“Women don’t need to change their behavior, men do”. Premier Daniel Andrews is partly right. Of course, the fault never lies with the victim of a crime. Any individual, regardless of gender, has the right to walk our streets, parks, gardens, alleys and feel safe, whatever the time of day. The question, rightly, should always be about why there was someone there with the intent to inflict harm. Sadly, that is not always the question, and it is appropriate to call out a propensity to blame victims rather than perpetrators.
That we can agree on. Yet in the wake of Eurydice Dixon’s tragic death, there’s been growing momentum pushing for men to change their behavior. Malcolm Turnbull called to “change the hearts of men” and Bill Shorten echoed such sentiments. As comforting as such words are, there’s also the undertone of collective guilt that needs to be called out.
The majority of men already abhor violence against women and hold in contempt those who commit it. In instances where a man violently assaults a woman in public, it is common for men to step in and often violently remonstrate with the perpetrator. It should go without saying that men know that violence against women is unacceptable, but the commentary would suggest that the actions of lone individuals are being conflated with the behavior of the other 99.9 percent.
The men who committed these vile crimes against Jill Meagher, Masa Vukotic and Eurydice Dixon were already on the fringe of society, social outcasts for whom education failed. Do we really believe that these men, who could not conform to even the base level of human decency, could be redeemed with more education?
The sad and ever present reality is that evil exists. There are some individuals who are beyond redemption. As a society we don’t like to accept this fact because it essentially renders us helpless, providing no tangible answer. A population based study in Sweden looked at more than two million people from 1975 to 2004, finding that only 1 percent of the population were responsible for 63.2 percent of all crimes recorded. Sadly, we need to accept that we have monsters in our midst, and no amount of social conditioning or education can reform sociopaths.
One only need look to the terrible case in Tasmania where a young man bludgeoned six penguins to death for no apparent reason. He was given an $82 fine and 49 hours community service. Individuals like this start with animals and they end with humans.
The popular narrative is that these crimes are a result of social conditioning, where the spectrum begins with sexist jokes and at the worst extreme, in rape and murder. Its starting point is the assumption that our culture condones violence against women, but this idea is farcical.
As Claire Lehman wrote in the Australian last weekend, “there are no sympathetic portrayals of rapists or wife abusers in films, TV shows or in most of the Western canon. On the contrary, films often revolve around a plot of revenge where a morally depraved figure who has harmed a woman receives his just deserts. There are no cultural artefacts that glorify rape and sexual violence”. Popular culture may indeed present varying perspectives or portrayals of women’s social roles, but the notion that violence against women is condoned is simply untrue.
Could men respect women more? Absolutely. Some sporting clubs are a cesspool of sexist attitudes where men see women more as objects to exploit rather than individuals worthy of respect. There is truth to what many feminist commentators say. But, and this is important, there needs to be a distinction made between the rare individual who rapes and murders as opposed to immature troglodytes.
Issuing collective guilt onto all men in the wake of a violent crime is not helpful; rather, it is a recipe for social resentment. We are told, rightly, that just because a minority of Muslims engage in terrorism that does not mean all Muslims are terrorists. Unfortunately, many right wing pundits loosely make the association and it has led to increased Islamophobia and resentment across our society. The Left readily remind us that generalisations are dangerous. They are, so let’s not make the same error with an issue as sensitive as this.
Granted, it is true that many men need their behavior called out when it comes to their attitudes towards women. The evidence for that is clear. The disgraceful behavior of men online, from unsolicited dick pics to unprovoked abuse directed at women indicates a wide chasm that exists between men who understand respect and those who don’t. So of course, call this out. Sexism is obviously unacceptable and it should be addressed, but a distinction needs to be made between sexist attitudes as opposed to monstrosity.
Tragically, tackling sexism in our culture will not necessarily prevent the next tragedy. I hate writing that, because it’s an admission of defeat and it offers no comfort in the slightest. Asking men to change their behavior might help to create a more civil society and hold individuals accountable for disrespect, but the lone monster will still exist. Sadly, he always has.