by Phil Barker
The battle to end men’s family violence sometimes feels impossible to win.
At least one woman a week will be killed this year in Australia by her partner or former partner. The police are called to a family violence incident every two minutes.
Not only is the system buckling under the onslaught, it’s not catching emotional, mental, financial abuse – the controlling behaviour. Many acts of domestic violence are not illegal which often means they fly under the radar of an already struggling system.
A man can strike fear into his family without lifting his finger or raising his voice.
We are only starting to see the true picture and it’s so very horrible and huge.
It would be so very easy to be overwhelmed, to just give up on a problem that’s just too nasty and gnarly. What can one person do? Sometimes, especially for those working in the front lines across the sector, it must seem an impossible beast to tame.
In her book on domestic abuse, See What You Made Me Do author, Jess Hill writes: “If we were to become really serious about ending domestic abuse, and devote the resources necessary to do it, the results could be spectacular. It would, in my opinion, be one of the greatest nation-building exercises in Australia’s history.”
So what can we do – all of us – to start this spectacular revolution.
While a political and institutional shift is urgently needed to prioritise women and children impacted by family violence, we can mobilise our family, friends and people we meet every day. Right now – one conversation at a time.
Last weekend I shared a stage with Jess Hill at the Brisbane Writers Festival, where we discussed the issue of “Toxic Masculinity”.
Jess told the BWF crowd the story of a miner she knew. He wore a coloured bandanna on his ride down the shaft lift. The lift operator became outraged at the “gayness” of the bandanna and wouldn’t start the lift.
The miner said “My boyfriend gave it to me” to lighten the mood. It didn’t work.
Just as a big fist was about to arrive, the miner asked the lift operator why on earth a piece of fabric would move him to violence? He froze. And thought. Hmmm … He wasn’t sure. His dad had just always “hated poofs.”
That conversation made the lift operator think about other things in his life. He had one conversation with his new bandanna-wearing friend. And then another and so on.
The miner said that ultimately, the changes the lift operator made in himself saved his marriage. That was, literally, from a simple one-line conversation.
Inspired by this, I was presented with an opportunity at the Brisbane Writers Festival to engage in another ‘conversation that counts’. At the festival, all volunteers wore badges which said “I am reading …” then named a book and author. One poor young man admitted he was gnawing his way through Plato’s Republic with great difficulty.
Another young man sported an “I am reading … Jorden Petersen” badge.
Jorden Petersen is a YouTube pied-piper for young men, telling them there is no longer a patriarchy, that gender inequality is not the number one cause of a number of huge problems in society, including family violence.
Patriarchy and gender inequality as a driver of family violence is core to 25 years of No to Violence’s work with men who use violence.
So, I told the young Petersen fan I’d be back with a rebuttal to Petersen’s popular conservatism with the only argument I had, my own book.
I didn’t have a spare on me at the time. His face said: “Yeah, sure, weird hotel guest.”
The next afternoon, after the festival was over, I did what I told the festival panel I’d do after hearing Jess’s miner story. I went back to the hotel with a copy of my book I’d had to buy at the festival bookshop.
I signed it and gave it to him. I said: “Please just read it with an open mind. This is a long-term conversation I’m having with you now.”
He said he couldn’t believe I’d followed through. He said it made his day. It made mine. I know he will read it. I know he will think about things. I know he may change some of his thinking.
Who knows what ripples of change started, like one pebble in a pond?
It’s just a pebble, one conversation, but every new pebble starts more ripples, which join to become a wave of change.
This is what we can be done.
The revolution is coming … one conversation at a time. Let’s have the courage to start that conversation
If you need help addressing your use of family violence, call the Men’s Referral Service is at 1300 766 491.