What to do with the whingeing men



Gillette's video tackling toxic masculinity provoked an uproar among a surprising number of men. As a woman of the baby boomer generation, a survivor of intimate partner violence and of rape and attempted rape as a young woman, I have been waiting for a long time for the issues conveyed in the video to be a focus of conversation.

Scene from Gillette's Boys Will Be Boys adI heard Tim Winton speak last year at the launch of his book The Shepherd's Hut. He spoke impressively on the topic of toxic masculinity. What he said about men, misogyny and patriarchy I feel I have carried in my female body for as long as I can remember. Many times I have tried to put my thoughts into words both publicly and privately.

Winton managed to capture everything I felt surrounding these issues in one evening. I was very encouraged that a man, who is a celebrated author, was finally speaking out about the huge problem of male violence, which terrorises those who are victims and involves physical, emotional, sexual and intellectual violence.

Women have tried to talk about these things over the years. Too often we've been dismissed as 'bloody feminists', or as being hysterical or too emotional. Or we are silenced with words like 'Why does she stay?' 'Why does she dress like that? She's asking for it.' Not often is the question asked, 'Why does he behave like that?'

Winton asked this important question and challenged his audience to think and reflect on it. Our boys and men are 'marinated in violence' by the Australian culture that surrounds them, he said. Men talking with and challenging other men is absolutely vital, instead of women trying to do all the political and emotional work required.

I wrote to Winton to express how encouraged I was by what he said, and he took the time out of his busy life to respond to me with a hand written letter. I was impressed.

One form of violence, intimate partner violence by a male partner, is still a mammoth issue worldwide. Latest statistics in Australia are that one woman a week dies at the hands of her intimate partner. There are 580 violent assaults a day in Australian homes. New Zealand, my home country, has the worst rate of intimate partner violence in the world.


"Patriarchy is bondage for boys too. It disfigures them." — Tim Winton


On average, police attend an intimate partner violence incident in New Zealand every five and a half minutes. At least 80 per cent of family violence incidents are not reported to the police. Children are present at about 80 per cent of all violent incidents in the home. One in three women experiences physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.

So what to do about men — the kind that raged against the Gillette video — who seem to not get that they have a part to play in helping other men be decent human beings, to help men 'be the best they can be', as the video called for?

After all, as Winton pointed out, entrenched patriarchal and misogynist attitudes are detrimental not only for women but also for men. 'Patriarchy is bondage for boys too,' he said. 'It disfigures them.'

I work in mental health, and I encounter this daily in my clinical work. I am working with increasing numbers of older men presenting with serious depression, anxiety and alcohol addiction. Many have been successful businessmen who eventually 'crashed' and have to now get to grips with emotions they may have been hiding within themselves for years.

I asked a male psychotherapist friend of mine about his thoughts on the male backlash to things like the #MeToo movement and Gillette. He spoke of men as experiencing 'a cultural struggle to grow up' and in some cases a primal terror 'at being engulfed by the woman'. Thus the defensive irrational backlashes time and time again from angry men.

If I or other women try to challenge these attitudes, we will yet again be called 'bloody feminists' or accused of 'hating all men'. This is tiresome, hurtful, undermining and reductionist. We often give up trying to speak, because we feel so silenced (though the #MeToo movement has helped many of us to gird our loins yet again, in another attempt to shout out from the rooftops enough).

So good on you Gillette for warming my heart with your invitation to men to be the best men they can be. I can go about my day a little more assured that the call is out there, seeping into the hearts and minds of boys and men, even if it is still only a trickle. On the days I am not despairing, I feel hopeful that the trickle might one day become a flood.



Ros LewisRos Lewis is a New Zealander, a registered psychotherapist and a writer, who lives and works in Melbourne. She considers herself a Life Writer who writes creative non fiction, poetry and memoir. She has a blog where she comments on themes relevant to the human condition.

Topic tags: Ros Lewis, Tim Winton, toxic masculinity, feminism



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Existing comments

As an opener to the conversation which you have been waiting for Ros, could I proffer the scientific truth that from the time when life that depended on the mating of gender different members of the same species, the male member in all species has been a sexual predator, inherently violent towards the female even when his natural urges were not rejected. This was modified in various cultures particularly in ancient Israel and Greece when the dignity of all members of the species homo sapiens was recognised. This was also a fundamental of Christianity whose influence faded in the Dark Ages to be re-enlivened with the Renaissance. Women being respected and placed on a pedestal bloomed to its fullness during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Europe as did the European discoveries of the New Worlds of Asia, the Americas and the Southern hemisphere. In these worlds, untouched by Christianity, violence towards women was a constant cultural characteristic, typical of the Maori and Australian Aborigine, for example. This violence was modified somewhat but by no means eliminated by the arrival of Christianity which had also failed to eliminate this cultural reality entirely from Europe. It had, however, significantly reduced its prevalence through the principles that saw women as special - mothers, cradles of humanity, demanding respect and special consideration in keeping with that due to Mary, the Mother of the Christian God. Christianity has been abandoned in the last 50 years throughout the erstwhile Christian world aided and abetted by the 1960s sexual revolution and second wave feminism in the wake of the contraceptive pill. The blokes protected by the pill from the responsibility for unwanted pregnancy have returned to their natural, uncontrolled instincts and won't change until we again place the female back on the pedestal which proclaims her special place and engenders respect. That doesn't mean we get rid of the pill! It means that we should re-embrace Christianity and place women back on the pedestal in respect of the prime position they hold in creation of the species and as the essential bricks and mortar of our culture. Then the blokes will in large part be sorted out again! Mind you, I'm not holding my breath in anticipation of the neo-emancipation of women - too many Germaine Greer oids will object along with the blokes whose hubris will be hard to bring into re-rein.

john frawley | 21 February 2019  

Ros puts in a nutshell the need for men to 'do a Tim Winton' and SPEAK about how unhelpful patriarchy is to their own lives, their boys, their brothers, their fathers, their friends.

Marina Holland | 21 February 2019  

It isn't only in recent times that Tim Winton has spoken about toxic masculinity. A number of years ago he wrote "The Turning", an exploration of a woman's journey with a violent male partner. To describe this piece of writing as affecting is an understatement. Winton wrote with such an honesty and empathy for the female protagonist that I, in turn, have frequently thought about her story. Our story.

Pam | 22 February 2019  

The word is courtesy. Our society needs to embrace and live this word. If all children are taught to be courteous, you don't have to like someone, but you do have to be polite and hopefully take it to the next level, kindness, then what a better world it would be.

Jane | 22 February 2019  

I am a 70+ year old male, married for 37 years to a loving wife. I have a 30 year old son and a son-in-law also around 30 years of age. Fortunately they are caring loving partners to their wives and children. Personally I could never dream of inflicting violence on women. I find it horrifying. I spent 30 years teaching in secondary schools , the majority of that time, in a single sex (male) High School. I found the culture of sporting prowess, particularly in Rugby, at all costs to be concerning . There seemed to be a belief that physical strength and power was all important. I also recall a similar ethos at my boarding school in Sydney, many years ago. Both schools were run by Religious Brothers. I wonder whether this attitude gives impressionable young males a view that they must always be in control , in turn leading to abuse of those (including women) who they perceive to be "weak". I can see the validity of John Frawley's comments , still felt I should add my own perspective to the commentary . Maybe EDUCATION of young males is a possible solution, but that must be reinforced by example of fathers, significant other males, including , sports coaches and our spoiled and overpaid sporting heroes.

Gavin O'Brien | 22 February 2019  

When I first came across this article it really made me think. I reread it carefully and had a look at your blog. I am not a violent man and had an excellent example in this from my father, whose conduct towards my mother was exemplary. What really struck me about the article was how wise, deep and aware of general culture it was. I have also watched Tim Winton's literary development over the years. Part of that development is what could broadly be termed 'spiritual growth'. He is interested in physical things, like surfing, but is also aware of and empathetic towards women. Is this unusual? Of course not! What young men desperately need is to get to know genuinely adult men and women, like Tim and yourself, who can teach them real wisdom acquired in life. Hopefully there are also still people in the educational system, such as Gavin O'Brien, who are interested in developing the whole man, not just turning out sporting 'heroes' or other one dimensional 'successes'. This is a major national problem. It needs addressing.

Edward Fido | 25 February 2019  

Is Tim Winton a feminist? Surely his empathy deserves more than the term 'ally'.

roy chen yee | 25 February 2019  

Roy, I don't think Tim Winton needs to identify or be identified as a feminist. Pigeon holing someone, in many instances, achieves little. I have enormous respect for posts you and John Frawley have made on ES. It could be possible to label either of you 'a traditional (not a traditionalist) Catholic'. Either, or both, of you would have the right to accept or reject the term, but I don't think the labelling itself would be helpful, because it is ambiguous and could be either a term of praise or one of derogation. Ros has used terms like patriarchy and I can understand why she has used them in the context of this article. I am not sure that the whole of our society is 'patriarchal', particularly those of my son's and daughters' generation. The sort of post 1788 Australian society we all belong to is still evolving. I hope our attitude towards women and the way the sexes interact moves towards what currently exists in Scandinavian countries. That has its flaws but I think it's better than what currently exists here.

Edward Fido | 28 February 2019  

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