The Pressing Problem Of The Violence Of Men, And How To Address It

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The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court was a blow to progress towards equality. The path of that progress, however, is well known, writes Olivia Wells.

One of the greatest social issues facing us is the violence of men, in all of its expressions and forms.

We are trapped by this violence.

With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh this week to the Supreme Court, I am reminded that heteropatriarchal control undermines freedom in every aspect of our society. This is a disheartening moment in history; one that is testing the perseverance of the feminist pursuit. Persistence feels impossible and I am not alone.

The commentary and discussion around Kavanaugh suggests that society categorically does not accept the existence of rape culture or an attitude against it. Rape culture is the “normalisation of sexualised violence and the systemic practices of blaming the victims” and we have seen this action over the past weeks. Power was transparently in the hands of Kavanaugh and his supporters and the experience of Dr Christine Blasey Ford as the survivor was minimised, disbelieved and dismissed.

We are discussing rape and men’s violence more than ever before and yet progress is halted by the false perception that rape culture is a partisan issue of politics invented by the liberal left. The feminist perspective continues to divide through the confrontation of men’s violence; misunderstood as ideology rather than working for the freedom of all people.

In my exhaustion I read Vikki Reynolds, who writes on agitating rape culture, and I am inspired once again, to continue my education and broaden my understanding of change.

Reynolds suggests, “We all have the power to transform rape culture” and the feminist perspective is for everyone. Through adopting systemic resistance to rape culture we can transform it and push for social change.

According to Reynolds we must maintain a stance of neither neutrality nor objectivity against rape and to instead to say unequivocally: we are against it. Our ethic, collectively, must be to interrogate the instruments of heteropatriarchal power and how it intersects with all of the ways women are oppressed in every structure and system in our society. We must also, in all of our actions and activism, recognise the multiplication and intensification of oppression felt by LGBTQ peoples and minority groups.

At present, in Australia, one in three women will experience sexual violence, but that figure does not adequately represent the reach of rape culture. The threat of rape and men’s violence controls women, a comparison described by Reynolds as, “When a man puts his fist through a wall and demands obedience from his family, he does not need to hit them”. We blunder on with systematic denial of this threat, and ignore the opportunity for men in this moment to take leadership as advocates, active bystanders, breakers of cycles of violence, teachers and as whistleblowers.

This attitude is harmful and prevents survivors of rape and violence from recovering from trauma. In “Trauma and Recovery”, Judith Herman suggests that victims of trauma are unable to truly recover if they do not exist within a sphere which legitimises that trauma. Ford has reminded us the lack of acceptance around the threat of violence, and the culture of victim blaming is denying survivors of trauma a true recovery.

Men, alongside all of us, have the power to dismantle heteropatriarchal control but it starts with asking the right questions of the right people. At present our interrogation of rape culture demands survivors to come up with preventative measures and consider how they ought to have behaved to prevent getting raped. We degrade survivors further by accusing them of not being the right sort of victim. We are critical of survivors for not reporting rape but society does not take kindly to the truth of surviving it, principally because it threatens the reputation of men.

We use clever rhetoric to gaslight survivors into feeling as if they are the problem. It is commonplace for survivors to be blamed and it undermines our resistance. Instruments of law are inadequate in addressing rape culture because our legal processes are often re-traumatising for victims, and restores nothing for either perpetrators or victims. Our legal systems do not deliver safety to women nor do they protect women from the responsibility of holding perpetrators to account. Only our culture, collective action, shared values and attitude towards survivors can deliver safety to women.

The existence of the overt, omnipresent patriarchy and its toxic masculinity has left us unable to address rape culture. Toxic masculinity, after all, is responsible for the normalisation and acceptance of heteropatriarchal behaviour as the status quo. It is responsible for damaging ideals for young men as well as their disconnection from empathy and sensitivity. It promotes expressions of masochism, violence, control and shame.

Men who choose to look at their power and intersections in their individual sphere are central to resisting our culture of violence. Personal responsibility as well as advocacy can help to impact social injustices through building a culture of alliance to women. Men who recognise that while they did not invent misogyny or the heteropatriarchy, but are benefiting from it, are challenging an uncomfortable truth and coming to terms with male privilege. Recognition is followed by a process of honouring and dignifying people who are impacted by men’s violence, while holding compassion and accountability for men who perpetrate that violence.

The root of sexually violent behaviour is complicated, but a common experience amongst many perpetrators is that of disconnection from society and the self. Reconnection is what restores perpetrators from violence and should be an essential part of our justice doing.

By failing to acknowledge this we are missing an opportunity for a restorative, reflective and progressive society. We must not turn away from perpetrators, but we must uphold the dignity of survivors in finding justice. We do not have to demonise men to interrogate a society which does not support survivors.

Men must advocate against violence alongside us. Men must take leadership on addressing this violence in the new generation. Kavanagh’s appointment is an outrage and it transacted an unfair, shallow and ultimately damaging commentary from ultra- right conservatives which continues to undermine the possibility of finding restoration and recovery for survivors.

We all must adopt an ethic of resistance and restoration, particularly at this time.

Olivia Wells

Olivia Wells works with families and communities in the Alice Spring region. She has worked in both SA and the NT in many areas of social services, including child protection and community development. She has a keen interest in and enjoyment of working with women and families, and a passion for human rights and social justice.

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