I CHOOSE CHANGE

A simple message of respect by Jakson Elfring posted on his Facebook page in July, has been viewed over 2.2 million times and shared over 59 thousand times. Jakson a tradie from rural Victoria, a husband and father of two boys posted the heartfelt message of respect for one another - particularly towards women, after numerous reports of assaults on women in his community.

We need more men like Jakson to stand up and deliver these messages at all levels in our community. This is not a battle between the sexes, we live in a world together and therefore it is an issue for all of us.

The issue of gender violence (domestic violence, abuse, harassment) disproportionately affects women but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us all. When I talk about gender violence I’m not just talking about women. As Jackson Katz explained in his TEDx talk, a lot of people associate the word “gender” with women. Katz says this association problematic because when men hear the word “gender” they tend to tune out thinking that it’s a “women’s issue” and it doesn’t concern them.
 
But as Katz rightly pointed out – violence against women is intrinsically a men’s issue. We need to refocus and be more transformative with our language and actions.
 
An example of this is when people talk about men being strong, there is the implication that women are weak or that boys need to be tough, we imply girls are weak or if you’re not masculine you’re feminine.
 
We need to champion all qualities and put insecurities aside.

Additionally, violence and domestic violence affects everyone in general it is not defined or restricted to one gender. Young children, both boys and girls can be traumatised by violence as well as friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and even innocent bystanders witnessing such events. The impact on them and those around them is immeasurable and detrimental, having a ripple effect throughout communities.

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The first step is a cultural and systematic change and it needs to start at the grass roots. It needs to start with an attitude shift towards the way women are viewed and talked about.

Jakson mentioned in his post about men leading by example. Let’s take it a step further and stand up to those making disrespectful comments or jokes about women, taking the opportunity to call out how offensive and demeaning these comments can be.
 
I know it’s easier said than done and it isn’t easy to stand up to other men making these comments – but we need more men to stand with women.
We are well past the time of dismissing these issues, staying quiet or sitting passively in the corner. We can all be part of the solution by not remaining silent.
 
We need to support and encourage those who choose to speak up and be a voice for those who need one.

There are a lot of good men who do care deeply about this issue, but caring isn’t enough anymore. Men listen to other men, we need more of these men with power across the community to stand up and take leadership on this issue.

We need more resources to ensure we can support this cultural change and we need more institutions to play their part.

As part of this cultural shift, we need to take gender out of it.

The sooner we can take gender out of the conversation the closer we will be to equality and the sooner we can smash that glass ceiling, eliminate the gender pay gap, address the lack of women in senior positions and even the division of domestic duties. Equality is in men’s best interests, there are benefits for everyone. Good for business, companies, institutions and communities with better performance, higher productivity and healthier happier work places. And everyone benefits.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how and when these things will change, and sometimes it seems like they’re not going to. But there has been too much silence for too long. So I say let’s stand together and choose change.

And to our fathers, uncles, brothers and sons – pull your socks up. We still live in a world where there is a monumental imbalance of power titled favourably towards you. You have an inherited power and it is incumbent on you to use your power in a responsible and constructive way. 

Give power to those who are voiceless, choose change and maybe then less women will have a reason to say “me too”.
 
This opinion piece was published in The Examiner, on Monday, 20 August 2018.