real life

A post to share with men on White Ribbon Day

Women know the power of friendship. When we get together with a girlfriend or sister, we share insights into our lives we’d never tell another soul. We also know the power of that friend telling us what we’re thinking or doing is wrong. Women are the champions of the raw, honest friendship, and when we see something happening in our girlfriends’ lives we don’t like, we tell them.

Men, however, not so much.

That’s why today – White Ribbon Day – is such an important day for the men of Australia. It’s the day we encourage all the men in our lives to take a pledge to be honest with each other, and to always, always speak up when someone around them makes even a reference to domestic violence or abuse against women.

How I wish some of the mates around my girlfriends’ partner had done this. Maybe that might have changed things.

White Ribbon Day isn’t just another one of those charity ribbon days where you put a bit of material on your shirt for a couple of hours and feel good about yourself. This is the UN sanctioned day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the White Ribbon campaign is about accepting that violence against women is the responsibility of us all, and its up to us to do something about it.

That includes promising to always speak up whenever anyone makes a derogatory, sexist or violent comment about women.

Earlier this week, Dr Michael Flood from the University of Wollongong and a White Ribbon Ambassador released a toolkit called ‘What Men Can Do To Stop Violence Against Women’ to help Australian men take action within their own lives to breakdown the culture of silence around domestic violence.

He says that research shows that the vast majority of men do not condone violence against women in any way, shape or form, but are reluctant to speak up if a mate makes a ‘dodgy’ rape joke, or laughs about being violent.

‘Research shows us that violent men believe their behaviour is more accepted than it actually is. They over-estimate how much their mates agree with what they do and say. So when everyone stays silent after someone makes a rape or violence-related joke, or says a woman deserves the treatment she received, that is only supporting that man’s assumption that his behaviour is OK.’

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We know most men are good blokes. The majority of men in Australia abhor violence against women, and if they saw a man on the street attack a woman, they would step in. And that’s fantastic. But it’s the action of another kind that we need them to take if we are to really reduce violence and abuse of women.

“It’s time for the silent majority to speak up. We know that when a man questions another’s joke about rape or comment about violence, he takes away that mate’s false assumption that everyone else agrees with him. He also makes it easier for others to speak up too, increasing the pressure.’

“In the toolkit I’ve put out on the White Ribbon website, I show how men can challenge violence-supportive or sexist comments and jokes by saying things like ‘that’s pretty sexist mate and I don’t think that’s funny’, or make it more personal by saying something like ‘what if that was your sister or mother or daughter?’ You can also remind him of his best self by saying something like ‘Come on, you are better than that.’

And what about women? Dr Flood says until now, it’s the women who have really changed the way domestic violence has been viewed and accepted in this country, by focusing on women learning to speak out, to leave, and to not accept any sort of abuse. We are doing our bit. Now men can do the same.

‘The reality is, men who are systematically violent against women are pretty smart – they are very careful, and most of it happens behind closed doors, so we don’t often see it. What is more likely though is that a mate will find out inadvertently about violence by a joke or a passing comment about a woman deserving violent behaviour – and that’s the time to speak up.’

There are also tips on the White Ribbon website on how to support women who have been a victim of abuse and how to break up a domestic violence situation should you ever see one.

The truth is, research tells us that Australia still has a culture of silence. It’s time we spoke up. Just this week we’ve seen two high profile Australian men embroiled in scandals about violence and abuse against women – Matthew Newton at the start of the week blaming his violence against former girlfriends on an undiagnosed mental illness, and radio shock-jock Kyle Sandilands’ verbal abuse of a female journalist. Is it any wonder that men don’t speak up when a mate makes a joke in the bar about violence against women when you have someone like Sandilands saying he will ‘hunt down’ a female journalist on radio? This is exactly the type of thing we should no longer be tolerating. It’s not funny Kyle. It’s not OK. And Jackie O – you shouldn’t put up with it either.

So today, on this White Ribbon Day, get your boyfriend, your brother and your son to pledge to always speak out about domestic violence and abuse of women. We all know good men – men who would never support any form of violence. But would they speak out when their mates make a joke?  Would they laugh at Kyle’s comments about the journalists’ ‘titties’?

This is all of our responsibility, because I promise you, if it ever happens to someone close to you, you will realise too late that there were earlier signs, and you’ll wish with all your heart that someone had said something to stop it.

Click here to take the oath

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz has been a producer at ABC Radio for nearly 12 years. She is the ABC’s resident Mummy blogger with her weekly blog “The Mummy Monologues” and makes regular appearances on ABC Local Radio.

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