One in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or previous cohabitating partner – a further one in four have experienced emotional abuse.
And while we can’t, and shouldn’t, ignore the clear evidence of the same kinds of abuse against men – an estimated one in 16 here in Australia – the staggeringly high rates of violence against women, most commonly by men, point to a serious social problem.
One that we, as parents, play a huge role in solving.
Whenever a violent crime against a woman is splashed across the news, we hear the same warnings: don’t go out alone, don’t get too drunk, don’t stay out too late. But actually addressing – rather than just attempting to mitigate – the problem requires a lot more than warning women to be wary of men. We need to teach our men to respect women, in every sense of the word.
“Since the height of the #MeToo movement – the volcanic eruption of decades of suppressed abuse – women have been less tolerant of disrespect, inequality and sexual assault,” says Louise Edmonds, who founded educational program Men of Manners to address this very issue. “This is a good start, but to truly overcome the problem, we need to bring our men up to speed. In order to fight for the protection of women, children and our elderly, we need them to understand.”
And not only understand, but actively and enthusiastically contribute to the conversation. But in order to do that, we need to address the issues at play.
“Data shows that our youth are carrying on toxic masculinity simply because they are learning by sight,” says Louise. “If they have come from an abusive family they are more likely to carry on the traits of toxic masculinity, no matter their socio-economic or demographic position. It’s in the highest places and on the streets.
“Much of the negative influence starts as childhood distress, be it from witnessing an event, experiencing hurt or a breakdown in the family. We cannot underestimate the importance of both a positive fatherly and motherly role model, and these people must understand their important role, too.”
It’s not uncommon for boys to, often subconsciously, play out what they have seen at home – be it respect or disruption. When talking specifically about respect towards women, Louise says gender roles can play an enormous role.
“Right now, data shows that 43% of young men don’t want to learn to cook, clean or be domesticated,” says Louise. “Why? Because they have always seen their mums do it.”
Another part of the greater problem is the fundamental difference between how men and women, typically, think: women are more adept at exercising empathy and intuition, while men are more problem/solution driven.
This is perfectly illustrated by conversations (that we have had and heard time and time again) around housework and housekeeping duties. How many times have you heard your husband, your brother or your friends’ partners say, “I’m happy to help out more with the kids, the laundry, the cooking, she just needs to tell me what needs to be done!” to which their partner will generally say something like, “We’ve been together 11 years – how do you not know already?!”
“The best course of action is to simply show them the problem, which is being dragged further and further into the open – be it #MeToo, gender inequalities, abuse,” says Louise. “Discuss with your son that his generation has a wonderful opportunity to create a more equal world. Ask him how he is going to contribute to this, and fully support his imagination and ideas as they arise.”
According to the likes of Harvard University, the New York Times and from the anecdotal evidence of children themselves, bullying, anxiety, personal sexuality and mental health are the biggest challenges facing young men. There are so many pressures to be self-sufficient, to act tough, to be attractive, to deal with their anger and hypersexuality in a healthy, productive way.
“As with girls, harmful thought patterns commence from a young age – feelings of, ‘I’m not good enough, I’m ugly, I can’t do this, I’m not loved, this is too hard, why won’t the pain stop?’” says Louise. “We, as parents, must not let all the ‘soft skill’ lessons land in the hands of the teachers at school. While it’s true that your son may mimic how you get through life, he is also on his own personal journey.
“I recommend looking at his strengths – whether that’s being a good friend or a good chess player – and support their development in order to boost his confidence. It’s also important to keep him active to work through testosterone, enjoy some vitamin D and avoid excessive time online.”
Don’t miss opportunities to talk about respect – genuine respect – with your boys. Louise makes a distinction between courtesy and respect, and says it’s important that children know the difference.
“Courtesy can be a display of niceties for one’s own reputation or attention,” says Louise. “Genuine respect is seen through actions, no matter the consequence. We can teach young boys the difference by pointing out things in their lives, the places they have experienced certain behaviours from others and how those behaviours made them feel.”
And while leading by example is always important, relating your lessons to their personal journey is the most effective way to teach them. The more you know about their lives – which, we know, can be hard for working parents – the more you will be able to make teachable moments out of their experiences.
“Start journaling what you’re seeing and bring it up when your son is in a talkative mood,” says Louise. “It’s also important that, in two-parent households, you present a united front. Not only will this show your son what mutual respect looks like, but you will also be able to see and respond to more.
“Men speak seven times less than women. If dads begin speaking encouragement and respect into our kid’s lives, we will most certainly see society change.”
Louise has identified five codes that make a gentleman:
- Courage: this means choosing the more difficult path, being prepared to consider taking sacrifices in service of people you value. Be courageous in seeking wisdom when you don’t know what to do, and siding with truth, not what’s popular. Courage resides in the heart and is usually activated when a young man sees injustice.
- Self-belief: Confidence doesn’t come easy today alas, a gentleman stands for who he is and outworks ethics and morals each day. Self-belief also exudes positivity, and the confidence that you can assist when faced with challenges. With all the bullying happening today in person and online, self-belief can be hindered. To attain it, a young man requires mentors, parents and teachers to dedicate themselves to encouraging and complimenting the young man.
- Humility: He values other people and their contribution and doesn’t boast of his own accomplishments. This can be hard living in the world of the ‘Me’ generation and everyone on social media self-promoting. So, to activate young men in this virtue, we need to expose them to those less fortunate. This is where charity and philanthropy comes in.
- Generosity: Be generous with your time, resources, kindness and find ways to counter greed. If a young man thinks he’s got nothing to be generous with, bring his attention to ‘time’. Time is a resource everyone has, rich or poor, but it’s only the generous who use it to benefit others. He can spend time with friends and family on the phone being present, and listening.
- Respect: An essential part of being a gentleman is respect for self, others and situations. He’ll never use foul language in front of people or discuss improper topics, sexual suggestions or idol jokes. To understand respect, young men need to read and develop their empathy skills in life and theoretically.