Help us be better

Last week Gillette released an ad internationally which addressed the controversial – but topical – subject of men’s behaviour, with the tagline ‘The Best Men Can Be’. It’s a well-crafted ad and takes on discrimination and bullying, male violence and sexual harassment. I guess it’s easy to be cynical about a huge international corporation putting out an ad like this when ‘me too’ have made such messages on trend, but given the message I think that’s a bit precious. Many have chosen to be cynical, and many more offended.

It’s hard to understand how you can be so epically offended at an ad that portrays the best of men, and urges us to consider our behaviour – but then we are in the age of outrage.

While that still simmers in the background, an awful crime last week captured the imagination of Australians. An Israeli student, returning by tram after a night out at a comedy festival, was set upon near her home, raped and left for dead.

This, sadly, is not an uncommon crime, which is one reason it led to such an outcry, while the Gillette ad played out in the background. Here was yet another instance of male violence upon a woman. As with all of Melbourne I was deeply affected, disgusted by what had happened yet again. My instincts ran to the Old Testament. It seemed apt to me that her rapist and murder would be well punished by having a meat cleaver taken to his genitals. He has now been arrested.

In an earlier time this would have played out conventionally in the media. In the age of social media, in the wake of #metoo and increasing militancy of women this has gone to a whole new level. Women are speaking out, sometimes quite violently, decrying the unending cycle of male violence and voicing the oppressive fear they feel so often, and have kept silent about for so long. Fair enough, they demand an end to this.

Not all men take well to this. The #notallmen hashtag sprung up in the wake of these crimes, but the men using this as a defence miss the point – as I have previously commented on. We are all responsible even if we would never stoop to such heinous behaviour. Other men – the type of men who complain about the Gillette ad – claim to be oppressed, and make ridiculous representations regarding ‘men’s rights’. They have a twisted and entitled view of what those rights are, which is indicative of the problem we face.

I like to think I’m a tolerant and fair-minded man. That’s how I was brought up to be, as were many more of my generation. It might sound a bit flaky, but I approach people as a human being first, then as an individual. I have my bias, of course, and probably have some unconscious prejudice, but officially I give everyone the same fair go. As a heterosexual I look at women differently to how I see men. As a westerner I’m open-minded, but naturally I’m more comfortable in the culture I was brought up in (which is one reason I travel, to take myself out of that comfort zone and experience the culture of others). I don’t really care about one’s religion, and the colour of one’s skin seems irrelevant to me. Clichéd as it is, it’s what inside that matters.

When I look to engage in these discussions that’s my starting point, overlaid with conscious rationality – I want to be fair and objective, though my opinion is clear. My view is that we must talk about these things and so I don’t shy from these discussions, even if it can be a bit rugged at times.

Mostly I engage on Twitter and, as I seem on the side of the angels, my commentary is tolerated. Mostly. That changed a little last week.

There’s a very passionate woman I interact with on Twitter occasionally. She’s articulate and intelligent and unafraid to say her piece. I find little to disagree with, though I’m more temperate in my expression. Last week I replied to a discussion she was part of regarding an article which had been published saying that men had to ‘take sides’ in this struggle over male violence.

By instinct I was uncomfortable with that. For a start I think it’s unhelpful terminology. It’s the expression of extremists – if you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s the language of the times, the binary extremes that won’t accept anything in between. I hate that about this era because nothing is as simple as that. And I pointed that out, we needed a more sophisticated approach to this. To be honest, something in me resented the demand to step to one side of the line or the other. I’m here already.

To cut a long story short she didn’t entirely agree and ultimately said it was time for men ‘to put up or shut up’. I opted out of the conversation at that point. I wasn’t offended, but realised that nothing I could say would make a difference at this point – and that’s the problem.

It’s probably too soon to have a measured discussion about this, but ultimately if this epidemic is to be defeated then abusing men and marginalising them won’t do it.

I think education and upbringing is key to a lot of this, but that’s a slow burn. I think many men are learning by observing the #metoo movement and having women open up to them about their fears. I think the government can do more in terms of education and promoting better behaviours too. I think change will come, much as it has in the general perception of the LGBTIQ community over the last twenty years. By and large homosexuality and its variants are no big deal now, when once there was a distinct stigma.

If this is to be resolved then men must be allowed a voice because we’re the group perpetrating this. Many of us now are advocating and stepping in when necessary to drive better behaviours, but it takes more than that. We need to own it, and while more of us are every day there’s a segment are being driven further to the extreme by the commentary surrounding this. As I commented to her the other day, those of us receptive are already listening, but those of us who need to hear won’t listen. There has to be another way.

My experience is that you have to work with recalcitrants to find a way forward. You need to give them a way out acceptable to them. Abusing them has the opposite effect. It closes their minds and makes them stubbornly indifferent. It incites these men to further misbehaviour. This is just human nature – work with it, not against it.

I guess the other thing I find generally discomforting about all this are the double-standards we turn a blind eye to. I understand that. Sympathetic to their pain and understanding their victimisation we allow for the language that expresses it. We have to move beyond that though. If you replaced the word man/men in a lot of the statements made with black or jew or muslim then there would be an outcry.

I understand why, but, like it or not, we’re all in this together. If men are to change we need the help of women, not their disdain.

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