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All men have a stake in the ills of the patriarchy



It has come to my attention that men have no grasp of the meaning of patriarchy. Or misogyny. Or feminism.

A makeshift shrine to Courtney Herron at Royal Park in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)Not all men, of course. But many men. Enough men that when I (unwisely) log onto Twitter and jump into conversations on the subject I find myself dismayed by the nonsensical comebacks, the inability of so many commentators to comprehend the difference between an entrenched structure and their individual selves.

When yet another woman was murdered — Melburnian Courtney Herron, who was homeless — the topic of male violence started trending. In one of the most incisive comments on what is an all-too-frequent occurrence, Victoria's Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius said it was time for men to start taking responsibility for the violence. 'Violence against women is absolutely about men's behaviour,' he said. Men — not all men, but many of them — took immediate umbrage.

The most high-profile of them, television commentator Joe Hildebrand, insisted that the tiny proportion of men who murder women couldn't possibly be extrapolated to the vast majority of 'good men'. Others sought to locate an alternative foe: homelessness, they said, had facilitated Herron's murder; or psychopathy, which is rare and unpreventable; or women, since they give birth to sons and so must assume responsibility for those who go on to kill.

In short, these men were distancing themselves from violence fomented by a patriarchal system which separates boys from their caring attributes by invoking that now-famous clarion call 'not all men!' A response which affirms individual men's guiltlessness, while failing to address the broader structural problem in which their gender is complicit.

To be sure, there are men who will forever shut out dialogue, who will never accept that they live in a structure which preferences them, disadvantages women and nurtures male violence in insidious ways. But if most men are, as Hildebrand says, 'good', then surely there must be a way in which we can convince them of these facts — and encourage them to do their part in dismantling what is an inherently discriminatory and injurious system.

Yet too often when women attempt to engage 'good' men in the discourse they are shut down, argued with, offered examples of why women are just as bad (if not worse) than men. It has occurred to me during many such conversations that the opposing camps are speaking different languages. Few men seem to grasp the meaning of words such as 'patriarchy', 'sexism' and 'misogyny'; their understanding is based not on definitions and empirical facts but on the pervasive contemporary message that feminists hate men and sexism isn't linked to violence.


"At the very least they should acknowledge that they're inseparable from the patriarchy — and have a greater capacity than women to address its shortcomings."


It makes sense that women would have a more comprehensive understanding of these terms and the structures they represent, since they have been both prejudiced under them and armed by the feminist movement with facts about the patriarchal system we all live in and how it disempowers them (and ultimately harms men).

Men, on the other hand, have little reason to interrogate a system of which they are the chief beneficiaries. Consequently, when it comes to debating with women, they often do so from a position of ignorance. Few take the time to examine the precepts under discussion so they can better understand them. If they did, the conversation would be far more productive.

Assuming then these 'good' men are open to being educated about the issue, whose job is it to provide the lessons? Unsurprisingly, men suggest it's the job of women; of the disadvantaged to explain to the privileged why the discrepancy is unfair. Social media is full of encounters in which men instruct women to 'bring them along' or get them on side — but only in ways they approve of (which is of course an example of sexism).

Yet never has it been so easy for men to educate themselves; libraries are filled with books on gender studies, feminism and patriarchy; the internet is deluged with studies, papers and articles pertaining to these subjects; but still it's women who are expected to take on the labour of schooling men in the complexities of a male-dominated world. As feminist writer Jessica Valenti says, 'We should not have to "bring you along"; you should be outraged already.'

So while not all men are at fault, a great number of them are guilty of denying the problem exists or refusing to properly engage with it. At the very least they should acknowledge that they're inseparable from the patriarchy — and have a greater capacity than women to address its shortcomings.



Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Main image: A makeshift shrine to Courtney Herron at Royal Park in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, Courtney Herron, feminism



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Existing comments

Patriarchy does not equate with domination or violence towards women, feminism does not equate with femininity and misogeny is not confined to the male sex.

john frawley | 03 June 2019  

As John Frawley says, patriarchy does not equate with domination. "Rule by the fathers', however, does exclude the mothers from governance, whether in family, society or religion. Once patriarchy is established, a fatal lack of balance is established, and it isn't just women who suffer. We were created 'male and female' by God, presumably because the fullness of life needs both, working together, and when the relationship between us is so seriously skewed, all of us suffer. In this sense, the boy who murdered the girl in the Melbourne park is a victim, too. For whatever reason, he couldn't find a place in a healthy society, and became sick. When men become sick in this way, they kill or brutalize women. Maybe it's not homelessness, or male violence, or mental illness, or addiction, that ruined those two lives and ended one of them. Maybe there's something wrong with our society , and maybe that something is patriarchy.

Joan Seymour | 03 June 2019  

Interesting article, but I find the logic a bit strange.It reminds me of an old saying, all policemen have flat feet, my father has flat feet, therefore my father is a policeman. Now at seventy six I find I can tick, for me personally, the last anti social box.I was born illegitimate, so I'm a bastard. I was born white, so I'm racist. I was born Catholic, so I'm contaminated (being Illegitimate). I still have a faith base, so I'm stupid and anti science. and now, because I'm male I am a misogynist. So, all in all I'm misogynistic, stupid, anti science, and a contaminated and racist bastard. Have I missed missed anything.

Brian Leeming | 03 June 2019  

Little wonder that with such negative, generalised assumptions about males so many young men are gravitating to Jordan Peterson's views on identity and character.

John RD | 04 June 2019  

There’s something to be said about the idea of a ‘patriarcy’ sense of entitlement when the airwaves are filled with songs about men done wrong in love when the, at least, anecdotal evidence is that men are the ones who wrong in love. I’m afraid my visceral response to hearing any piece of contemporary music by a man claiming to have been wronged in love is, “Someone’s bleating --- again.” I suspect the kind of violence perpetrated upon Herron and Eulalie Dixon is by men who are affronted that they don’t have an intimate relationship with a woman, an affront that is, I suspect, fuelled by pornography and objectification as ingredients of the foods for our souls presented for our consumption by the structures of our society. How does Jesus fit into this? By modelling the self-restraint of principled chastity and celibacy, a model which, I think, was followed by Jean Vanier in order to enter truly the amatory loneliness of such people as Simi and Seux and a model which needs to be sustained as a visible social referent by celibate priesthood.

roy chen yee | 04 June 2019  

There is a lot of toing and flowing in this article and responses. Christianity has a lot to do with this through biblical interpretations. {Women made from the bone of man to be his mate}The value of love thy neighbor has been replaced by vendetta and the eye for an eye mentality in which responsibility is put to one side. The Catholic Bishops of our Australian Church when the plenary council 2020 gathers must examine the heavy burdens it has placed on all christens and the flow on to society that has made society so negative in so many arrears.

Edward M | 05 June 2019  

Catherine, look at responses from the reader base here. These are thoughtful men who vehemently disagree with the accusations and observations posited. Did you read the account of the lady in the Northcote bakery that tried to help the young man but had to call Police many times. On one occasion he was “snarling like a dog and repeatedly throwing himself against the windows of the bakery”. The lady who had offered assistance was cowering inside along with others and the bakery doors firmly locked. It was reported he spent an extended period of time taking psychotic drugs whilst in the Byron Bay Area. It seems reasonable to deduct this was causal. Am I more responsible that you in his decision to take these psychotic drugs? And whilst in the act of murder; was he a dog, or another vicious animal? perhaps he was a demon or was she ? Exactly what figure was emerging out of his psychosis ? Or are you putting forward that he was of stable mind; another example of the advantaged dominating the disadvantaged? But it is clear that I am more responsible than you in this ?

Patrick | 05 June 2019  

Simplistic, grab bag take on this particular tragedy. This death reveals much about the neglect of the underclass by governments, media, even travel writers. It was a death rooted sadly in mental health, addiction, displacement, as much as in resorting to violence. Lumping this tragedy in with many other shocking other deaths of women at the hands of men suggests there’s a homogeneity of cause and experience. That brings no solutions. Easy to be glib, harder to be reflective and look for root causes.

Rosemary Sheehan | 05 June 2019  

I want to agree with this, but not as a member of the male 'group' - it would amount to an admission of guilt I cant take personal ownership of. As an individual accountable for my own actions and responses though, I agree whole heartedly with the facts. I don't know whether it's part of the patriarchal matrix, but male consumption of porn and paid sex is certainly evidence of maladaptation to healthy manhood on a scale that boggles the mind. Strong non exploitive masculinity is good news for both genders - where is it?

Matt Davis | 05 June 2019  

Dear oh dear, it is never ending, the ceaseless over-blown berating of men. No attempt at measuring the issues, just bald assertion and high generalisation. The author wants us to think most men have no grasp of patriarchy, misogyny or feminism, so 12 million men are damned as violent and bad. Rational analysis supported by evidence shows less than 5% of crimes involve men attacking women (varies by state). Plus women have pulled decisively ahead in many sectors of Australian industry and commerce. So yet another grossly over-cooked portrayal of men as beneficiaries and violent by a purported warrior of justice and truth.

Barry | 05 June 2019  

In the Gospel according to Matthew there is told the story of the feeding of a multitude. The number fed is famously estimated to be five thousand, not counting women and children. The writer assumes that women and children don’t count. I think this is an early example of how default settings in our language have for centuries influenced our behavior in practice. In recent decades some effort has been put into the task of eliminating exclusion of people from consideration because they don’t form part of what is assumed to be mainstream. This is an ongoing effort and will eventually bear good fruit, but there are still countless example of arrangements made to accommodate the perceived mainstream or default to the detriment of others. These range from depriving refugees of legal rights at one extreme to leaving toilet seats up at the other. In between there are many examples of how this process works. In many cases, the unspoken selection of the default is based on crude majoritarianism: left-handed people are less numerous than right-handed, heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals and so things are arranged to suit the majority. But the case of the arrangements made to suit male interests as opposed to female is different in that males are in a minority. Perhaps that is why they need to be trained early to be aggressive game players: to learn on the football field that you can get your own way by means of inflicting physical violence on those who get in the way.

OldG | 05 June 2019  

The conflation of the problem of men's attitudes and violence towards women and the death of this young woman seems to me to be miss the complexity of the problem. There is no question that men's attitudes to women are the responsibility of all men in that they must engage with, speak up and take a stand on this issue at every level. I see the tragedy that occurred when this young woman died is not just a gender issue but one of the lives of men and women disrupted and broken by homelessness, trauma and loss, mental illness and addiction. This is about the failure of our community to support and take care of people whose lives have been derailed in these ways. There is no will to address the complex issues behind homelessness. They include the lack of housing, underfunded and poorly targeted mental health services, gender attitudes, family violence and the neglect and abuse of children. If we only focus on men being responsible for this problem and see any discussion of this complexity of issues as a denial of the gender issue we miss the possibility of bringing us together to find solutions for all who are marginalised and to work to address the complex challenge we must face.

Jo Dunin | 05 June 2019  

Thanks Catherine and it does not surprise me to see some of the feedback to this article when you consider the title of this piece. A courageous title choice I think. The sorry state of our federal government led by men and its treatment of those who seek refuge here and its ignoring of the environmental crisis only shouts to me louder, much louder, than your finely attuned arguments that indeed 'all men have a stake in patriarchy'. Thanks again.

Tom Kingston | 05 June 2019  

Thanks, Catherine, for raising this discussion. You anticipated in your article some of the responses that you have received. I hear your voice as a lament for the suffering that Courtney Herron endured, not just in her death but also in the painful events and circumstances that preceded it. Her experience raises shame and grief in me that the social arrangements of our Australian society are currently unequal to the task of keeping vulnerable people safe. I understand your call to heed the Police Commissioner's appeal to men to have a stake in remedying this recurring social disorder as an appeal for collaboration, not as condemnation. Good men will begin to or continue to do that if already they make an option for solidarity with women in opposing social arrangements of any kind that privilege one group against another. Some of us will be alerted by your article to recognise the opportunity and responsibility we have to play our part in co-creating a just and safe society for all. Everybody has a stake in this.

Alex Nelson | 05 June 2019  

Finally Catherine Marshall has hit the right spot.Why do good men, the majority ,do nothing to address violence against women.Scott Mortion Anthony Albanese all where tge white ribbon mouth platitudes but no man gets up and says we will stop this.Why because they come from a position of power in society male first female second.Womens lives change when women fight and struggle and suffer eg Rosie Batty.Rise up men protect your daughters mothers wuves and sisters. We give u life nurture and care for you. What is our true worth to u.

Jill Hutt | 05 June 2019  

Catherine, thanks for reminding us. It’s up to the ‘privileged’ to own up to their group’s role in continuing this oppression of women. There is also another area of privilege that oppresses women and men, but which we rarely hear acknowledged- the class oppression by the economically advantaged. It has some interplay with women's oppression. I believe it needs to be acknowledged if we are to comprehensively address gender oppression: the chances of the privileged classes taking up that challenge are sadly remote. Nevertheless, it may bring along a broader swathe of male support to discuss that interplay with classism than the simpler gender oppression on its own.

Anthony Grimes | 05 June 2019  

Misandry is as equally unacceptable as Misogeny.

Tony Martin | 05 June 2019  

When will the Liberal government in Victoria during the 1990's and it's leaders be called out for their pivotal role in shutting down mental health institutions .Shame, shame,shame.

Anne Ramsay | 05 June 2019  

It is pathetic that the death of this poor girl is being used as an excuse to belittle men and patriarchy. It was men and patriachy that built the university you studied at, the computer you used to write your article and the train, car or bus you used to get to work. Their is nothing in our society that legitimates violence against women except the porn industry - attack that.

ron | 05 June 2019  

Musical icon, Madonna, is the subject of a June 5th article in the New York Times titled “Madonna at 60.” The author is feminist journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis who wrote the 2017 book, “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.” Madonna didn’t like it, and slammed the article as an example of how patriarchy is “woven deep into the fabric of society” and “further proof that the N.Y.T. is one of the founding fathers of the Patriarchy.” When a feminist journalist writes in a “progressive” magazine about a feminist icon who doesn’t like the outcome and blames men for this, is it any wonder that “the opposing camps are speaking different languages.”

Ross Howard | 08 June 2019  

Thank you Catherine for a deeply reflective analysis of the issues confronting us as a society. It is common I guess for people to have individual responses but a deeper truth lays in social analysis of the structures that allow sickened individuals to interpret their place in society and their behaviour in ways that lessen others in our society. It is important when we identify trends in society in this case violence against women and seek to understand its roots with broad attitudes in society as well as individual responses. Let our analysis go to misogyny but also the individualisation of society that removes people from community expectations and values. Thank you for your excellent piece.

Colin Grant | 08 June 2019  

If the term "patriarchy"/patriarchal is seen as a negative or oppressive thing, why is it that "paternal", with similar meaning, can be a positive thing? Men are always going to be fathers. Some will be good fathers and some might be bad fathers, but one would hope that a "paternal" father follows the dictionary definition of "showing a kindness and care associated with a father; fatherly."

Aurelius | 10 June 2019  

The radical feminist rejection of "patriarchy" seems largely based on negative personal experience of paternity in the sense you alert us to, Aurelius. The same aversion is evident in the attempt to eliminate liturgical and devotional reference to God as "Father". A sorry situation - especially for children.

John RD | 11 June 2019  

Eureka Street is amazing!

Elijah Turnbull | 02 July 2019  

Very insightful!

A.V. | 30 November 2020  

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