If my daughter is ever murdered, I already know who is going to kill her. A man.
Last week, in Melbourne, much-loved 22-year-old comedian, Eurydice Dixon, was found raped and murdered in Princes Park. She was only 900 metres from home. She messaged her partner to say she was nearly there and asked … "HBU?".
The outpouring of grief and rage has been massive. And, loudly in the commentary, is the question we're all asking ourselves: "Why does this keep happening?"
The answer is, simply, there's something profoundly wrong with men.
Why are men violent?
The time for debate about gender politics is over. We aren't born violent. We're socialised to be violent. That's why these discussions on gender, and what it is to be a man are so important. It's not about being a "social justice warrior" – how that's become an insult, I don't know – it goes beyond politics of the left or right. It's simply a matter of life or death.
"How can we explain the violence of men? A complete answer to this question – whose importance amplifies with every mass homicide, every unwanted sexual advance, every strike of an intimate partner, every virulent, misogynist tweet, every suicide and every moment when a men seeks to wield power and control through violence, so often against women and girls – has eluded the best of our sociologists, biologists, psychologists and criminologists down through the decades," says Brian Heilman, senior research officer at Promundo-US, a international non-profit promoting gender equality and preventing violence.
To understand "how ideas about manhood get turned into violence", Promundo prepared an international research piece with input from experts and researchers across multiple disciplines. The result is an 88-page tome, Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections. It makes chilling reading.
The report says men will "generate power structures in society that generally advantage men over women … masculine norms often encourage acts of violence by men in order to uphold these structures."
Heilman says many messages around manhood "gender the heart".
"Men around the world are taught to refrain from showing any emotional vulnerability or weakness and are expected to show only a limited range of emotions ... limiting the range of men's allowable emotional expression helps set the path towards anger and aggression."
The report finds "abiding links between these types of messages and various forms of violence", that it investigates in detail.
Dismantling masculine norms
Its findings line up with the work of beyondblue, The Black Dog Institute, White Ribbon, RUOKDay? and countless other organisations around the world trying to save lives around the world. Men, as we're socialised right now, are lethal. The numbers show it clearly – we're the killers.
The report acknowledges a great many men and boys are able to refrain from, or actively resist, violence. "But our evidence shows they do so in spite of mainstream social and political messages and structures. If we are to take these links seriously, we – as researchers, policymakers, donors and others responding to and preventing violence around the world – must more effectively dismantle patriarchal power and harmful masculine norms in our work."
We can start by moving away from the idea that violence is natural and normal for men. It's not.
Have discussions. Be the person who stands up and challenges.
With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.
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