Feminism: It's a Fight for Men Too


Man in Blue and Brown Plaid Dress Shirt Touching His Hair
Image description: Photo of a man against a blurred background of water. He is sitting with his elbows propped up on his knees and his hands clasped over his head. He is looking at the ground in a dejected manner. He is wearing dark wash blue jeans, a blue and brown plaid button-up and a black watch, as well as a wedding ring. 
Feminism and women’s rights are just as much a priority for Australian women today as they have ever been. Recently, the media has bombarded us with statistics about domestic violence being the most common cause of injury and death of Australian women under the age of 45. At the time of writing this article, 39 women have been confirmed killed by domestic violence in 2019. ABS statistics from 2016 state one in four women will experience violence by an intimate partner compared to one in 13 men. In comparison, men are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of another man and more than one in four men suffer violence at the hands of a stranger, compared to one in 11 women. However, the underlying issue is one that is much more complex and ingrained across all genders within our society.
Primarily, we need to consider a few other statistics about men and women. Statistics for death by suicide are three times higher for males than females in Australia. Sadly, we are trying to tackle a situation where men are killing women and themselves. A study funded by Beyond Blue in 2015 investigated the most probable causes for such a prevalence of male suicides in Australia. It identified several factors revolving around personal stressors and social isolation. Most concerningly, the study reported unhealthy conceptions of masculinity and the 'Tough Aussie Bloke' stereotype as the biggest problems. Men reported their beliefs surrounding masculinity led them to isolate themselves when feeling depressed. A sense of loss or guilt and anxiety is perpetuated by a subsequent perception of weakness or failure. Families reported that these men tend to react to distress in a typically masculine manner, by bottling it up, subsequently resulting in families being unaware of warning signs.
Essentially, if, as a society, we do not identify, unpack, address and create a safe space for men to deal with issues of male dominance, then feminism doesn't stand a chance. Men and women are both victims of the patriarchal, male-dominated culture within Australia. It is imperative to address the issue from a social perspective, not just a gender-specific one. Without cooperation and support from men in our society, the changes we seek as feminists cannot occur. Yet men are unable to change without the correct skills and resources.
Human Fist
Image description: Close- up photo of what appears to be a man's hand punching a red surface. 
When I see or hear about a man behaving in such a manner, all I can think about is how once an innocent boy witnessed sexism and possibly violence in his community and, most likely, even his own home. This is where we need to start. Young men need to feel safe and not be gaslighted or suppressed. As a primary response to this issue, we as a society need to check in with young men and boys. We also need to drive the message home to men that their behaviour is not ok. There is only one way we can do that, and that is with the support of men in our communities.
We need men to stand up and say this kind of violence isn't ok. We need them to feel safe to seek help. We need them to speak up when they see a young man being bullied. We need men to approach other men and acknowledge their behaviour isn't ok. The moment people decide to stay out of these situations, regardless of how they have manifested, the bully has succeeded in isolating their victim. This is a fundamental ploy of abusers, and what we need to openly tackle if we are to offer any hope to victims and end the violence and toxicity in our culture. Essentially, attitudes towards mental health issues are of utmost concern in this battle. We need understanding and education if, as a society, we are to ever break the cycle of bullying, gaslighting, isolation and victim-blaming.
The damage of not taking a victim’s cry for help seriously can be detrimental and long term. It can isolate victims more and result in complex PTSD. Abusers use isolation as a tool in their abusive cycles. One common ploy of abusers is to gaslight or smear the reputation of the victim by claiming they are crazy or a liar. These accusations can make it hard for victims to not only get help, as others may not believe them, but is also an attempt by abusers to absolve themselves of responsibility by shifting it to the victim. This tactic is exactly how abusers isolate and terorise their victims, making the most vulnerable even more so. They then become easy prey for predators in the community, as people no longer believe their claims. The more stigma there is about mental health, the more successful this tactic can be. Men that behave like this may also be acting out of fear of psychological health issues and coming under scrutiny themselves. They may also be projecting their own perceptions of ill mental health as a weakness. This behaviour needs to be viewed as an immediate red flag.
Yes, awareness of bullying is changing, which is good. But, as feminists, we need to educate the wider community about how this problem is bigger than an isolated domestic dispute. Men are essentially conditioned by their peers to view mental problems as a serious weakness that should be shunned, not greeted with love and respect. Men need to be engaged, feel safe and have the resources to not only seek help themselves but to also know how to intervene when they see something happening. They need to be educated on how to raise their own boys, so they understand. This by no means is effeminizing. People, not just women, who live in fear will also isolate themselves. As general members of the public, we can acknowledge bad things are happening and aggressive men may not have the resources to deal with situations differently because of their own experiences. We can also change that. We can help young men respond correctly, support themselves emotionally and understand why they are feeling the way they are before it escalates.
Grayscale Photography of Crying Woman
Image description: Black and white, close-up photo of what appears to be a woman with her face hidden in her hands. She is wearing an engagement ring. 
We need men to fix these problems. The rest of us need to support that process. I guarantee you a bully who thinks their victim cannot be isolated will think twice about abusing. We need men to feel safe and have access to resources. We need an environment where men feel they can deal with their emotional issues as well as speak up on behalf of other men. Above all else, we need men to stand by us and support the fact that violence and abuse in our community is not ok. Then, and only then, can we finally tackle the issue of domestic violence and how it contributes to feminism and women’s rights. 
By: Violet December
Sources:
Player M,J, Proudfoot,J, Fogarty, A, Whittle, E, Spurrier, M, Shand, F, (2015), "What Interrupts Suicide Attempts in Men: A Qualitative Study"
retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4474962/ABS website (2018) “Causes of Death, Australia, 2018” retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0
ABS website (2016) "Personal Safety, Australia, 2016" retrieved from
Australian Government Australian Institute and Welfare website (2018) "Personal Safety, Australia," retrieved from
 The Black Dog Institute website " About us" retrieved from
Ellem (2016), "The War on Feminism and the Normalisation of Misogyny in Australia" retrieved from
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here: https://www.sydneyfeminists.org/a


Comments

  1. Hi,

    Thank you for writing the article above. I agree that it is a fight for men too. I fear that many feminists may not be familiar with the value of emotional numbing and so are overly optimistic about the likelyhood of men achieving change. Below is a draft of my thoughts on the strategy advocated above.

    ### Introduction
    Some feminist articles advocate reconfiguration or dismantling of the superstructure through a redefinition of masculinity to include a broader range of emotional display. Specifically, broadening in a way that has space for the expression of emotion that is non-violent or sexual*. This article shares a perspective on this approach, risks associated with it, alternatives and strategy. Fighting is taken to be a cornerstone in the definition of masculinity throughout history. Fighting will be placed within the context of physical prowess and expanded into categories that isolate character and toxic elements. A personal account of the development of physical prowess and militarism is included in context of the arguments placed. Feminists unfamiliar with fighting and associated culture will be better able to understand a space historically denied to women and possibly accelerate subversion of the institutions. Finally, the practical merit of a primary approach broadening femininity, supplemented by an effort by men to redefine masculinity will be summarised.

    *'The Making of Men' article in Womankind #9., Jess Hall book See What You Made Me Do. Little children are Sacred NT government 2007. http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com/2019/10/feminism-its-fight-for-men-too.html

    ### Fighting
    Masculinity is indisputably defined for an individual by status and influence, physical prowess and mojo: magnetism or control over women. Physical prowess is most conclusively demonstrated through fighting. Where dancing and fighting both require superior balance, coordination and power to weight ratio, competition for dance supremacy is subjective whereas fighting may have a clear winner due to obvious concussion, injury or death, concession of a combatant through a clear gesture, concession of a combatant due to the intervention of a medical practitioner due to an obvious injury that compromises the combatants ability to continue in a competitive way or adjudication of the fight following a combatant inadvertently vocalising in response to pain. Adjudication of fights without any of the following indicators often result in much anticipated rematches, regardless of the final scoring agreed upon by judges.

    The similarities between dancing and fighting are acknowledged by some modern elite fighters.

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    Replies
    1. Three time Olympic boxing champion Vasyl Lomachenko took a sabbatical early in his training career under direction of his father to learn traditional Ukranian dance. Three weight division champion Roy Jones Jr can be seen dancing and rapping during his walk in for title defense fights. Partner dancing requires participants to observe and react to the physical cues of one another in a complementary way. Fighting requires combatants to observe and react to the physical cues of one another in an antagonistic way. As fighting gets more competitive, elites may be forced to expand the scope of acceptable training to encompass dance to achieve an edge.

      Dancing and fighting both require emotional and cognitive discipline. In boxing, a fighter that succumbs to anger may compromise their decision making and deviate from strategy. A famous example is the ‘rope a dope’ used by Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle fight, where he goaded his opponent into imprudently expending energy by throwing painful, but ineffective blows into Ali’s arms and body**. A dancer that makes a minor error in a routine must remain composed and continue with the enthusiasm and facial discipline that will impress the judges. The cognitive requirements for dancing and fighting are clear in each case. Physical discipline is required in dancing, pain in the feet must be managed by a ballet dancer on point. Any fighter must keep their hands up to protect their chin regardless of arm fatigue, bodily injury or concussion. Although the similarities are clear, very few fighters will attempt to learn dancing. Greater participation of women in fighting is already taking place. Despite the similarities, fighting remains associated with men and dancing with women. Increased participation of women in fighting within culture is broadening the female definition.

      **When we were Kings documentary.

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    2. ##physical prowess
      Clearly a key function of fighting is to establish physical supremacy and ability to influence by coercion. Managing coercion via physical supremacy is a key challenge for feminism in terms of domestic contexts and in societies prevalent in developing geopolitical regions or those disrupted by conflict. A personal account of a domestic physical power shift follows.

      The last time my father struck me I didn’t flinch. He struck me again to try to achieve some discipline by punishment. I was taller than his belly button and aware that I would be his height and weight in the future. He did not strike me again, presumably he realised this too. On reflection, I believe that my ability to control my responses impressed upon my father that I was nearing ‘manhood’ by his definition, and that this control is likely to have prevented further strikes. To achieve discipline by punishment and demonstrate that I was not in control of my own emotions, my father would have to use force beyond what he was, to his credit, comfortable doing.

      Some time later we were on a road trip staying in a motel. My father and I would sometimes arm wrestle, I believe because he was proud that I was growing. He never arm wrestled with my elder brother, possibly because I was taller than him from my early teens. In the motel is the first time I won an arm wrestle. It was a very significant moment. Jubilant, I raised my hand in joy at this victory. It was immediately struck by a metal ceiling fan and my thumb was badly fractured. The moment was so significant that I had lost awareness of my surroundings.

      In my mid teens I became interested in trying to get into shape and also to defend myself. I had noticed a huge amount of ‘FOA’ grafitti (Fuck Off Asians) in my area and had a few very minor incidents. My father agreed to buy me a bag and I hit it after school for hours, probably driving my neighbours insane. I developed physically and could throw a punch. I knew enough about boxing and fighting to realise that this did not mean I was a skilled fighter.

      Around this time in my early or mid teens I recall hearing my father and brother fighting in the adjacent room in the house. The noises were familiar at first and I hoped it would resolve in a familiar way. I heard one bizarre noise from my father and a sound foreign to me. I vocalised and entered the room to find my brother on the floor in despair. My father saw me and gave him a half hearted kick. I later realised that my father had likely been choking my brother or they were choking each other and I had it in my power to stop any altercation due to my physicality. This was a significantly simpler and less taxing way to prevent incidents or escalation than attempts using discussion, particularly for a boy in his mid teens, whom was yet to develop emotionally and could often not understand what his parents were arguing about if they used a language other than English to conceal the content from him.

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    3. Some time later I heard that text messages had been circulating regarding an incident at Cronulla beach, the closest beach to where we grew up and still lived. My brother and a brother from another mother decided that very few if any people would be foolish enough to attend a rally where the facts are so uncertain and nothing is to be gained. Due to the weather being exquisite, we opted to visit the beach. We turned a corner onto the main mall and saw a large crowd in the distance outside the North Cronulla club, it was instantly obvious we had misjudged people when a throng of people from the crowd began running towards us. I recall the man in the lead of the throng had no shirt on and a flag tied around his neck and trailing him as he ran towards us. Recollections of the incident may have changed over time in my mind, probably to become more self flattering. I recall the lead runner slowing to a walking pace approximately twenty steps from us. Being a head taller than both my companions, I recall them dropping half a step behind me. It was going to be me and the lead runner who decided how this confrontation would start.

      “Let’s go in here and get a milkshake”

      I used my most okker or bogan voice and the three of us turned into an ice creamery. If the throng were to come in they would have to funnel through the door. If I could get one of the first down it might discourage the others. Judging by the physique of the leaders in the throng, I didn’t think it likely. Fortunately for us, the throng decided not to enter a business for the purpose of affray with three slight brown guys wearing flip flops.

      I continued hitting my punching bag. I didn’t train with a view to winning a contest or effectively defending myself. I trained to fight if I have to and lose in my way, rather than that desired by the aggressor. I like to borrow a phrase from the painter Carravaggio to describe this ‘Nec Spe Nec Metu’ or ‘Without Hope Without Fear’. Quickly realising that day in Cronulla that there is no hope if we should run away and very little if we should engage, I didn’t feel that much fear and made a decision to guide my party into the ice creamery.

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    4. Some time later one of my companions would be attacked from behind at Sutherland station and spend three weeks in hospital. I later trained more seriously at defence classes and combat classes, not enough to be a decent fighter however. I still trained very much in the Nec Spe Nec Metu ethos and took a broader interest in fighting and difficult situations. The physical and emotional challenges of fighting can filter participants. Pundits and commentators like to endlessly debate which fighters have ‘heart’ and should be respected, and which are ‘posers’ or tough with toxic attitudes and not character or fortitude of a champion. One favourite pastime of fight aficionados is to watch a large muscular man come out of a weights training room and try to compete without putting in the difficult and painful work required to become a fighter. One such large man walked into our class one day and was paired with me. He continually incorrectly coached me on how to hold my hands, saying they should be low. Our trainer called for fifteen burpees from each of us in a timed minute. My partner decided that seven was enough for him to attempt before the minute was up and rested. This is considered ‘flaking’ and disrespectful. At the conclusion of the minute my trainer walked over to him and counted eight more from my partner whilst the entire class watched. We never saw the large man again and I consider him a poser. Fighters respect their trainers through effort and discipline. Until told to rest, elite fighters walk if they can no longer run or crawl if they can no longer walk. At a social class, if I told my trainer I may vomit, he allowed me to reduce my work rate. To an experienced trainer, it is clear on someone’s face if they are in oxygen debt or may vomit. At elite classes, where a fight may be on the calendar, a fighter will be expected to continue training after vomiting. After vomiting and removing his hand wraps without permission, Tyson was required by his trainer Freddie Roach to continue training, his knuckles were skinned as a result.

      Dick Couch anecdotally reports n his book ‘The Warrior Elite’ that ‘posers’ are filtered out via a gruelling selection process. Men with deep chests and large tattoos are typically less able to complete the challenges and become selected for the elite unit. In some circles tattoos are referred to as ‘tough stickers’. However, they may be functional if they are cultural or required for membership in a clandestine group. Large muscles are not necessary for a vast majority of physical tasks, they consume a tremendous amount of oxygen and energy. In popular fighting this is often referred to as ‘gassing’. Many top fighters never lift free weights, believing that type of training to result in stiffening and less fluid motion. Mike Tyson only lifted weights after he became champion at the age of twenty. Tyson was a very large muscular fifteen year old and fought at heavyweight often at significant weight and height disadvantages. He became champion through difficult gym work and skill, he is genetically muscular. Feminist imagery has included muscularity as a metaphor for a ‘strong woman’. It would be unfortunate if the muscle size culture that is prevalent in toxic masculinity became adopted by women. Muscle size is not an indicator of character and is not respected in elite fighting circles. Strength is not equivalent to power. Power is the ability to do something difficult quickly.

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    5. In modernity, women have participated extensively in militaries. The Viet Cong had a large female participation. The Russian Red Army also had a significant amount of decorated women. It is unclear to me whether these women accommodated the emotional challenges of combat in a way similar to the ‘stiff upper lip’ or emotional numbing and compartmentalisation that colonial armies trained into their soldiers. Jess Hall has consulted militaries regarding alternates to this method and not identified any. If an alternate and superior way exists to enable people to remain functional in periods of acute stress exists, it would be of interest to men like myself. Trying to forget incidents has not been effective for me. Greater participation of women and people with different perspectives or ‘emotional history’ in elite military roles is an opportunity to try to develop less corrosive techniques for managing difficult moments.

      ##Strategy
      In this article we have identified that there exist fighters whom value respect and character. We have identified that many who train may not have those values. We have seen that the ability to function when confronted with a difficult violent circumstance is usually achieved by emotional numbing. Men highly prize this ability and it is routinely decorated in society with individual honours such as medals. For individuals such as myself it has kept my sanity and person relatively safe. In light of current geopolitical instability and remnant colonialism, there remains the real possibility of large scale conflict and the associated cultural shift towards ‘numbing’ that is the default method through which militaries achieve effective training of solders. This is particularly likely if conscription is introduced. Conscription is likely to target men as a population with a male deficit is sustainable whereas a female deficit is not.

      Due to the entrenchment of emotional numbing in current culture, the value of that technique to fighters, complexity of culture around fighting and the fact that female participation is increasing in fighting realms previously exclusive to men, I advocate that the energy of feminists should not in fact be primarily expended to modify masculinity so as to accommodate emotional range, but in fact should be directed at broadening femininity in the popular mind. Where men are able to identify that women are achieving the same emotional control in high stakes environments, not only will there be less obligation upon them to excel at such control themselves and the ability to ‘protect’ that it can facilitate, but it will also enable men to study their achievement and possibly enable collaboration to remove the need for emotional numbing in culture. The benefits of which will be significant, as inability to express emotion except through physical and sexual means has been identified as a significant factor in epidemic domestic abuse.

      ## END ##

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