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A cultural complicity in violence against women

By Tasman Bain - posted Tuesday, 2 September 2014

In March last year, Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said: "Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage. Indeed, no matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear."

Yet it is only in the high profile aftermaths around the world of mass shootings or suicide murders or gang rapes or stoning or kidnappings that violence against women is highlighted in society – be it the massacre in Santa Barbara or the kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls or the rape murders of two Indian girls, or the murders of countless women and their children at the hands of husbands and partners featured on the seven o'clock TV news.

Nonetheless, the most powerful responses are the daily and routine lived experiences, of violence and abuse and sexism, which have been clearly articulated and courageously shared by women across social media, such as the yes all women hashtag on twitter.


It is important to mention this, not at all to diminish the incredibly horrific and morally reprehensible acts that are highlighted, but to demonstrate that we as a society negligently overlook an everyday culture of violence and abuse and sexism which permeates our social fabric that women are still condemned to be subjected to despite the advances in gender equality over the last century.

Australia is at the forefront of these realities for women. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, at least one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence. Even then though, the majority of incidences of violence and abuse go unreported.

Now, not even 20 young men are killed a year because of alcohol fuelled violence compared to the upwards of 50 women killed in domestic violence related circumstances. Yet the only kind of violence we hear about in the media or from politicians seeking to change laws are of king hits and coward punches and young men's alcohol fuelled violence against other young men. We as a society are so willing to confront an issue plaguing young men with systemic legislative reforms but aren't willing to put the spotlight on violence against women.

Former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce was recently appointed the head of the new Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland. This is in the context of 640 246 reported incidents of domestic violence in Queensland in 2013, which was an increase of 6283 from 2012. Indeed there are about 175 reports of domestic violence every week in Queensland alone. It is important to note though that these statistics unfortunately tend to be much higher for Indigenous women, homeless women, and women with disabilities or mental health problems. Also, these statistics are reflective of primarily heterosexual women and it is important to note that violence and abuse also occur in same-sex, transex or intersex relationships.

Dame Quentin mentioned in her second Boyer Lecture last year that "around the country the rape crisis centres and women's safe houses are full, resources are overstretched, and countless more women are awaiting refuge from horrific circumstances." Indeed the rates of domestic violence have been declared a national emergency by service providers.

Myself as a man and every other man can never fully understand or truly empathise with the lived experiences and those daily realities of women and girls – the violence and rape and abuse and harassment and humiliation and intimidation and fear and threats and manipulation and stalking and shaming and blaming and jeers and groping and discrimination – subjugated by the full gambit of sexism and the full gauntlet of misogyny. Nonetheless, just because we men can never fully understand or truly empathise, does not at all mean we should not seek out such an understanding or try to empathise.


Indeed, what we men can do, and indeed what we must do, is recognise that a culture enables and perpetuates those realities both exists and is extremely harmful. What we men must do is ally with women. What we men can and must do is challenge those men that do harm and do victimise women. What we men must do is challenge the culture enables and perpetuates those realities. What we men must do is challenge ourselves.

It is not enough simply to respect women as humans, to realise that sexual consent is dynamic and requires an ongoing positive yes, to ally with the feminist cause, to refrain from telling sexist jokes, to never hit a woman. As Clementine Ford notes, "it takes more than 'not being bad' to be 'actually good'."

Not only must we realise that male privilege exists and are inherently advantaged and also continually benefit from misogyny and sexism – be it increased physical safety and career advancement to socioeconomic empowerment and broader cultural rights in our favour. We must challenge our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, friends, classmates, teammates, colleagues, and the strangers we encounter throughout society. Critically though, we must challenge ourselves.

Violence against women is both enabled and perpetuated by a culture that maintains a spectrum of sexism and misogyny, from the subtle and casual to the violent and extreme – that dehumanises women, that discriminates, that accepts male aggression, that fosters a male sense of entitlement, that rejects the bodily autonomy of women, that says a woman is incomplete without a man, that says women should take unwelcome advances by men as compliments, that shames women as sluts or prudes, that accepts sexual harassment in the workplace, that stigmatises victims, that normalises jeering at women in public, that blames women for the harms they suffer at the hands of men, that pressures women into sex, that delegitimises claims of sexual violence, that sees nothing wrong with jokes about rape, that equates male status with sexual conquest, that fetishizes virginity, that believes women have "too much equality" or women are too sensitive or that feminism is not only unnecessary but harmful to society, that fail to see men as both the part of the problem and part of the solution.

Violence against women is both enabled and perpetuated by ideals of masculinity that glorify violence and sexual conquest or entitlement over women. Violence against women is both enabled and perpetuated by a culture that fails to recognise violence against women as a substantial problem. Violence against women is both enabled and perpetuated by a culture that does not lay the blame at men or see men as the agents of positive change.

This culture in its covert and overt manifestations is engrained into our social fabric. This is our culture. Yet, it can also be expunged. As Jessica Valenti notes, "violence against women does not have to be inevitable, but it is almost always foreseeable: what matters is what we do about it." It must be challenged. We must challenge it. We certainly can. If we don't, we are culturally complicit.

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MensLine Support Hotline: 1300 78 99 78.

National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Hotline: 1800 737 732.

Lifeline Crisis Support Hotline: 131 114.

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About the Author

Tasman Bain is a social sciences student at the University of Queensland. He is an Advisor to the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, a Policy Officer with the Left Right Think-Tank

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