How to prevent violence against women

Domestic violence in Australia is on the rise. Women’s rights advocates are calling for a cultural shift away from the acceptance of domestic violence. Because, believe it or not: According to some surveys, one in five young men believed it was a right to hit a woman if they were drunk.

Support services for family and domestic violence:

  • 1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
  • Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
  • Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
  • Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114
  • Relationships Australia 1300 364 277

Fiona McCormack, the CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria says we need to frame the deepening crisis in terms of power and justice.

The national average is a woman murdered every week by someone known to them.

All forms of violence against women are caused by the same factors, whether it occurs on the street or in the home and whether it’s perpetrated by a stranger or someone known.

  • One in three Australian women will experience physical violence.
  • Family violence is a key driver of 23 per cent of national homelessness in Australia.
  • It comprises 40 per cent of police time.
  • It’s a factor in over 50 per cent of substantiated child protection cases.
  • Violence against women costs the Australian economy $13.6 billion every year.

The common denominator in most of these cases is gender.

This is something deeply cultural—a part of our history deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. It’s like we’re fish but we don’t see the water.

International research shows that violence against women occurs in countries across the world to a greater or lesser extent depending upon some key factors:

  • Rigid adherence to gender stereotypes
  • The status of women compared to men
  • Our violence-supportive attitudes

Academically gender refers to social norms, the social expectations about the roles and rights of men and women in our society. Our expectations about men and women stem from a long cultural history and are essentially sexist.

Men who choose to use violence have hyper-masculine attitudes about their rights as men and the role and rights of women. They believe they have a right as men to behave this way and that it’s women who are to blame. Importantly, they see their partners and children as their possessions. That’s why we see so many women and children murdered as payback when women try to end a relationship.

A cultural aspect of how we define masculinity is that it is seen by many as something that has to be proved over and over. Men with hyper-masculine attitudes see it as critical that their masculinity isn’t doubted or challenged, which is why these attitudes are so problematic in the context of family violence. This is particularly so when women try to end a relationship and are made to pay. We would assess that about 50 per cent of the family violence the system deals with is post-separation violence, and it can go on for years.

This (the solution) isn’t about men being less than men. It’s about reshaping expectations of what it is to be a man, about shedding concepts of masculinity that have such a negative impact on us as a society, particularly when ‘being a bloke’ involves derogatory attitudes towards women. I think that can be another way in which masculinity can be reasserted or affirmed by some men—by engaging in disrespectful comments about or behaviours toward women when they are together. With the development of healthier interpretations of masculinity we’d see a range of benefits in terms of reducing street violence, rates of violence against young men and bullying.

There are many women who experience far higher rates of violence, and more extensive violence, than others: women with disabilities, Aboriginal women and women newly arrived to Australia. There’s a common myth that certain women seek out abusers as partners when the reality is that there are men who recognise there are few options for redress for certain women and take advantage of that fact.

So what would it take to deliver a just society?

At an individual level:

  1. We need zero tolerance of violence against women.
  1. We must understand violence against women as a choice.

This is not a sudden loss of temper or control. Many times it doesn’t even involve physical abuse. It’s usually experienced by women as a range of behaviours meant to intimidate and control. It’s a deliberate choice.

  1. We must understand these are everyday men.

So many women don’t recognise they’re in an abusive relationship until it’s reached crisis, especially if they’re not experiencing physical violence.

If we’re going to prevent murders, really it’s critical we start saying: ‘No matter how disaffected a man feels, no matter how hard done by the system he is, it’s never okay to harm or take the life of your partner or your child.’

  1. We need to challenge sexist or derogatory attitudes towards women.

Sometimes people can think they have to wait until they see a violent altercation before they can do something, but the reality is men particularly can play a major role in challenging the conditions that allow violence against women to flourish by challenging derogatory comments, sexist jokes, et cetera.

If we’re going to start preventing men from being violent in the first place, we need to challenge sexist attitudes and behaviours.

Violence is the ultimate expression of sexism

At a societal level:

We need to be intervening earlier. Providing women with information on the early warning signs is crucial because it also provides us with information on the patterns of control.

Some of those warning signs are:

        • Is he resistant to you living an independent life?
        • Is he resistant to you having your own bank account?
        • Is he resistant to you socialising with friends independently?
        • Is he overtly jealous? Does he monitor where you are and what you do?
        • Is he respectful to you? He may be in the early stages but is he respectful to other women? Ex-girlfriends?

Anxious Angry Depressed Thriving

I have what is termed a ‘depressive personality’ and that sometimes go with the introverted territory. I have felt at times I had mild depression but perhaps it was just fatigue. In any case my real challenge has been the escalation of survival choices in development. Born with an anxious temperament, the choices around a volatile family life meant becoming angry, separated, and, eventually, arrogant. I call it the 4 ‘A’s”: Anxious, angry arrogant, a#$*. The dissonance around anger and arrogance vs anxiety and guilt are the feeders for depression and fatigue. I was too twitchy to keep the anger and other emotions in, and I suspect that thwarted developing deep depression. As my life has turned towards dance and other training in Being, I have found a gradual lessening of anger, separation and maybe I’m even less arrogant. And in a number of arena’s the complaint and the arrogance has lead my contribution in the world. Now I live closer to the anxiety or the basic temperament, in the expectation that it is possible to complete the past and reconstruct the Being with a whole new set of choices that is not about surviving as a response to anxiety but thriving with it.

Depression is normal. With about 15% of the population in depression that makes it normal. Not nice. But normal. Parker J Palmer, author of “Darkness Before Dawn” says,”redefining depression from something taboo to something that we should be exploring together in open and vulnerable ways; from something that’s purely biological to something that has dimensions of spiritual and psychological mystery to it; and from something that’s essentially meaningless to something that can be meaningful—all of this seems to me to be important.” And in a sense I think the question it is asking of society is “How many masks are we gonna hide behind to protect ourselves from each other’s vulnerability in the world?” And perhaps if some of the masks come off, we find ourselves at greater ease and depression becomes lessened among us. For Parker J Palmer, coming out of depression provides a great hollowing out that “makes space inside you for the suffering of other people”.

AFTER YASI – A Review

Tully has one of the highest rainfalls in Australia so built a giant gumboot with a frog as its icon.
Tully has one of the highest rainfalls in Australia so built a giant gumboot with a frog as its icon.

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Yasi in the Tully area, North Queensland, June Perkins took to documenting the story of resilience of the people around her. In the process of this documentation, June was one of the people activating resilience-building activities for the community.

The stories she tells in “After Yasi – Finding the Smile Within” are simple, almost pedestrian, and so are, in style, a commentary on the paradox of an ordinariness of the community spirit that seems quite extraordinary. These straightforward stories shine a light on the vulnerability of people who have had their lives turned on their heads in one day of environmental violence.

The poems that people wrote for the book are similarly simple and authentic, a sharing of lives finding their way out of the struggle to making it work again.

Throughout June’s photography captures both the devastation and the recovery, and, in the recovery, the beauty and the friendships.

Having an interest in contemporary dance, I particularly appreciated that one of the recovery events that June documented was a dance workshop run by local dancer Danielle Wilson. Contemporary dance is still a less well-developed community art form in Australia, so it was great to see it working for the community in resilience building. When the world shows us that, rather than being stable and faithful, it can be unstable and fickle, it often attacks the very core of our identity. In that attack, the body and mind can need the experience of revisiting the feeling of the event and the aftermath. Often it can be difficult to express in words what is showing up for the body. Facilitated contemporary dance can allow the mind to honor what the body is expressing and then generating a new story, a new future as a reconstituted identity and self-assurance. Contemporary dance also brings bodies and minds together, so that the sharing of experience and a new future with others, restores faith in that our true stability and support and our tomorrow is in the people around us.

Arts, Dance, Science, Health

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Dancers 'spoofing' the science.
Dancers ‘spoofing’ the science.

Last year (2013), I had the privilege to attend two wonderful national events in the arts: The Inaugural DANscienCE Festival in Canberra hosted by the CSIRO Discovery Centre; and the 5th International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney.

The DANscienCE Festival in August 2013 was eight (8) days of presentations and demonstrations of: the science of dance; scientific ideas that can speak to dance and movement art; and dance speaking for science. Dance with ecological and ornithological themes; dance as sociological research tools; dance for healthy ageing; fluid dynamics; cognitive studies; and dancer’s health. I was asked to sit on a physiotherapy panel for an evening of presentations from 6 dance genres: ballet, hip hop, belly dance, hindu dance, african and contemporary (over 50s). The evening was, professionally, a great experience, especially as my co-panellist, Roz Penfold has previously held jobs with the Australian Triathlon Team and Australian Ballet. Evidence to that evening’s success, Glen Murray of MADEinTasmania, Australia’s best over 50s contemporary dance company, reported that he was using ideas from our discussion in his classes. The most ironical presentation of the week came from Deakin University’s Movement Studio who revealed that the Playstation NRL game was animated from the actions of dancers who can represent rugby moves better than rugby players (except the crunching tackles). As I now post this report, I am putting my support behind Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre and organiser of the 2013 DANscienCE Festival, to organise another DANscienCE in 2015.

The International Arts and Health Conference focused on: creative ageing and mental health, which found me in workshops with Circus Mojo from the USA and clown doctor GP Mark Spitzer, Dancing with Poetry in the NSW Art gallery (among the Nolan’s); writing for resilience with Molly Carlille, palliative care manager; discussions on the design of nursing homes for happiness; conversations with the David Cutler,CEO Baring Foundation UK, Dominic Campbell Director Irish Beltaine Festival; UK Churchill fellow Paula Turner; Angela Lion of Arts Fusion, Singapore;and many delegates who brought a wealth of experience and aspiration to the place of the arts in the health industry, hospitals, and  community well-being. The conference coincided with public support from Federal Health Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, and his State and Territory counterparts, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the arts have a HUGE contribution to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.

Arts’nHealth Champions and MADness

Three major Australian organisationsBanner who have championed a national Arts and Health Policy Framework, write here on the new framework endorsed by State and Federal Ministers. I am personally thrilled as I get down to the planning of a number of projects I will be involved in 2014 including assisting the organisation of DANscienCE (National Festival of the interplays between science and dance); Cape York Critters and Wild Country (a “Wilderness Society‘ play for children’s education of endangered species on Cape York,); a new Cairns Children mini-festival; my own dance classes and a local project for DANscienCE; Children’s Festival with the Cairns Festival; and the Children’s Festival of the Tableland Folk Festival.

I guess I am starting to expand all these things by finishing the year with a MAD Party. My MAD party is not just about having a party and going a little mad, although in its own peculiar way, that is what it is about. However the key to my MAD party is understanding the particular MADness I am evoking through the party. And that particular MADness is the MADness that is evoked when people try to dissuade each other from doing an extraordinary thing by proclaiming, “Mate, you’re mad.” In this party it will be proclaimed that “Mate, you are MAD” and it will be a proclamation of enthusiasm, and encouragement. This particular MADness is about people who like that what matters in their life is Making A Difference. Already as my preparations progress a new project stirs in my mind – to make a full length trailer documentary about Tablelanders Making a Difference.

It is often though that great art goes with a little, maybe a lot, of madness. That sad madness referred in such thoughts overlooks the MAD reality of all great artists and everyone involved in the arts. Being involved in the arts improves all health parameters for the involved person and much for their friends. Artists almost always ‘Make a Difference’.