It’s not about me

Last night about 10,000 people gathered in a silent vigil at Princes Park. They were there because last week Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered there in the small hours of the night. Last week hers was a name few knew; today hers is a name renowned across the country, with vigils in Sydney and Canberra simultaneously.

The death of Eurydice has outraged and caught the imagination as sometimes shocking events like this do. She was a young comedian walking home after a gig. By all accounts she was a lovely, quirky individual. She was set upon in the dark in the middle of a vacant oval where she was raped, no doubt crying out for help and mercy, unheard, and died there, alone, the victim of a male persecutor.

It’s a terrible story and no wonder it has resonated, but it has echoed much louder than that because what happened to her happens to other women too with a terrible regularity, here, across the country and throughout the world, and for as long as anyone can remember. The vigil last night was for Eurydice, and it was also for every one of those victims. Enough is enough.

It has sparked much comment and commentary, with good reason. Much of it addresses the reality that the perpetrators of these acts are always men. For all it’s controversial. For women they’re sick of walking the streets feeling threatened and unsafe. For many men they refuse to be lumped in with the evil predators guilty of these heinous acts, or be associated with the toxic masculinity that so often leads to it. And for some of us we must sorrowfully accept that even if we might not be guilty ourselves we are a part of a male culture that makes it possible.

Little of this is terribly new, what’s new perhaps is the defiant rejection that this can be allowed to go on. This is why people gather, to show solidarity and to demand action.

Once upon a time I think I was probably one of those men who would refuse to be tarred with the same brush. I would never do that, could never do it, why should I then be reviled as someone who might? I’m still someone incapable of such things, but I understand how little that means to a woman who has endured sexism and harassment daily, who lives with the threat of even worse. They don’t know me; I am one of the group that oppress and threaten them. Like racism, like so many isms, this can only ever be truly judged from the perspective of the oppressed and disadvantaged.

It’s a very sad state of affairs but, as I said, not terribly new. I recalled the other day a time about 25 years ago when I would often walk the streets long after dark. I had a lot going on inside and to simply walk in the dark by myself was a way to get my thoughts in order and soothe my busy mind. Occasionally I would come across someone else on the streets, and sometimes they were women.

I had an instinctive understanding of the situation – late at night, no-one else about, and a big, brooding bloke stalking the streets. For a woman it was potentially a dangerous combination, and though I didn’t like it I would cross the road or go another way to avoid her and ease her mind. I felt shabby doing it, and almost angry. It was like an admission of guilt I didn’t deserve – yet I did it anyway, knowing it was the right thing to do.

This is where we are today. I tweeted a reply to something the other day and it has been shared and commented on since. I wrote as a male, admitting that as such I represented a potential threat. I’m not that man I said, but – and this is the critical aspect many men overlook – it isn’t about me. Or any individual man. It’s about what we have come to represent as a collective and, more particularly, it’s about the fear that we have come to engender in so many women.

It seems petty to get my knickers in a twist about what some are saying about men. Some of it is pretty general, even offensive, but I get the gist of it. For too long we have got away with it and been allowed to get away with it. The perpetrators might get locked up, but the conditions that allow for such perpetrators to emerge go unchecked, and so it goes on. It is a cultural issue that all of us must take responsibility for, but particularly men. As long as we continue to deny and defend, as long as we condone by our silence and inaction, the responsibility for those very few who commit these crimes will be borne by all of us.

Why, as a woman, would you think any different? We must be respectful of the legitimate fear held by women. Those who gathered overnight are right: enough is enough, we must do something. As a man I think the best I can do is accept and admit to this, to call out those who transgress, and be a role model for all.

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