Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

Yes, all men.

A story about how my perspective shifted on the topic of violence against women.

Recently I have had the unfortunate realisation that the women in my life live with an entirely different set of risks to their safety than I have to mine. Though conversations with my wife, her friends, colleagues in the industry and a number of other female mentors I have come both to see a small slice of their world, and realise that simply given the nature of my life I will never fully understand the different world they inhabit.

A culture of violence

I think, to provide a counterpoint to the world in which I am trying to contrast it’s worth exploring some of my personal background, particularly with regards to violence.

I was brought up in an environment in which physicality was normal; something discussed frankly and openly. I lived in a small farm, and while my youth was certainly not as difficult as some in my area I was routinely tasked with physically difficult activities, often with significant risks to my personal safety. Building, cutting, burning, sawing and more generally the management of land and livestock were all part of the stock and trade of our family life when I was young.

Additionally and from a reasonably early age I was involved in some form of combat sports; a passion I continue where possible to this day. While I understand those uninitiated into combat sports see it as some sort of savage bloodletting, in my mind it’s instead associated with thousands of hours of practice moderated by respect, practice with partners designed to limit the harm; matching oneself with a combat opponent of similar physical build and experience. It is a disciplined, considered sport.

That experience means that I very rarely consider my physical safety threatened, and I feel both comfortable and well equipped to deal with physical violence (or the threat thereof) should it occur.

It is a far cry from the world that I understand women face.

Using violence to establish power

It is difficult for me to understand and relate with those who use violence to further their own self interest. However, I have seen how weak men can delude themselves into thinking women should treat them in a given way, and react violently when these misguided expectations are not met. Note: This is not at attempt to justify any sort of violence. It’s a personal exploration of this topic from the understanding of my own life and the stories of those around me.

The objectification of women

It is somehow embedded in our culture that both men and women should meet a given set of expectations. However, it is my feeling that the expectations that are placed on women are unrealistic. The assumption I have is that men and women are not so different, and given this assumption the role that women are expected to play in our society is … well, obscene.

They are expected to be:

  • The damsel in distress, but
  • Perfectly dressed at all time, and
  • Essentially awaiting their prince charming to tell them what to do and where to go.

While this narrative is currently being deconstructed in popular media and women being given a more equal (frankly human) footing, there is a generation of men who genuinely believe this myth about women, and a generation of women who have attempted to fit into this impossible mould.

Mismatched expectations

These men, enamoured of the view of themselves as prince charming, inevitably attempt take these narratives from popular media and attempt to apply them to real life. Predictably, this has terrible consequences for all involved.

A given man will attempt to “save” a given women, who does not need saving. Attempt to talk to her in a bar, pick her apart from her friends, chat her up in the shops, all with the explicit goal of expecting her to play this damsel in distress role, and to fall lovingly into his arms.

Women do not need saving, they can aptly look after themselves. Unwilling to play the role the earlier man would wish them to, they tell them to move on, find something else to do.

At this point, the man is nonplussed; rejected and filled with embarrassment. They must either see it as their own character deficiency, or there is perhaps something defective about this women, or this situation. Regardless, they are filled with rage.

The cycle of rage

A given person filled with rage is a scary and dangerous thing. That person loses any reason, and reaches out to break whatever it was they feel caused this rage. Inevitably women bear this cost, either with immediate consequence or over time as this man will begin to both hate and need company from women.

The particularly cruel aspect of this cycle is that women understand the risks involved in rejecting these weak men and will often seek to minimise the hurt of the aforementioned men, simply to reduce the risks of harm to them or their friends. They are faced with an impossible choice; reject the man outright and risk the consequence, or attempt to shape men into some sort of situation in which they are less hurt.

This impossible choice means that there are men out there who are able to use the implicit threat of violence to get away with a progressively more outrageous set of behaviours.

The many kinds of violence

The story outlined to demonstrate how rage and violence establish power is not unique. It has been repeated so often it should be a cliche, and there is now a culture in which a slice of the male population essentially expect women to react in this impossible way, and react badly when they do not.

There are many ways in which this violence is expressed:

  • Rape, in which men will force themselves upon women
  • Physical Violence, in which women end up being directly beaten or physically hurt
  • Stalking, in which women are physically followed with the intent to get their attention
  • Drink spiking, in an attempt to modify a woman state of mind to match the mans expectations
  • Emotional violence, in which men make a women feel she is somehow defective for not adhering to these impossible roles

As well as innumerable other examples. Men, increasingly emboldened by the lack of consequence will attempt to coerce women into the role that they feel they should play, and will deceive themselves into thinking such behaviour is acceptable.

The world becomes a hostile place

For women, who must bear the price of this culture, the world is now a hostile place. Not simply because of this chunk of men who undertake these obscenities, but because those men are ostensibly no different from any other men.

I, once in the position of nativity, did not understand this at first. It is my hope that I am always kind (or at least harmless) in all my interactions, and I could not understand why women would treat all men with such hostility given that hopefully a small chunk of us are bad. However, that chunk of us has come to define us.

Those who indulge in these abuses are our friends, brothers, fathers and cousins. They are respected members of the community and those that we would otherwise vouch for. But because we have failed as a community to identify those who are abusive we are all essentially complicit in this abuse, and to women are part of the same dangerous set.

Our responsibility as men

It is only given this frame of reference; that in which we as a community of men have failed to guide those among us who might fall into this cycle of rage out, those who have failed to identify those who are actively abusive and isolate them from our community and those that have failed to see women with the respect and empathy they deserve that we can begin to understand our responsibility.

We need to re-examine the fundamental assumptions that we make about our role in the world, giving away any notions that we are somehow more powerful or better suited to authority than women. This conversation needs to have women at the centre of it, defining the expectations they themselves with to meet, and we as a community must enforce those expectations rigidly.

In our daily lives this takes all sorts of forms, such as:

  • Creating environments in which women feel included, rather than expecting them to come to environments in which we feel safe
  • Squashing any discussions that re-enforce the aforementioned impossible pressures women face
  • Asking them to lead the discussions that shape and moderate our expectations so we can grow collectively to meet them.

The above can be adequately expressed in my mind as “seeing women as people”.

A quick test to determine if you’re being a prick

Even as I write this post I still find it hard to give away all notions that men and women are inherently different, and that I should somehow act differently between them. However, there is a simple rule (I’m quite sure seen first on Twitter) that makes the distinction easy:

Think of the woman you’re talking to as the Rock. A two mitre tall person with a history of being able to easily squash other people for sport. So, if:

  • You think the Rock would be offended, you’re being a prick
  • You’re worried that the Rock would take something the wrong way, you’re being a prick
  • You’re uncomfortable telling the joke about the husband and the Rock while the Rock is in the room, you’re being a prick
  • You feel like the Rock would find your flirting to be too forward, you’re being a prick

If you don’t the rock, pick Conor MacGregor. Or Ronda Rousey. Or anyone else that can kick your arse. The point is, if you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it to them, you shouldn’t be doing it to anyone else.

In Conclusion

It has been an an interesting and frankly disturbing realisation for me to understand the different pressures that women face. It is only through the careful tuition of many women in my community that I’ve been able to understand more about the pressures they face. Given this understanding I feel an obligation to open this issue up in my communities, and I hope you take the time to do the same.

Finding help

I know only a limited number of places to go if you are in a position in which you need help. If you know some places, please feel free to @ me on Twitter (@andrewhowdencom) and I will update this list.

Australia: https://whiteribbon.org.au/find-help/domestic-violence-hotlines/