A response to Bettina Arndt's article, "Always beating up on men"

In her lengthy article in the most recent Weekend Australian, Bettina Arndt directly criticised Our Watch, and other organisations which, like us, are working to respond to and prevent violence against women.

I’m unclear on how exactly Arndt thinks we are profiting directly from taking this gendered approach, as her extremely critical article proves just what a hard sell this is for us. For many others like her, the fact that sexism and misogyny are the drivers of this violence is a bitter pill to swallow.

It’s a joke to think that those struggling to keep women’s refuges open, in spite of the high demand, are financially benefitting from some sort of “myth” that women aren’t really the victims.

It’s baffling as to why Arndt so consistently and vehemently resists a growing movement for gender equality and respect, one that is strongly supported by many men.

Particularly problematic is her dismissal of our prevention approach (which is based on solid local and international research) as “teaching misogynist men (and boys) to behave themselves”, and not just because it dismisses ‘violence’ as ‘misbehaviour’.

Rather than spending time refuting Arndt’s highly selective use of statistics, I will reiterate the extensive research underpinning Australia’s first framework to prevent violence against women, Change the Story. This is all referenced on our website, which we directed Ardnt to when she contacted us some months ago.

Official police and court data, and the ABS Personal Safety Survey, show domestic violence is a gendered issue, in terms of frequency, how it’s perpetrated, the ongoing effects and the likelihood of victimisation.

This is not to say our analysis is simplistic, let alone that we are ‘always beating up on men’ (and what an offensive metaphor that is in a debate about violence).

Our Watch has always acknowledged violence to be a complex phenomenon with no single cause. Arndt is wrong in saying we ignore other contributing factors – Change the Story acknowledges a wide range of these, and includes strategies to address them.

While it seems obvious, we of course state strongly that violence is always unacceptable, regardless of gender. Nowhere do we say women are never violent, or that men are never victims of domestic violence, and we accept that violence can and does occur within a range of different familial relationships – all our material acknowledges this.

But the facts remain: in Australia one woman is murdered almost every week by a male partner or ex-partner, and ‘domestic’ or ‘family’ violence is the single largest driver of homelessness for women. And 95% of all victims of violence, whether women or men, experience violence from a male perpetrator. The fact that so much of the problem we face is violence perpetrated by men against women may be an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth for Arndt, but it is one that will continue to inform the work we do.

Mary Barry, CEO, Our Watch