‘Men’ have a collective problem with violence, abuse…

‘Men’ have a collective problem with violence, abuse, murder, rape, misogyny – and should do more collectively to address these problems and the ingrained cultures that contribute to the problems.

Obviously not all men are violent, not all men are thugs or rapists or murderers. It can be quite confronting to be held responsible as a gender for individual crimes, rapes, murders, assaults. We are not all responsible for specific crimes. But we are all responsible for the social culture in which they occur all too frequently.

A number of women have been expressing themselves in reaction to the shocking murder of English backpacker Grace Millane. There has been a lot of emotion, and I think that in the heat of the moment some things that have been said maybe be a bit over the top, off the mark and unfair.

But I think we should listen, learn, and resolve to do more to stand up to the debilitating and destructive behaviours that cause so much grief and anger.

WARNING: the following may put some male noses out of joint. But I think that men should read, digest, and consider carefully what is being expressed.

Women, many women, have to deal with problems that most men have to deal with, and that most men are probably largely unaware of.

Kirsty Johnston: I’m angry about Grace Millane’s murder after a year reporting on rape

I was angry before Grace Millane’s death and I’m seething now.

In the days following Grace’s death, I tried to explain this feeling to the men in my life, to tell them why many women felt so upset by her killing.

“It could have been any of us,” I said. “It is a reminder that we aren’t yet equal. She was just a kid. She was just trying to live her life.”

I watched them grapple with this idea, to try not to get defensive. I wondered how it must feel to be on the other end, to be told that you have the power to be frightening. I felt sorry for them, these men who I love. Right now, however, I’m too tired to make it okay for them. It’s been a long year. I’m tired of explaining. I’m tired of feeling second-class. And I’m tired of being angry. It’s a burden none of us asked for.

I have spent most of 2018 writing about rape. It wasn’t planned. It began with a single story about unresolved sexual assault cases handled by the police, and grew, and grew.

After every article, more women came forward to talk to me about sexual violence and their experience with the justice system. For a while, I became part reporter, part counsellor. I didn’t mind. Journalism is as much in the listening as the telling. But unlike with previous projects, this time the stories stayed with me, waking me at night, leaving a deep aching in my chest around my heart. Sometimes, I felt sick, my throat constricted. Worst was when I felt the deep chill of recognition settle in my bones.

It was deeply confronting to realise these women’s long-held secrets were so similar to my own. As I listened to them, memories long-repressed began to bubble to the surface. Small things, like unwanted touches or sexist comments. Bigger things, like sexual coercion or a lack of consent. Other things. Cowering in corners.

With the lid lifted, it felt like I was viewing the world through a new lens. Everywhere I looked was rape culture, the dominance of the patriarchy, ingrained misogyny. Once you see, I said to one victim, you can’t unsee. She said, “I wish I could. I don’t want to be this person.” Same, I said. It’s exhausting. As the year went on my heartache shifted to anger. In June, after a nasty incident at a bar, I wrote a furious column about male entitlement, begging men to think about their behaviour. In response, I got emails threatening rape. My anger twisted to despair.

The only thing that saved me was the kindness of other women.

Wouldn’t it be good if the kindness of men also helped saved people from angst, saved people from violence and abuse, saved people’s lives?

It can, and does. But not enough.

I think that men as a group need to listen more, learn more about the problems they are being linked to and are a part of.

‘Men’ cannot be held responsible for individuals, for individual murders, for individual rapes, for individual assaults, for individual families battered and scarred by violence.

But as a significant segment of a society that is too often violent and dysfunctional I think men have a collective responsibility to stand up and confront the issues more and better.

Many men lead non-violent lives, many men are members of decent families and decent communities. But our society as a whole has a pervading sickness, not just a sickness of violent behaviour, of abusive behaviour, but a sickness of attitudes and behaviours that disrespect, demean, destroy.

This is too prevalent in family and social situations. It is also too prevalent in politics. It is far too prevalent in online forums, social media – as a society we haven’t adapted well to technological changes. Yet.

When it comes down to it we don’t care about women enough. Most men do not know what it is to be afraid, to realise if your worst fear comes true, there is nothing you can do.

We as men can imagine what this may be like but will probably never understand how it feels.

I can’t speak for women, but I can try to understand their angst and anger better.

And as a man I should do more to make our society less violent, better. I think this will benefit from collective action from men.

I admit that some of what I have read lately, including from Kirsty Johnston, got my hackles up a bit, made me feel indignant, dumped on. Maybe that’s in part because I know, I feel, that men are not doing enough to address male problems in our society. Society will only change for the better if we change – change our attitudes, change our behaviours, and change what we do (from little to more) to confront a beast of a problem.