Tanveer Ahmed’s opinion piece (Men forgotten in violence debate, The Australian 9th February 2015) charges radical feminism with outdated notions of gender relations. However, it is his own world view, focused on the reinstatement of biological sex differences as a basis for men’s power and his concern about what he calls men’s disempowerment that fails to grasp the changes required of men as we move towards the necessary empowerment of women and gender equality.
As societies move towards greater levels of gender equality, some men do resort to forms of coercion and control (which may or may not include physical violence) to dominate their female partners in the home. Violence against women can be a way in which men express their hostility towards women who step outside of traditional female roles. In these instances, violence against women can result from men’s threatened egos, as their masculinity and sense of male entitlement is challenged.
Also, men’s decreased earnings and/or unemployment can create hostility for those men who hold traditional gendered attitudes about male dominance. If men lose power over women as a result of loss of power in the public realm, they may resort to physical violence to reassert their dominance. Some men will use violence to bolster their masculinity when other sources of confirmation are not available to them.
However, this response by some men should not be interpreted as lessening the demands for gender equality or accommodating to men’s feelings of victimhood. Rather, it suggests that interventions need to be targeted at men who feel their masculinity is under threat by women’s empowerment. We need to challenge men’s patriarchal attitudes about women and their sense of male entitlement in relation to women. Men need to break away from their identification with power and control and construct a sense of self that values equality and partnership with women. Women’s empowerment is only a threat to men while they hold on to a sense of self that is created through rigid notions about masculinity and having power over women.
Professor of Critical Social Work, Deakin University