PERHAPS it began with the #MeToo movement, but whatever the reason, Australia is finally having an overdue look at the absolutely unacceptable levels of violence perpetrated by men against women.
In the federal parliament, libertarian and Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm has talked himself into trouble by tackling Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young during a debate about women’s safety. Mr Leyonhelm might feel justified in saying that most men aren’t rapists, but the terrible truth of the matter is that rapists – and perpetrators of violence against women in all its forms – are overwhelmingly male.
And while rare incidents such as last month’s shocking attack on an Adamstown schoolgirl shine a spotlight on street safety, the sad reality is that most attacks on women take place within the home. By one count, 13 out of 14 assaults against women are carried out by someone they know, usually a partner or ex-partner.
This means educating girls – and boys – about “stranger danger” is a valuable lesson. And yes, many women do feel intrinsically unsafe walking a street alone – or even in a small group – at night. But history shows it’s the man a woman knows who she should fear the most.
Men who are sons of women. Men who are brothers of women. Fathers of women. Partners of women. Men who if put on the spot will say they love women with all of their heart. But men who nevertheless think nothing of giving a woman a cuff across the face – or much, much worse, as “Kimmy’s” terrible account makes clear.
While none of this is new – men have been hitting women for all of recorded history – it is increasingly apparent that the steps that enlightened society has taken to change the situation – to have all men accept women as equals, and not chattels to be subjugated with fists – are simply not enough.
Men need to start thinking hard about what it means to be a woman in 21st century Australia. To spend much of your time on constant alert, worrying about the man across the darkened street, or the footsteps behind you. Or even more likely, the drunken husband or the ice-addled partner. Yes, there might be sociological explanations for why these men are the way they are, but women live on the same planet, and do not have the same propensity for violence.
The fault is not theirs. It’s not women who need to change their behaviour. It’s the men.