The news that White Ribbon Australia has folded has elicited mixed opinions, but in time its demise could become an important turning point in the mission to family violence in this country.
White Ribbon undoubtedly helped raise awareness about violence against women, and encouraged many men to take a leadership role in tackling gender-based violence in their local communities.
The difficulties that White Ribbon ran into however, including its ultimate collapse, demonstrate the complexity of the work involved in turning around men’s violence toward women and children. Good intentions aren’t enough, and the time for awareness-raising is well and truly over. It’s tie to turn awareness into genuine action.
The crisis is Australian masculinity is so urgent that we need to go beyond wearing ribbons and signing pledges. What we really need is a society-wide reset to change the way we define Australian masculinity.
This will involve a genuine commitment from business leaders, community leaders, civil society, sporting organisations, the media, trade unions, and – of course – politicians.
And most importantly it will require Australian men to change the way they behave, and the way they think – not just one day a year, but every day.
TIME TO DITCH THE MARLBORO MAN
The prevalence of domestic violence across Australia is shocking. In fact, one in six Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner.
Here in the Northern Rivers region of NSW we have reason to be even more concerned.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Research and Statistics (BOCSAR), the Richmond-Tweed area recorded 22.7 per cent increase in domestic violence assaults between April 2018 and March 2019.
That’s 1,006 domestic violence assaults recorded in the region, up from 820 in the previous year.
But the need to change our culture of male violence is not just about improving the safety of women.
In fact, when you consider the high levels of stress and pressure facing men in today’s society, and the number of men committing suicide, there can no excuse for clinging to the outdated Marlboro Man model of Australian manhood.
To put it simply bringing up boys to be more caring, kind and understanding is as important for men as it is for women.
ON THE FRONT LINE
Fortunately, the movement to tackle violence against women is bigger than one organisation.
Organisations like the Men and Family Centre in Lismore are working at the coal-face of men’s violence, running Behaviour Change programs for men who have used aggression, intimidation and coercion in their relationships.
And from my own personal experience, as a participant in one of our programs, I know they work.
Over the past 32 weeks, I have spent three hours every Monday night participating in one of our programs. It’s been a confronting but life-changing journey.
Over the duration of our program, I have also come to understand that family violence, and the behaviours which support it, are not just limited to a subset of male monsters.
We all go through much the same socialisation process, we’re all influenced by TV and popular culture, we all seek the approval of others, and we all make mistakes.
From childhood we’re led to believe that to be male (and white) means that you have authority. We’re socialised to believe that successful males are bosses, drive good cars, make money, and – ultimately – get their own way. And through peer group dynamics we reinforce these lessons and pass them on to others.
That’s why men who use physical violence are just the tip of the iceberg. To varying degrees, we’re all complicit in this mess.
As with any major social change, the key is to focus on the next generation.
It is self-evident that teaching boys about respect and empathy at a young age is preferable to trying to change their behaviour as adults.
White Ribbon may have folded, but now it’s time for the rest of us to step up and build a safer, more respectful future.
Stewart Prins is the President of the Men and Family Centre (and publisher of this website).