Charles Darwin said: it is not the cleverest or the strongest of the species that survives: it is the one which is most adaptable to change. Abusive men in the 21st century need to change how they are treating women and how they are relating to their families and themselves.
Working to lead a men’s organisation which works to end family violence by working with men provides me with daily insights into how men see their place in the world and their role in stopping violence from happening in the first place.
The men and women who work at No to Violence Inc. Men’s Referral Service are highly trained to respond to men who call our phone room and who often need to talk through what is happening in their lives. Often the call to – or from – us will be the first time he has made contact with a service or explicitly acknowledged that he has a problem.
From the 20 plus years that we have been doing this work we know that the starting position for most men is that of the victim. He feels wronged: he is angry and confused. If we don’t work with him to confront the realities – that he has actually done harm to his partner and children – and support him to consider alternative ways of being - how can we ever break the cycle? If we don’t talk him down how can families be made safer?
My story includes seeing my own father struggle as a man, as a parent and as a human being. In an age when men provided – and that was their role – and women stayed at home and had babies – and that was their role – neither of my parents were suited to these fixed roles. Sadly my father was on the verge of seeking help for his heavy drinking when he fell down stairs and had a serious accident. He was made of strong stuff so it didn’t kill him but it did disable him for the last few years of his life. Ironically the accident left him impaired in a way which meant he had to give up drinking.
As a family - five siblings and my mum - we all paid a heavy price for his inability to deal with what being a man was throwing at him. I wonder if it would have been any different if he had lived in this era.
I believe people can change but I recognise many choose not to. I think our job as a society is to make sure that at every turn perpetrators of abuse, violence or controlling behaviour that limits the lives of others, intimidates and causes fear – can find an alternative approach.
I believe I can change things because human services systems are operated by human beings with the capacity to feel, empathise and get angry. We need to mobilise that and stop judging women for staying in abusive situations – we need to expand our understanding of this dynamic.
I think things will change if we are determined enough and people work together well enough.
I want to see change because I’m sick of the damage being done to women and children and also to men: there is no need for the levels of abuse we see in our society and its time we pulled together and were strong enough to stamp it out.