No-one has to be violent.
It’s a choice that some men make to exercise control over their partners, whether by beating them, or threatening them, or belittling them, or manipulating them in more subtle ways. So, you have to ask why many men feel they need to control their partners. And the answer is that we live in a culture in which men have always been expected to be in control: tough, domineering, authoritative and entitled to power.
If we want to change that culture, the change has to come from men themselves. We need men to be convincing other men that a culture in which men and women share the power equally is better and happier for both women and men, and that the bedrock of that culture is safety and respect for everyone. As individuals we have the ability to show each other what respect really means in everything we say and do. Every action we take, every word we utter, makes statement about the kind of world we believe in. So if we want a society in which all women and girls are safe, men have to talk to each other, and to their boys, in ways that promote respect and equality and reject violence and control.
Watch Andrew O’Keefe speak about domestic violence for White Ribbon. Post continues after video.
Now, that sounds like a pretty long-term project, and perhaps it is. But I can already see the change happening. Ten years ago, you rarely heard of men even thinking about this issue, let alone talking about it publicly. Now we see tens of thousands of men and women every year taking to the streets, organising events in their workplaces, agitating with their representatives, and even speaking from the Prime Ministerial podium on the issue. And most young people these days intuitively understand that women deserve all the same opportunities for success and happiness as men, and that violence is a major barrier to that equality. But this massive cultural change doesn’t happen by itself….it happens because organisations like White Ribbon actively and constantly work to make it happen.
What do you say to a man or a friend over the less overt signs of domestic violence?
I’d ask him what he really wants out of his relationship. Does he want to be truly loved, or simply obeyed? Does he want to really understand his partner, or just to be right all the time? Does he want someone to share his feelings, or does he want to hide them away for ever until he feels nothing at all? And does he want his kids to grow up thinking that it’s okay to manipulate and bully people, or does he want them to aspire to relationships in which they’re truly valued and appreciated? Because they’re the decisions we’re making when we choose between collaboration and control. Nothing gives you greater happiness and greater strength than being loved. But it’s virtually impossible to be feared and loved at the same time.
Of course, no two people are ever going to see eye-to-eye on everything all the time. Conflict is a part of every relationship But how do I deal with that conflict? Do I shout and swear and stomp around and call the other person horrible names: do I threaten them; do I shake them or hit them? Or do I try really hard to actually listen to what they’re saying; to show them that I respect their feelings even if I don’t agree with them. Most often, when we really try, we can work out a way we might both be right, or a way to compromise so we both get what we need.