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Guys, man up about gender violence

Sep 04 2017 06:00
Mandi Smallhorne

BACK in 1972, Australian singer Helen Reddy wrote some powerful lyrics; countryman and guitarist Ray Burton composed the music for it, and I Am Woman was born. Women listeners pushed it up the charts, phoning radio stations to request it be played, until in December of that year it reached number one.

Forty-five years on, this iconic anthem of the Women’s Movement is still constantly referenced (Google will show how often it is quoted). In the mid-1980s, it was still fresh and relevant to me as I sang along at the top of my voice, and my (female) dog threw her head back and howled in harmony. “Oh yes, I am wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain; yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I’ve gained… If I have to, I can face anything: I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman…”

There was this bit in the song about how Woman had “a long, long way to go, until I make my brother understand”; 30 years on, as I trawl through social media in the dying days of so-called Women’s Month, I am staggered by how far we still have to slog to achieve this.

And I think it’s time we shed this idea that women have to do the work, that we have to ‘make’ our brother understand the damage he does, directly or indirectly. Time for men to start making EACH OTHER understand.

Consider this:

In the last weekend of August, the world was mesmerised by a punch-up between two men: one an Irish brawler given to racial clichés and the other, who has been convicted of domestic violence, the owner of something euphemistically referred to as a ‘gentleman’s club’ – although why we bother with the euphemism is a good question, when the owner uses the bluntest of terminology for what his club sells: “You already know, ass, titties, pussy, liquor, music, will never go out of style. … Women will never go out of style, especially pretty women.”

The fight saw the usual commodification of women, pretty billboards wearing advertising and little else, strutting round the ring.

What message does it send, to boys in particular, that this wonderful specimen of manhood received a minimum of $100m for this little outing?

Then this: on a social media post about Mayweather’s record of domestic violence, a man responded by saying that many men, actors, artists and sportsmen have such a past: “The fact is we support and love them for their art… We don't know their circumstances.

"I'm not saying we should pardon them but we cannot ignore what they have mastered. May we learn, may they learn and do better.” To which a young woman responded: “Then FREAKING CONDEMN their violence!!!!!!! […] CONDEMN it openly, IN PUBLIC. CONDEMN it FIRST, then you can talk about their art. We're sick and tired of justifications.”

And I totally understood her capital letters and excessive use of screamers, because I, too, am freaking tired of the talking and explaining and protesting women do to try to get these issues taken seriously – to so little effect.

In this country, now, when gender-based violence, already appallingly high, seems to be on the increase, how can any halfway decent man respond to documented domestic violence by saying “We don’t know their circumstances…” as though there was any kind of excuse for this behaviour?

Must women bear the burden of responsibility for shouting about gender-based violence, for taking action on this, for being – even as victims – the ones who have to act to prevent violence?

“Major General Tebello Mosikili, national head of the police’s Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigation unit, has warned women to report abuse early – lest they be killed by their partners […] ‘We are encouraging partners to report any acts of violence at an early stage [;] they should at least obtain a protection order.’”

Violence against women a drain on economy

Gender-based violence – which affects more than one in three women worldwide – is a drain on our society: in the USA, it costs about $4.9bn annually. "Seventy percent of this comes from direct medical costs, 15 percent from lost productivity, and 15 percent from lost earnings over women’s lifetimes."

But no, Major General. Encouraging women to report early is not how we solve it. (And protection orders are often not worth the paper they’re printed on, let’s face it.)  This is a problem that afflicts certain males, the kind who will not hear about women’s rights; the rest of mankind are those best placed to solve it.

Women have enough to do supporting the survivors, thank you very much; men should, must be the ones acting to shame and name the abusers.

YOU take up the cudgels. You call out other men when they laugh at jokes with an element of gender-based violence (“Women have to be controlled,” was one punchline of a ‘joke’ I just heard); you speak out when women’s bodies are commodified; you take the trouble to notice and ask the pointed questions (“Why are there no women on this panel/in this boardroom/on these gallery walls?”); you set the example and the tone for other men and young boys.

We women are weary unto death of protesting, or shouting, of bashing our heads against the brick wall of a blind society. It’s your turn. Man up.

* Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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