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All men have a stake in the ills of the patriarchy

  • 03 June 2019


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

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',