The men to admire
On International Women’s Day, I want to talk about the two groups of men that I admire: those who have never hit a woman and those who have and own up to it.
Both groups combined can play a significant role in stopping violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
I write as a proud Bidjara Murri man. I write as a man who is not without a past, I have done time for my share of wrongful deeds, though using my fist on a woman is not one of them. It’s the willingness to admit your behaviours that shows the strength of character, and in some ways I can have more respect for those men that have struggled with their issues and found the ways to take control of themselves to be better husbands and fathers.
When looking at this pervading issue of domestic violence in our families and communities, it is necessary to view the social climate that we live in. As the First Peoples of this continent, we know the societal and systemic oppression that have affected Aboriginal people’s lives since 1788. Domestic violence among First Nations Peoples takes places in an environment where the powers pulling the levers are far out of reach. This alone will cause a multitude of problems, one of which is that oppression always implodes. But I believe firmly that this violence is predominantly a male problem and it demands to be solved by our men. Their oppression is not a free pass to normalise violence and cause our women and children to live their lives in terror.
I talk to a lot of Aboriginal men dealing with violence against women, and the reasons they give me come thick and fast. The main one I hear is, ‘She attacked me first.’ While this can often be true, I advise these men to follow the advice I received decades ago: talk to the women in their own family. A verbal fight spiralling out of control can be a complicated scenario, and talking with the women is one way for men to take that step to try and get to the root of the problems.
But I have found that this defence is more often an excuse by men to use violence when they’ve given up using words. And it’s right there that self-control needs to step in. Screaming abuse is a damaging and frightening form of violence and these men tell me their partners can also be verbally violent. This as well is very true, but what should be seen is the actual difference between a man, who has a physical presence, and a woman screaming. When men talk to me about this, I ask them to visualise how they feel when their partner is screaming at them and do they feel fear. The answer is invariably, no. I follow that up with having the men visualise the same scene and how the woman may be feeling. Most admit the woman would experience all levels of fear.
Another factor in the normalisation of violence is the old notion of keeping silent. Some of our young women turn to the older ones for guidance, only to be told ‘just be quiet about it’, or ‘no good will come of talking about it’. I do not blame these older women, this is a taught response from a time when violence against women in most sections of society was considered almost normal. But with violent men, silence will not make the matter go away. We need to encourage all women to come forward to talk about what they are being subjected to.
We know that domestic violence is a significant problem in many of our communities and has been for quite some time. Many programs have been put in place but just as many have failed and the violence continues. We need to design our own ways of dealing with this issue that is crippling generation after generation. This cycle must be broken but can only be broken when both our men and women can work together to find more culturally aware solutions.
We are at a time when we need good strong men to stand up and act. For brothers to be better husbands and fathers, having our sportsmen doing paid advertisements speaking out against domestic violence is just not good enough and is about as effective as one drop of rain in the desert. What we don’t need is the wiffle waffle from those in positions of power. When Stan Grant asked Senator Pat Dodson the direct question ‘Is it fair to say, though, that this issue of domestic violence has not had the same attention as other issues have, for instance the incarceration rate?’, Senator Dodson answered, ‘There are a range of things that haven’t had the same weighting applied to them in relation to this, umm, in relation to many things in the social arena for Indigenous people.’ As though, one day, we’ll get around to this pesky violence issue. This violence isn’t an item on a laundry list of problems confronting us. It is the core issue facing us right now. It is destroying families and it is destroying men’s lives as well.
How do we get men to own their behaviours?
For my part, other men are crucial to the battle. We have to deal with the perpetrator. This requires a whole of community approach, to create conditions to sit, talk, probe and question the individual to find out exactly what is driving the violence. And for the men themselves to leave their own pre-judgements aside and reach out and attempt to find the causes of violent behaviour.
Of course, I don’t expect that everyone will agree with what I have stated and that is their complete right. What I aim to do more than anything is to open up a dialogue about this tragedy that faces our women on a daily basis. If we do not, the epidemic will continue and our suffering remains constant.