are services for victims and survivors, although not enough, and people’s attitudes in Australia slowly have begun to improve.
I want to move now to my second point: that men are now part of the solution.
2. Men are now part of the solution.
In the field of violence prevention, there is a growing emphasis on involving men. Where does this come from? On the one hand, it represents the recognition that the problem of violence against women is a problem of men – a problem of the attitudes and behaviours of some men, a minority of men. On the other hand, it represents the hope for men which is central to feminism. Feminism is built on a fundamental hope for men, a fundamental belief that both women and men can share in a non-violent, gender-equal world.
Tonight’s event is part of a growing conversation taking place around the world about what it means to be a man. As part of that conversation, I want to show you a short video, about real men. Actually, it’s about two kinds of real men.
Men can make a difference.
If men are now part of the solution, what can men actually do? There is no doubt: Men can make a difference. Each man in this room, each of us, can make a difference. There are three things we can do. Put our own houses in order. Take action among other men and women. And take wider collective action.
In a report I released last year called Men Speak Up, I outlined in detail the steps each man can take to make a difference. First, put your own house in order. Take responsibility for your own sexist violent behaviour and attitudes. Strip the words ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ from your vocabulary. In your relationships with women, don’t dominate, negotiate. Build non-violent and respectful relations with the women and girls (and other men and boys) in your life.
In this culture, we are constantly invited into sexist and violence-supportive ways of seeing women. Boycott and resist sexist and violence-supportive culture. If you look at porn, and I bet every guy in this room has, start noticing the narrow, sexist, and hostile ways in which it portrays women. And educate yourself.
Second, take action among the people around you. Intervene in violent incidents – and in the report Men Speak Up I tell you how. Challenge the attitudes and behaviours among the men around you which feed into violence. If a bloke says, “She asked for it”, say, “That’s crap.” “How would you feel if that was your sister?” Speak up, and step forward. Support victims. Be an egalitarian role model. And in your everyday life, act to shift the sexist attitudes, practices, and inequalities which contribute to men’s violence against women.
In short, work to build a life for yourself and those around you which is non-violent, respectful, and gender-equal. The black feminist writer Audre Lorde puts it this way:
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
But, to end men’s violence against women, we’ll have to do more. To end systemic gender inequalities, we need concerted action by movements and networks, community organisations and workplaces, other institutions, and governments.
So what has been achieved so far in men’s violence prevention?
Violence prevention work among and/or by men has runs on the board:
Men’s violence prevention has ‘runs on the board’ – significant achievements.
- Mobilising men in groups, networks, and campaigns. Men have mobilised in support of ending violence against women, in groups, networks and campaigns. The biggest example of this is the White Ribbon Campaign. In Australia last year, over 200,000 people wore a white ribbon, over 1700 men have signed up as Ambassadors, playing a public role in ending men’s violence against women, and over 200 events took place around the country.
- Building healthy and respectful relationships among boys and young men. There is a growing evidence base that work with men can make a difference. There is data, there are studies, there is research. For example, there is good evidence that if it’s done well (and that’s a big if), violence prevention education among boys and men can shift the attitudes and behaviours that lead to physical and sexual violence.
- Encouraging norms of non-violence and gender equality. We know that communication and social marketing campaigns on TV and elsewhere can make a difference too. They can help to build norms of non-violence, respect, and gender equality among men.
Men’s violence prevention has other important achievements as well:
- Involving, and shifting, powerful masculine organisations and workplaces. Some powerful, traditionally male-dominated organisations and workplaces have taken up the cause of preventing and reducing men’s violence against women. These include the AFL, trucking companies, and other organisations.
- Forging partnerships between women’s and men’s networks and organisations. Men’s and women’s groups and networks have become allies, forging partnerships and working together.
- Generating significant political support. Male involvement in violence prevention has some real policy support. It’s now on state and national policy agendas. This is true e.g. of the Federal Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, and some state prevention plans.
- Attracting goodwill towards our cause. Finally, there is enormous goodwill towards our cause. Particularly when men do it. In fact, I think that the bar is set very low, too low. It’s too easy to get praise. But it is heartening to know that there is such goodwill, such support, out there.
3. We face real challenges.
These are all important achievements. But my third point is that this work involves real challenges.
Men’s violence against women is rooted in gender inequalities, and these are hard to change.The biggest challenge is that men’s violence against women is rooted in entrenched gender inequalities and in powerful social and cultural norms. Changing these is hard.
Violence against women isn’t a problem of a tiny number of mad, bad men. It’s a problem of normal men, of men like me and other ordinary men. And a problem of the ways in which normal men have been taught to behave, the ways normal men have been taught to see women.
Men’s violence prevention is limited:
- Few men are involved. Few men are involved. Relatively few men are advocates for the prevention of men’s violence against women.
- Efforts are small, scattered, and under-developed. Existing efforts to mobilise men as activists and organisers in grassroots anti-violence groups have been small and scattered. Face-to-face education programs directed at boys and young men are under-developed, and few have been well evaluated. However, both of these are changing.
- Efforts sometimes are tokenistic. I’ve long been a cheerleader for men’s violence prevention. But I must also acknowledge that some men’s support for campaigns like the White Ribbon Campaign is tokenistic. They wear the ribbon, but they do little else to help address men’s violence against women.
- A focus on men sometimes has been diluted. Some campaigns began by focusing on men’s roles in preventing violence against women, but have become generic prevention campaigns, diluting this valuable focus.
There is a backlash by anti-feminist men’s groups.
The last challenge is that there is a real backlash against efforts to name and prevent men’s violence against women, by angry, anti-feminist men’s groups.
4. It’s time for a fresh approach.
My fourth point is that it’s time for a fresh approach. I won’t try to map an entire plan for how to prevent and reduce men’s violence against women. But I want to give weight to some particular strategies which are vital.
Scale up work with men and boys.
First, scale up the work with men and boys. I know I know, size doesn’t matter. But here, it does. Most violence prevention work with men and boys has been local in scale and limited in scope. To really transform gender inequalities, we must adopt systematic, large-scale, and coordinated efforts. We need to scale up at every level of intervention, from community education in schools, to mobilisations among activist networks and movements, to organisational and institutional change.
Focus on ending gender inequalities.
Our efforts have to focus on ending gender inequalities, as these are so central to men’s violence against women. It’s tempting just to focus on providing services for victims and responding to perpetrators. But this is just bandaid work if we don’t also shift the social and structural inequalities which create victims and perpetrators in the first place. We have to build a world of gender justice.
We owe a debt here. It is feminist activism that placed violence against women on community and policy agendas. And it is feminist scholarship, feminist research, that provides the most comprehensive and credible account of relationship and family violence. A feminist approach names the ways in which gender and gendered power relations are central to violence against women, and it recognises the wide variety of other factors that also shape violence.
So what does this mean in practice? We should work with women, and be accountable to women and women’s groups. We should draw on feminist frameworks and feminist research. And we should tie our efforts to end men’s violence against women to wider agendas of gender justice.
Build the evidence.
Build the evidence. Whether you’re the Federal Government or a local community organisation, you just can’t get away with funding or implementing interventions with no evidence about whether they work or not. We have to evaluate the impact of our efforts, and draw on existing evidence in designing what we’ll do.
To prevent violence against women, we also have to mobilise men. We have to mobilise men – and the communities in which they live – through events, networks, and campaigns. We have to get men on the streets, into grassroots men’s groups, and in coalitions and networks. We need stroppy activist movements, making noise and trouble and change.
Make it personal.
The final element of this fresh approach is that men have to make it personal. Men have to build our personal commitment, strength, and inspiration.
What does ending men’s violence against women actually mean for the men in this room personally?
Here are some quick tips on how to make this personal.
Wear your heart on your sleeve. Get used to being political – to speaking up and making a fuss.
Learn a language for speaking about violence against women. Learn how to tell your mates that violence against women is a men’s issue.
Get comfortable with the F-word and the G-word. This work is feminist work. Like feminism, it’s based on the simple idea that women are people too, that women (and indeed, men) have the right to live free of violence. The G-word is “gay”. Question the homophobic assumption, the anti-gay belief, that men who care about women must be gay. Say, “so what?”
Find and build communities of support – through friends and groups. You’re not John Wayne, and you can’t go it alone.
Hold yourself to a higher standard. But don’t assume that you must be perfect before you act.
Acknowledge your mistakes. Celebrate your successes. And finally, figure out what you are for, not just what you are against. Get inspired, and get active.
These are my final words:
Men – men who care for women, men who care for justice and equality, and men who care for the wellbeing of our communities and society – must act to end violence against women. The presence of the women in this room tells us that women are waiting for, women want, women hope, that men finally will act.
We’ve made real progress in reducing and preventing violence. We face real challenges. Above all, it is only by ending gender inequalities that we will end men’s violence against women.
Men can make a difference. And men must make a difference.