25-year-old Courtney Herron died while sleeping rough. Picture: VicPol
25-year-old Courtney Herron died while sleeping rough. Picture: VicPol

Men, we can and must do more to end violence against women

Not all men are killers.

But all men are responsible for setting the standard for what it is to be a man. This seems to be the simple fact that some men find hard to grasp.

Following the murder of yet another woman in Melbourne, the "not me" male chorus sang out in full voice. It's not the response we need, fellas.

Women have been telling us for years that the attitudes accepted by many men - and actively promoted by some - make women unsafe.

It may not be the intention of most men that women feel threatened in everyday life, whether walking home from a bus or entering their own home, but it's happening. And the evidence is that male attitudes feed this danger.

A vigil was held for Courtney Herron on Friday, May 31. Picture: AAP/Daniel Pockett
A vigil was held for Courtney Herron on Friday, May 31. Picture: AAP/Daniel Pockett

 

What's more, it's fairly easy for men to do something about it. But, instead, too many want to plead their innocence and deny that they play any role in the dangers women live with. But that's not good enough.

Every man helps set the standard for what it is to be a man. We do this at home, at work, when socialising with our mates. The standards are set not just in the way we deal with women directly, but also in the way we talk about them among ourselves. It's easy to set and maintain the standards, whether we set them high or low.

Consider this example shared with me by a youth worker colleague. Three young adult male friends were catching up at the pub. One was discussing his relationship difficulties with his wife. The other two joked that he should slap her around a bit so she learned her place. Later, to their horror, they found out he went home and assaulted her. They thought they were joking when, in reality, they were degrading the standards of manhood and a woman paid the price.

While the social, political and economic realities behind discrimination against women are complex and deep, the steps for most men to make things better are simple and straight forward.

Building a healthy culture is not technically difficult. You have to know what it is that you want to be accepted as normal. You provide clear leadership to promote it. And you are persistent.

The difficulty in changing culture comes from different values and low commitment. If people don't value the cultural norms you're promoting, they won't get on board. If they lack commitment, they won't persist in changing the culture.

This is why I take the fear and anger I hear from women seriously. There is no positive way to understand why so many men do not want to do the simple things it takes to uphold a standard of manhood that supports a world where women feel safe.

Women like Courtney Herron and those who mourn her deserve to be safe. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty
Women like Courtney Herron and those who mourn her deserve to be safe. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty

If you care, you act. The "not me" or "not all men" excuses don't cut it when men are asked to be accountable for male attitudes.

While no man is personally responsible for the specific violent or bigoted choices of another, we all share responsibility for the standards we expect from each other - in every conversation, in every decision, in every situation in which we find ourselves. What we say and do, or what we accept in what others say or do, either upholds or undermines a community that is fair, where women can feel respected and safe.

How will we know when we're doing enough? When the rates of domestic violence and intimate partner murders plummet, and when women tell us that when they walk down a street at night and an unknown male is walking closely behind them, that they feel safer, not fearful.

Paul Hegerty is a former Catholic priest and consultant who works with organisational culture.