When I woke up at 3am last Sunday morning week ago, I knew our next episode of The Lever *had* to be about men’s violence against women. While everyone will agree I talk enough on the actual episode below, I wanted to post this now to explain why it had to be so:
I had to message Ben Sunday and say the great topic we were cooking up, on what’s happening to the ABC and tertiary sector, had to be bumped. I’d spent the last week or more reading my friends’ social media posts, between a bunch of IRL coffees (super Melbourne), and was taking in the consistent wondering and outrage over why so many men seemed to have nothing to say about Eurydice Dixon’s rape and murder in Parkville, a place where so many of my people have lived, worked and studied for more than 20 years.
I had a couple of conversations, dove in, got hammered a bit, and realised:
- I kind of had to take it, that the anger was perfectly natural, and just because someone is angry doesn’t mean their point is wrong;
- that I quite understood why men might choose not to stick their head up if they feared getting it knocked off, even if there were good reasons to go on and do it anyway; and
- that matching up male, female, and non-cisgendered ideas about feminism, patriarchy and violence against women was going to be a messy, agonistic affair we might forever be moving towards and never arriving.
I always think I’ve got my gender politics right; but always think back a couple of years and am embarrassed that what I thought then was all good. Both self-assessments can’t be true. I find the concept of the “progressive bro” or “brocialist” pretty fascinating, because for years I wasn’t even good enough for those terms, and I must have been a bad hombre like this for years. I don’t doubt that I’ll look back at some views I currently hold, and think *facepalm* “How could I be so foolish or misinformed?”
If you’re reading a blog, let’s assume you have some element of privilege to be able to do so. Let’s say that wherever we have privilege, we never arrive at a point where we’re fully enlightened or – the term I dislike – “woke”. It’s not a destination but a journey. Because I was an unreconstructed jock before anything else, I have a sports metaphor for everything, and “you’re only as good as your last game” rings in my ears for our politics, society and culture that we produce and share between us every day.
For me personally, I exited politics after whistleblowing a progressive organisation’s atrocious handling of a sexual assault in its ranks, where every choice by its leaders added a layer of trauma to the complainant, her advocates and supporters. Neither Dysatisfunctional nor The Lever will be a soapbox for that, but suffice it to say I’ve experienced first hand how the herd reacts when someone pipes up to disturb the peace to merely say what happened. Gaslighting, undermining, victim-blaming – what a ride it has been. Dominant power pulls out all stops to stuff the disturbance back in wherever it came from. Being disturbed and being disturbing happen on the sides of the argument whenever a norm is challenged or ruptured. And violence always ruptures this norm.
Ironically, I’ve enjoyed exiting the overt political world. I feel freer, I’m not representing a bigger cause, and what a relief to be back running only my own boundaries again. I can be less careful, shed some of the politically correct excess I don’t feel matters. Even if I know that in 2 years I’ll look back and wonder what I was thinking.
Senator Talk-to-the-Handzone vs. Senator Lesion-helmet
If you’ve followed Senator David Leyonhjelm’s strategic and disgusting attack on Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (catch up here), his aims seem to be designed to broadly promote his extreme right free speech agenda, and to beat the idea that all men have a role in addressing Australian rape culture back into obscurity, as the world changes around him. Senator, here’s a rape culture triangle, and you’re on it mate:
If you haven’t spent your life in a tent on a hill, or a boat that never docks, you’re on this pyramid somewhere!
If you’re a man who wants to be a better ally to women, styles may vary, but here’s a non-exhaustive list of things I am trying to do:
- call out your mates’ rapey or sexist jokes (I was on my first shift yesterday; a guy made a racist comment and I thought “what to do?” I went with: “OK so John’s thrown down the gauntlet for most racist comment of the night. We’ve got 39 minutes for someone to beat that…” and I could be wrong but I felt like my point was made to laughs, and John didn’t seem to want to punch my head in which was good);
- confront your own objectification of women, whether in thought or deed; any assumption that women exist exclusively or primarily as sexual targets or conquests;
- figure out what “enthusiastic consent” means, ideally by talking to your people about it;
- show “situational awareness” by avoiding ambiguous behaviour that could be seen as threatening, even/especially when you wouldn’t hurt the proverbial fly;
- be accountable and listen to challenging stories;
- don’t feminise weakness, passivity or victimhood – it’s subconscious structural bullshit;
- avoid the urge to leap to your own or your mate-who’s-a-good-bloke-really’s defence – despite how men are raised to be in constant physical and social control, your discomfort will pass;
- if you feel the urge to say “Not all men”, just don’t. It’s like being very good-looking – not only is it highly subjective and difficult to prove, it a) might not be the most important part of the conversation, and b) heaps better for someone else to point out than to say yourself;
- ask yourself if dominating other people of any gender is OK. Some say men have to change how we relate to other men, if we’re to change how we relate to women;
- seek opportunities to promote women as equal to men, valued for leadership, intelligence, strategy and comedy, rather than being pretty, accommodating, domestic and caring;
- if mental illness can take you out of yourself and make you a threat to those around you, manage it as proactively and as responsibly as possible (I manage a mental illness; in 3 episodes I just shut down, couldn’t move for hours and was only hurting myself, but the 4th time I broke my hand on a coffee table and kicked a chair across the flat. Suffice it to say, neither the chair nor table did anything to deserve it, and I’m still trying to live it down. Only try to justify it if you’re deliberately trying to sound like a prick);
- don’t wait around for someone to give you a trophy just for trying to be a good human, hero ;]
I believe you can be a good straight male ally to women and still be very sex-positive, though I admit I don’t quite know what that looks like. I think men and women feel objectified by their male and female partners; but the cultural background for those experiences are completely different and structural depending on who you are. My gut feeling is that it involves a lot of checking in and talking about difficult or awkward topics.
Of course, it’s the height of Dysatisfunctional’s mission to be like: “I’ve made a mess of this so you don’t have to”, to put myself out there and say, “You know what? Life etc – let’s do this.” It’s not so bad, a bit of humility, a dash of accountability, and a wee nip of transparency.
Despite my best efforts, I still find it interesting, weird and ironically illustrative, that when I think of Senator Leyonhjelm, my base instincts surface – my higher self takes a hike, and I think, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, you dirty old cunt.” Which isn’t the only sign of how far I have to go.