As most readers would know, we’re devoting significant energy to the #metoo campaign and, in particular, to exposing men in powerful positions who use and abuse that power to assault and harass women.
We’re a tiny, independent publication. Most of our writers do not get paid. We don’t have the resources of a Fairfax or a News Corp or an ABC. We do, however, have extraordinary pro bono lawyers in Geoff Holland and the team at Marque Lawyers. We’re able to report these stories – and other major investigations – in large part because of these people. I can’t emphasize enough my gratitude to them, or their importance in this campaign.
Of the six males ‘outed’ in the Australian media so far, New Matilda is responsible for two of those. I’m proud of that fact, but I acknowledge it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. So there’s more to come.
I also understand the concerns of some readers about ‘trial by media’. I share those concerns. In our defence, I would say that at New Matilda, we investigate and publish these stories slowly and carefully, and the burden proof in order to justify publication is substantial.
It is a grave responsibility when you publish a story that you know in all likelihood will destroy reputations and impact many lives.
Here’s why we do it regardless.
Firstly, media has always exposed stories like this. The only difference at the moment is the pace at which it is happening. That’s a good thing because, undeniably, the pace at which it has happened previously shames us all. #metoo wouldn’t be a ‘thing’ if media had done its job in the first place.
Secondly, the job of the media – its most important job – is to step in where the system fails.
The systems designed protect women’s rights and hold abusers to account – if those systems even really existed in any meaningful way – have clearly failed. That is also undeniable. If those systems were effective then, again, we wouldn’t have seen such a visceral outpouring of grief and anger from women around the world.
It’s worth remembering, those women are our wives, our partners, our mothers, our family members. One day they’ll be our children. These are the people we love. More importantly though they are people in their own right. People who have been routinely failed by the systems around them. Routinely made to feel unsafe.
That alone should be more than enough to motivate us into action. But it hasn’t been enough. While there is a growing number of productive discussions in Australian society about this issue, the dam has yet to burst. Six men exposed for their alleged conduct does not equal a cultural shift.
As ugly and painful as it is inevitably going to be, we need to burst that dam. While we do, we also need to be realistic about what we can expect from the purge.
The sad reality is we never entirely resolve this problem. We won’t wake one morning and discover that men no longer harass or commit violence against women, or that men don’t commit violence against other men.
It’s also a reality that most men will choose not to engage on this issue. They won’t embrace the genuine self-reflection required to confront their own views about the treatment of women. And they won’t think about what they should do when they see other men targeting women.
We might not ever get everyone on board. But we can expand the number of men who no longer provide their consent through their silence. It’s about getting enough men to understand how we’ve benefitted from these systemic failures, then getting them to acknowledge it, to own it and apologise for it, and to stand up and be part of the cultural shift in our attitudes towards women.
By turning our focus to this issue, we can expand that number of men.
That’s the goal, that’s how you create change, and the time to do it is now.
#metoo has provided an historic moment where the opportunity for genuine advancement has presented itself. We can seize that opportunity, or we can do what we’ve always done, which is turn away.
Obviously, this is an issue New Matilda believes passionately in. We aren’t going to become a website that devotes all its resources to outing ‘men behaving badly’ – we’ll continue to report broadly on other matters of public interest. But for the foreseeable future at least, we do intend to continue to devote a significant proportion of our (admittedly tiny) resources to this issue. We will keep shining a light in these dark places, so if you want to help us, you can contribute to our fundraising campaign on this issue by clicking here.
On a personal note, my journey on this issue has been (to put it quite mildly) eye-opening and unsettling.
I’ve watched the #metoo campaign closely, and I’ve tried hard to listen. While we’ve already published many articles on the issue, I’ve written nothing on it publicly until now, because despite my failings, I’m at least smart enough to know that there’s some things I don’t know.
I’m also smart enough to know that when you don’t know stuff, it’s better to keep your mouth shut and have people suspect you’re ignorant, than to open your mouth and confirm it.
I still don’t know stuff, and I’m still listening. But I also know that I need to start being part of the solution.
With that in mind, my personal journey on this issue might assist some readers to better understand at least part of the female perspective on this issue (I’m obviously talking to the men in the room at this point).
I’ve been a journalist nearly three decades. My focus for two-thirds of that has been writing about race, in particular the way we treat Aboriginal people.
I didn’t colonise Australia, I just happened to be born here. I don’t discriminate against Aboriginal people, I fight hard for their rights, and I devote a lot of my time and passion to trying to right some of the current and historical wrongs.
But while all of that happens – while I’m no longer silent on the crimes our society has perpetrated and still perpetrates against Aboriginal people – I continue to benefit from the structures we’ve built to deny Aboriginal people the same things we expect as our birthright.
What I’ve come to understand is that in the end, what really matters is how I use that privilege built specifically for me to try and level the playing field.
By way of example, I made a decision quite a long time ago to let nothing go. When people say stupid shit about Aboriginal people in front of me, I say something. Every time.
As a result, people who know me and might still harbor some rather archaic views are forced to reflect more deeply on the issue. As for people who don’t know me, they quickly find out what I do for a living, and why what they just said was stupid.
That approach – of letting people know it’s not okay, of calling it out every time – is actually the bare minimum. To affect change you must also do a great deal more. But it’s a good start, and while it’s uncomfortable at first, confronting people about things they’ve said or views they hold gets easier with practice. If you think about it, it’s also a loving act.
While there are significant differences between the experiences of women and Aboriginal people, many of the basic realities are the same.
And so, men reading this might not be violent towards women. They might not sexually harass women. They might be good, decent men. But it’s actually not about you. It’s about us, as a collective, what we do about it, and how we have benefitted every day of our lives from the structures built to advantage us over women.
An important thing to understand is that it’s not the responsibility of women to tear down those structures. It is our responsibility, as men, the people for whom those structures were built. So what we do next matters.
On that front, I don’t know why I never took this issue more seriously in the past. I was certainly aware of it – I can’t say I didn’t know. But I do now understand that my silence has been a part of the problem. I also know that I’m ashamed of that silence, that I’m sorry for it, and that I will try harder to do better.
And so to the men reading this, now that you also know, the question is, what are you going to do about it?
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