Pragmatism trumps principles in combating violence against women


The ABC’s recent take on the issue of harassment of female runners visits a familiar theme and draws some familiarly troubling conclusions.

The chief contention of Eliza Buzacott-Speer’s article – that it is male perpetrators and not female victims who should be changing their behaviour in order to prevent harassment – is hard to argue with, but the dismissal of practical safety advice for women as “well-intentioned” but “really, really problematic” is cause for serious concern.

“It’s not up to women to stop men from doing things,” says Bianca Fileborn, research fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University. “Men are actually quite capable of not harassing women, so we really need to be putting the onus back on the people who are perpetrating the behaviour.”

These kinds of sentiments are all well and good as far as the issue of public verbal harassment goes. It’s not unreasonable to believe the kind of men who are inclined to wolf-whistle or catcall at passing female runners don’t see anything particularly wrong with what they are doing, so it may well be that a stern word or two is all it takes for them to re-evaluate their boorish behaviour.

Where this approach falls down is when this sort of harassment is conflated with actual physical violence, which Buzacott-Speer does in drawing parallels with the brutal murders of three female runners in the United States.

Unlike said wolf-whistlers, men who lurk in bushes waiting for lone, vulnerable female runners don’t do so with the mistaken belief they are engaging in a bit of harmless fun. On the contrary, they know their actions are abhorrent and simply don’t care.

Men like this exist not because of some broad societal failure to challenge their perverse behaviour, but in spite of societal norms that utterly reject that behaviour. As such, the idea that these sorts of men will respond to reason, rationality or appeals to decency is simply absurd.

Yet commentators such as XYZ favourite Clementine Ford still want to throw these monstrous crimes at the feet of the “toxic patriarchy” rather than the individual, insisting the likes of Victoria Police’s Detective Inspector Mick Hughes are part of the problem for daring – as he did in the wake of the tragic death of Melbourne schoolgirl Masa Vukotic in March last year – to advise women to avoid travelling alone in parks (these comments were made, it should be added, while the perpetrator was still at large and still posed a credible threat to the community).

Yes, it is unfair that a woman wanting to go for a run should have to factor in the time of day she leaves, the route she takes or even how she might defend herself in the event of an attack in order to minimise her risk of harm, just as it is unfair that any of us should feel compelled to purchase expensive security systems to prevent our houses from being burgled.

Sadly, the world is a cruel and unforgiving place at times. We can try all we want to convince ourselves the key to a peaceful, utopian society is simply better education and more open conversations, but the reality is that there will always be terrible people who do terrible things.

Those who offer women safety advice are neither victim-blaming nor putting the onus of violence against women back on women; they are simply acknowledging harsh realities and offering the most pragmatic solution possible.

As such, treating this sort of advice with contempt is unfair and unnecessarily hostile at best. At worst, it actively encourages women to take unnecessary risks as a show of defiance, thereby running counter to the intended aim of reducing violence against women.

  • Trog

    We should just call out misandrists whenever we see them. Totally over this bunkum. The world isn’t fair, never will be and never should be. The natural world is full of things that can eat you. The idea that education and “open conversations” can remedy all evil is a recipe for throat offering, bloodfest slaughter. Try it in any playground across Australia and experience a little taste of the real world.

    All we can ever do is recognise the wrong and do our best to lessen it. This includes female violence towards men and children ( 25% in the first case and double the male offending rate in the 2nd). The female teachers being gaoled for underage student sex are one aspect of female abuse of their positions of power, the Misandry Movement is simply another one. It is the one-sidedness and blame attributed to one group that is totally spastic. Can anyone tell me why with all the resources we poor into social welfare and care … the problem always gets worse?

    Could it be the self interest (money) that problem promoters receive for their agendas????

    Went to a women’s lobby movement meeting years back. In the lobby a very famous picture of “Charles and Diana’s” wedding greeted attendees.

    That was a very balanced, consultative, respectful and understanding meeting????? Balance please in all things…just balance please.

  • entropy

    Aren’t women equal yet?

    What follows is part of a comment I made elsewhere that describes most entitlement movements, including pseudofeminism/gynocentrism.

    It’s interesting to note how these emancipation arguments evolve over time:

    1. We demand equal rights because all people are equal.
    2. Now that we have equal rights, the reason we’re not succeeding at equal rates is because of institutional bias against us.
    3. Now that we’ve called out the institutional bias and the only remaining bias in evidence is actually ‘reverse discrimination’ in our favour, there must be another reason we’re not succeeding at equal rates (because people are equal).
    4. Who even needs reasons? The only thing that matters is we’re not succeeding at equal rates, which is clear evidence of discrimination against us. Because people are equal.
    5. This is what we want (today) and if you don’t agree, you’re a bigot and are discriminating against us.
    6. Why is it even my job to educate bigots? I’m just going to sit here watching Ellen and if you don’t get out and agitate for my own entitlement on my behalf, you’re a bigot.

  • Karen Dwyer

    I would tell you how insulting it is to be reminded of what “reality” is by a male authority figure, but if you’re a woman reading this then you’re probably already pounding your head in frustration.

  • Karen Dwyer

    P.s. Thanks for the article, Chips. The analogy about alarm systems was a good one.

  • Rhonda Hulbert

    The sad fact is that women have to factor in safety issues every time they leave their homes. That is after factoring in safety issues for being alone in their homes. It is a constant every day consciousness of our physical vulnerability. Add to this the fact that sentencing laws for predators of all kinds are a joke. I think strengthening and enforcing sentencing laws to the letter would go a long way to making life safer for all decent people from the evil element in society. In the meantime I will continue to keep myself as safe as I can.

  • My Name

    It is frustrating that some people consider me as a potential sexual predator based on warped males. It also gives me a bit of empathy for some Australians who are considered as duty bound potential terrorists based on warped religious zealots.