Untie those white ribbons and get men on board for equality


I write this a few days after White Ribbon Australia announced it would go into liquidation. It fell victim to chaotic management despite a concerted attempt to achieve consensus and reorganisation by new CEO Delia Donovan and new chair Tony Pearson.

The tales of the inappropriate – and worse – behaviours of White Ribbon ambassadors are legion, the inept attempt to get conservatives on board by ditching reproductive rights, the colonisation of the date to end violence against women, we know this. So, for a moment, let’s acknowledge its attempt to change the conversation and to understand the pain at its demise expressed by two strong advocates for social change, Rosie Batty and Liz Broderick.

Yet there must be a place for men in the conversation. This can’t be like parenting in Australia which is still, in the main, done by women. Men must be equal partners though, not treated as if they can only behave when, like puppies, they are constantly rewarded with cries of ‘good boy’!

How do we make society more equal? Whenever I despair at the absence of real way forward, I call Raewyn Connell, the leading international scholar on masculinity. Her book Masculinities, first published in mid-90s, has been cited nearly 20,000 times. In chapter one is one of my very favourite quotes because it illuminates the experience of Australian women at work: “Everyday life is an arena of gender politics, not an escape from it.”

Connell, an emerita professor at the University of Sydney, says there are actions men can take aside from direct, stated, opposition to violence against women.

The White Ribbon Foundation has been put into receivership.

The White Ribbon Foundation has been put into receivership.Credit:AAP

“Domestic violence is exacerbated because women don’t have the economic resources to get out. But men can also take action against the conditions in which men’s violence can become as pervasive as it is. There are a whole range of economic changes governments, unions, management can take against economic inequalities; and men need to get into the conversation to change the structures.”

There are practical actions men at work can take. Suggest an equal pay ambassador instead of a white ribbon ambassador. Encourage men in your office to take time off when their babies are born and then to take an equal role at home. Connell says it’s here, in the arena of family life, where men can really make the kind of difference that changes society. Shoulder the childcare burden. That frees up women to participate fully, not just in the domestic sphere. I hear playgroups these days are much more welcoming of dads than they were when my own children were small, when a man arriving at a playgroup with small children in tow was ignored.

“Childcare is the foundation of a lot of patterns of inequality in families. It directly contests the hard and the violent image of what a good man actually is and because it changes men’s feel for relationships,” says Connell.

If you are a man at work, inform yourself about the facts of workplace inequality. Rae Cooper, professor of work, gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney, says her research shows men are sceptical. “Women shouldn’t have to keep explaining and re-explaining the issues. Once you’re informed, take action immediately. Don’t wait for a sticker!” she says. Cooper suggests CEOs become pay equality ambassadors.

There is one more action we can all take. Encourage schools to teach respectful relationships. Much of this excellent curriculum (treat people decently) was demolished in Australia by the federal government, straight out of a globalist playbook. It copied the worst of US and UK evangelistic campaigning while pretending to be all-Australian and pretended boys wearing dresses was a key performance indicator for these programs.

Your action list? Ditch merit badges. Work towards gender equality in your sector, industry, workplace. Don’t mind your children as a favour. You are not a babysitter but their father so share and care for them equally. Get your school to teach that respect is essential. Far more effective than wearing white ribbons.

Jenna Price is a political sociologist at the University of Technology Sydney and a Herald columnist.

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