In the wake of the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, it is absolutely necessary to talk about men, and why their toxic attitudes are so pervasive. We know what the culture of masculinity is like, every man in this country has contributed to it in one way or another. This is going to be a blog for men. Women can read this, nothing should stop them, but from here, I am talking to all men, and boys, in this nation.
We have to do better.
I’ll start with an admission, one that makes me uniquely qualified to hold this discussion. I am guilty of violence against women. I have been emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive towards partners in previous relationships, and I have faced court twice for my actions.
I don’t talk about this, because of the deep shame I feel about my actions. I hate the person I used to be, but I can’t stay silent at a time when men need to be honest about what we have done. Because as long as we’re lying to ourselves, we cannot make the changes necessary to protect others from our violent habits.
I have made jokes about rape and laughed at others doing the same. I have remained silent when I’ve seen creeps on public transport harassing young women. I have forced myself on women by kissing them without their consent, and when they didn’t want it.
I have gaslit, lied, manipulated, controlled, threatened suicide, stalked, hit, kicked, choked, and groped, all because I felt entitled to do so. At the time, I managed to justify my actions, because, well, you can convince yourself that anything is okay, in the right circumstances.
I know what toxic masculinity looks like. It looks like me.
But I’m not alone.
One thing before we get into this, there is going to be a long discussion about why men need to change their behaviour. This is not to say that female violence does not exist. Yes, men can be victims of domestic violence, and men are killed by women. However, the ratio of male victims of female violence is much smaller in comparison, and discussion of one subject is not to the detriment of another.
If we, as men, work to reduce and end domestic violence and societal violence, it will be better for everyone, not just women. But this, right now, is about the fact that male culture tends to engender violence in many forms – a classic example being the book and film Fight Club, where a central theme is that, as men bond over violence, they lose who they were, and collapse into existential nihilism. This is not how a society functions, we are individuals, not ants.
It always starts small. An innocuous comment about the way a woman is dressed, or a gaze that lingers too long. It’s comments after an attack like, “what did she think would happen?”, or “if she hadn’t been drinking, she would have been fine.”, women know what this is all about, they’ve been hearing it for decades.
It moves on from there, we refer to women as things, chattel, to be traded between groups; we call them bitches and cunts when they hurt our feelings; we console our mates for being unable to close the deal, as though they were entitled to sex after paying for a date. We catcall, wolf whistle, and harass from work sites; we ignore the way friends try to control the behaviour of their girlfriends and wives, gossiping about it behind their back; we see any woman interacting with us as a prospective sexual conquest.
We slut shame if a woman has had more than the requisite number of sexual partners; we gleefully kill sex workers in video games like Grand Theft Auto; we see nothing wrong with the graphic rape scenes in TV shows like Game of Thrones and movies like A Clockwork Orange, because artistic realism is sooooo important to us; we condemn the toxic attitudes of incels, allowing us to feel some kind of moral superiority, even as we exhibit all the behaviours that encourage and formulate their ideologies.
It’s rape threats on social media any time a woman says something that personally offends a man. It’s unsolicited dick pics, messages and friend requests. It’s revenge porn and private groups dedicated to the sharing of such images. It’s women having to set their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to private because they’ve been harassed so often.
Even in writing this, there are tweets I had planned to include that I no longer can because the sentiment expressed led to a woman having to hide her opinions from the world – she was discussing the fact that she was threatened with gang rape after turning down an invite to a party by a group of men she didn’t know, men, who, when confronted with this later, claimed it was all “a joke”. I have no doubt she had to change her privacy settings because of the reaction she got, from men, who believe that this sort of thing never happens. It does, constantly.
I know what’s coming, #NotAllMen. “We’re not all like this; some of us are Nice Guys™; there are worse people out there.” I mean, yeah sure, it’s not all men, not every man is a rapist, but also, it actually is all men. We’re all guilty of perpetuating rape culture. We’ve all thought, ‘yeah, she wants the D’, when a woman has been friendly towards us; we’ve all, at some point, excused the behaviour of a man, because of how a woman was dressed, acting, it was something she said, or because he loves her.
The fragile egos of so many men can’t take the criticism, we’re terrified of being exposed for the worst things we’ve said about women.
As Margaret Atwood said,
Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.
The statements that have come from police and politicians, the editorials being written as we speak, the social media posts highlighting how woke someone can be all achieve nothing. They’re designed to sound like progress, but it’s the “thoughts and prayers” effect. A tragedy has occurred, so we say the right words, and maybe the issue will go away. Women are called wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, as though that’s what gives them worth. Not the fact that they are human, it’s how they are viewed in relation to a man.
They dole out empty words and hollow rhetoric. They go through the motions because the next news cycle will churn out something more palatable for voters.
The only advice the lawmakers and lawmen have at a time like this is to treat women like second-class citizens, telling them that their safety is their own responsibility. They have to have situational awareness. They have to send a text message or call someone when they’re home, or close to home. Men don’t have this expectation. Men never feel the need to cross the street because someone is behind them, or take an alternate route home, in case they’re being followed. Every man knows a woman who has had to call someone, just in case the man at the other end of the carriage is going to attack them. From the earliest age, they’re taught the rules of being a woman in public, because, at some point, they’ll need to follow those rules to stay safe.
And yet, as seen this week, when Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered, these rules don’t work. She did everything she was supposed to do. She had a phone with her, she texted her partner, she walked through a well-lit area. But she was a woman in public, this meant that her life was at risk, because a man decided that he was entitled to her body and her life.
It was the same case for Masa Vukotic was stabbed 49 times by Sean Price, a man she did not know, when she was walking through a Melbourne park during the day. And for Jill Meagher, when she was raped and killed by Adrian Bayley, a man she did not know.
In both cases, blame was laid at the feet of the justice system, because Bayley was on parole, and Price was on bail.
But the true common denominator is male violence. After all, the alleged killer of Eurydice Dixon had never been arrested before he turned himself in to police this week.
Sydney was shut down after Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly were killed by coward punches, with lax security and drinking culture being blamed for their deaths. The culture and violence of other men was never considered as a factor. Melbourne has yet to be shut down, and a dedicated campaign across the media has yet to take off following the deaths of these women, and countless others.
The former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, is one of this country’s best-known misogynists. He campaigned against the Labor government on the basis it was led by an outspoken woman. One of the defining moments in the careers of both Gillard and Abbott came when he was pictured speaking in front of a sign that decried her as a witch, and former Greens leader Bob Brown’s bitch, which later led to her famous misogyny speech. His attitude towards women goes back even further, being charged with indecent assault when he grabbed a woman while she was making a speech when he was a student at Sydney University. There was also the time he came within an inch of a woman’s face and punched the wall either side of her head after she defeated him in a student election.
The President of the United States of America is a sexual predator and thrives on violence. Donald Trump has admitted sexually assaulting women, bragging that he grabs them by the pussy, and they let him do it because he is a celebrity. He has encouraged violence at his rallies and made excuses for those committing violence when their politics line up with his. His ex-wife accused him of rape.
This is not a partisan political issue. While these two men are conservatives, it is not all that much better for progressives. Harvey Weinstein was famously known to be a massive donor to the Democratic Party.
Al Franken was a darling of the left, held up for his strongly worded rhetoric and skewering of political opponents, but he was undone after his actions, forcing himself on women and groping them as they slept, were exposed. He said it was an attempt at humour, but, in resigning, accepted that his intentions did not excuse his actions, even as other men refuse to believe he did anything wrong.
And just this week, former Labor speechwriter and influential commentator, Bob Ellis, has been exposed as a rapist.
High profile men who deny their abuse are everywhere, and their apologists are innumerable. Do we, as men, really want to be swept into the wake of these violent, abusive sex offenders? Surely, we are capable of seeing why women become fed up with their shit and call them out? Surely, we would want to be on the side of the issue that doesn’t reduce women to being sexual functionaries, existing only in proximity to men.
Do we not wonder why women were so drawn towards The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopic future, in which women have no value beyond the sexual? It speaks to them in the same way that Atlas Shrugged and Nineteen Eighty-Four speak to young politically minded men and women on either side of politics. It warns of a future that is not too difficult to comprehend, drawing on the way society presently functions. Cautionary tales for those who have good reason to be concerned.
Violence and attitudes towards violence are formed early in life. Boys learn to be violent in the schoolyard, through the media, and on the sports field. We learn by watching others, mimicking the attitudes of those we consider peers, and elevating the attitudes of those we respect. Violence from men and towards men can quickly become violence towards women.
As a society, we have trivialised rape, in any form, to the point where the rape of men in prison is one of the most common jokes we can come across. Don’t drop the soap. As discussed above, we no longer attempt to try to prevent the rape of women, we just give them advice that may cause him to rape the other girl. Politicians and activists use the word rape to describe anything, from environmental degradation to describing trade agreements.
We have countless gendered ways to describe women who irk us: cunt, bitch, whore, slut, witch, etc; and combinations of this with fat, hairy, dumb, and many more. But for men, it’s dick or cock.
We also struggle to define consent in terms that men can understand and accept. Alcohol and affirmative consent become blurred as men seek to justify times where they may not have actually had consent. We talk in the abstract about situations where consent may not have been clear, or where it was implied, or assumed.
And in those cases, we almost always err on the side of the accused, infamously so in the case of Stanford rapist Brock Turner. He was sentenced to 6 months in prison, after being found guilty of raping a woman who was so drunk that she was passed out in an alleyway. She could not consent, but the judge was more concerned with ruining this young man’s life, and so decided she had consented. The judge has since been recalled and lost his job.
Luke Lazarus was acquitted of raping a woman on appeal, despite two judges and a jury finding that his victim had not consented. His excuse, she never said no. He took her silence as consent. She said she was so terrified that she froze and could not speak. This has sparked a review of consent laws in NSW, which is a positive sign, but more broadly, the issue is men feeling this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, assuming that they can do what they want because they’re not being fought off.
And even more so, men in positions of power making rulings based on a “boys will be boys” mentality, deciding that the lives and futures of men are far more important than their victims and that men are incapable of understanding what consent actually is. It’s fucking horseshit.
As a man, I have been so drunk that I passed out in an alleyway, more than once, but I never felt that I had to fear for my personal security in these situations. If I heard a woman had passed out in an alley, I would be concerned, because I know how prevalent rape culture is, and how high the odds of assault are.
Toxic masculinity involves reducing the scope of allowable emotions for men to rage, lust, and dominance. It also defines a man’s worth by comparing him to a woman. He’s acting like a bitch, he throws like a girl, he’s being a pussy, he’s a son of a bitch.
It involves men in groups being too scared to confront each other for their behaviour because they don’t want to be called out for their past actions and attitudes, or look weak in front of the others. It’s this fear that allows men to peer pressure each other into thoughts, words, and actions that they believe they would never have espoused or committed under normal circumstances.
It’s the rampant homophobia and casual sexual violence that occurs between straight men. Whether it’s the hilarity of slapping someone in the testicles or inferring someone is gay, because that would make them less of a man, even as there exists the homoerotic camaraderie of most men in teams, between mates, at bucks parties, and in large enough groups.
It’s misgendering and deadnaming transwomen; and saying that lesbians, feminists, and outspoken female leaders “just need a good dick”.
It’s societal violence and attitudes towards violence. Whether it’s the demand for vigilantism when men feel that such an action would be appropriate; celebrating the death of a criminal; or talking about someone who deserves to be “knocked out” for a perceived slight.
It’s referring to dating as “the game” because women and how far you get with them are worth points.
It’s headlines that constantly paint men who have killed partners and children as nice guys or devoted dads; or blame the women they have hurt, raped, or killed for the actions these men took.
Toxic male violence is overwhelmingly skewed towards victim blaming. It looks at men, women, any victim of an attack and considers first what they may have done to be attacked.
I have plumbed the depths of male violence, and I am aware how much deeper it goes. I know how hard it is to speak up, to change your actions, to accept responsibility for all of the things I have said and done.
It took a lot for me to be able to change who I was. One small part of it was maturity. A large part of my toxic and violent behaviour took place during my early to mid-twenties. Another thing was distance, it took the second time I was arrested for me to realise that I was the problem and that I had to leave.
I have had time to try to explain what it was that led me to be violent, and I can float excuses about drug use or drunkenness, reacting to insults, or violence towards myself; but ultimately, it was because I was inadequately equipped to deal with serious situations in which my sense of superiority was challenged. I felt like I deserved to do what I wanted because I believed I was so much better than the woman towards whom I was directing my actions.
I attempted to justify this to myself by calling her crazy, or a cunt, or vindictive. I told myself that she had made me do it. I told myself that she had done it to herself. But I was the one being spiteful and damaging. I was physically much stronger than her, so for me to attempt to justify a slap with throwing her on the ground and kicking her is bullshit. It will always be bullshit, and I will always have to live with the knowledge that this is something I did. This is who I was.
I don’t define myself by my actions, but they absolutely define who I have become. I never want to go back to that, and it took a lot for me to be able to see the error of my ways. There was counselling involved, a lot of reading, talking to women and other victims of violence, talking honestly with my victims.
I also cut toxic people out of my life. The people who said and did nothing when they saw what I was doing. The people who condoned my actions, and still called me friend. The people who protected me out of a misguided sense of mateship, and never sought to question my behaviour. While my actions were not their fault, they implicitly saw nothing wrong.
When it came to learning about consent and the fear women experience, it was the attempted rape of a close friend that really defined how I view the world and the actions of men in it. Reading and discussing recent #MeToo incidents such as Aziz Ansari and the issues of consent and power regarding Bill Clinton, and the short story Cat Person really taught me a lot about what affirmative consent looks like, and how women experience pressure to have sex. Talking to friends, and reading a lot of the personal experiences being shared on social media, especially in recent days, has crystallised for me how important it is that we men have these conversations, that we are actually open and honest, and confront ourselves and others for what we have done, and how we can change.
This is, at its heart, an issue of respect. If we cannot respect others enough to allow them to continue to exist without harassment, abuse, violence, assault, or murder, then we really cannot call ourselves men. We are animals, not humans.
We have to look at the smallest actions that perpetuate rape culture and violence on all fronts. We need to stop being so precious about how other men perceive us when we call them our for something they have said or done.
In reality, it’s actually not that hard to speak up and tell someone when their behaviour isn’t acceptable. I mean, we talk over others all the time; we have opinions on absolutely everything, even when we know nothing about the subject matter, this should be even easier, because it’s something we actually do know something about.
And if we’re being honest, women have far more respect for the guy speaks out against his peers, to their faces. This isn’t some white knight bullshit, calling out celebrities undone by #MeToo, claiming you never liked their work, this is putting your manhood on the line to do what is right.
We need to stop talking in the abstract about situations where abuse, violence or sexual harassment and assault may be justified, or about how women can be violent too, any time we’re confronted by the violent actions of men.
And we need to accept and acknowledge our behaviours. We need to be honest with ourselves and others about what we have done and how we are committed to changing.
Change isn’t going to be easy for most men, but it is absolutely necessary. We have to change, not because women want it and are demanding it, but because this is the only way our society can move forward.
Personally, I don’t know whether I will experience a backlash for what I have said here. I expect it will change the opinions of some people, and I expect it to change how some people view me. I am prepared for that, and I am ready to answer any questions that may come up. This wasn’t necessarily something I was ready to do, but now I have to be.
If I expect others to answer to what they’ve done, I have to do the same.