Following the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, the initial response by Victoria Police included warning women to exercise “personal responsibility” and “situational awareness” at night, among other unhelpful suggestions. Unsurprisingly, this victim blaming sparked a backlash on social media.
Right-wing, anti-feminist commentator Miranda Devine took this to a new level, saying that young women should take precautions when they walk around, because “expecting men to change is unrealistic”.
She claimed on the Today Show on June 18 that she was not victim blaming. But when challenged by host Georgie Gardener, who suggested that “the message should be that men should be changing their behaviour and not assaulting women”, Devine retorted that, sure, predators are “abhorrent creatures” but that they wouldn’t take any notice anyway.
“The fact is you have to accept the world as it is; the world is not a perfect place and you have to understand that there are predators around and you need to take precautions,” Devine said.
And she didn’t stop there. The next day she used her Daily Telegraph column to argue that the real problem was “toxic feminism”.
As a man who wants women to be treated equally (yes, I’m a feminist) this is offensive bullshit — to both men and women.
The real toxicity we all have to deal with relates to gender stereotyping, which helps perpetrate such antiquated myths as men don’t cry, men are the “bread winners” and men settle things with violence.
Devine refers disparagingly to feminist activists as “man haters”, when they are not. They are trying to find ways of preventing the causes of violence. And in this huge struggle, they need allies.
In Devine’s pessimistic “these things just happen” worldview, change is not possible. Yet men of all ages joined the vigils organised for Eurydice Dixon on June 18, showing that attitudes are changing and can change further.
To say we cannot change men’s attitudes towards women — which we have to do — not only ignores reality, it lets those who support the status quo, including all their law-and-order “solutions”, off the hook .
The problem of violence against women is not primarily one of gender, or of one gender against the other. It is part of a much bigger problem caused by a system that is built around inequality and reinforced by social expectations about rigid gender roles.
We can help others see beyond the reactionary views of the Miranda Devines of the world, who are on a permanent crusade to shore up the inequality of the status quo including, it seems, going soft on rapists and murderers.
Predators exist, but most violence against women comes from people they know. It is a huge social and political problem, which we can all play a role in eradicating.
Men can and should play a role in challenging sexism and helping prevent violence against women, including by talking to our friends about consent, and stepping in to stop violence from taking place if we are able.
But we can also support the social movements demanding practical support and real immediate solutions for women escaping violence in the home — where most violence comes from.
Individual women should not be made to feel responsible for solving it themselves — which is, ultimately, Devine’s message.
[Viv Miley is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]