Domestic and family violence is not well understood. As has been the case with institutionalised child sexual abuse, community awareness and understanding are half the battle.
A recent and regular national survey of the Australian public (17,500 people) shows that people are much more likely to excuse abusive behaviours in the home than they were 20 years ago.
For example, half of all Australians believe that women could leave if they really wanted to leave. Shockingly, one in five Australians believe violence can be excused if the offender later regrets it.
Community attitudes shape the way we respond to domestic violence. If a large proportion of the public have a tendency to excuse, trivialise, and minimise abuse, of course victims will be reluctant to leave their violent partners. We need to challenge the foundations of gendered violence.
Common attitudes that underpin violence towards women
“Violence against women isn’t good but it’s understandable”
This is the idea that it is excusable for men to use violence in certain circumstances like if they lose control, that they cannot always be held responsible for their actions, or that some kinds of violence (such as sexual harassment) are not serious.
“It’s ok for men to control their household and their wife’s public life and relationships”
This is the idea that men should be the head of the household, decide how money is spent, control who their female partner can or cannot see and specify how she should spend her time.
“Women and men are just naturally different and women are more suited to domestic tasks while men should be the breadwinners”
This is the idea that women and men, and girls and boys, should act in certain ways or fulfill certain roles, in the home and outside of the home. It includes double standards concerning what is acceptable for men and women.
“Aggressive behaviour is just natural for men”
This is reflected in the way some groups of men ‘bond’ or seek to prove their ‘manhood’ through actions that are negative, hostile or aggressive towards women, like ‘pickup artists’ or catcalling/wolf-whistling, or speaking disrespectfully about women generally or their female partners in the company of other men.
What can we do?
We can address these kinds of attitudes by:
- recognising leadership skills in women in our churches and nurturing these gifts, ensuring a significant number of formal leadership positions are filled by women
- challenging the idea that violence and/or aggression is a normal expression of being a man
- calling out anything that communicate male control and that female exclusion is acceptable
- calling out anything that says male aggression and/or aggressive conquests are a natural part of ‘going out with the boys’
- modelling and teaching respectful relationship skills and healthy social connections
- challenging norms that restricts men and women to playing certain roles at church, home and work
- recognising where we are diminishing or undervaluing women’s work (both paid and unpaid).
We also know that gender stereotypes can be reinforced and sustained through popular culture and media, such as by:
- blaming victims of violence
- inaccurate reporting on family violence
- sexualisation of women and girls
- depiction of gender stereotypes that reinforce power imbalances (such as that of the male breadwinner)
- glorified and gendered violence.
Very little is being done to counteract the continued stereotyping and objectification of women in Australian media and entertainment. Australia's National Classification Scheme for media does not include any classifiable elements relating to gender stereotypes and objectification.
However, the media can be a powerful tool in preventing violence against women and children. The way news media frame a story about violence against women can have a powerful impact on the way the public understands the issue. And as audiences, we can help push for change.