It's men who need 'retraining', not women

I read something recently that made me mad. Angry, confused and uncertain. So you'd better stand back.

You see it seems that, as a man, I'm expected to have little or no control over my actions on account of all the testosterone flooding my brain. If I lash out, physically or verbally, it's clearly not my fault. It's yours.

Of course, I won't. Because, like most functional people - male or female - I might sometimes feel angry or outraged, but I do not freak out and smash things like a tired toddler. As appealing as that may sometimes be.

Be responsible for your own behaviour

Our contract with the others with whom we enjoy our free, sunny lives is we absolutely control any dark impulses which may result in the physical or emotional injury of another person. We are all responsible for our own behaviour.

So I was annoyed and, frankly, kind of saddened by a story that ran in Fairfax publications and websites under the headline 'The part women play in domestic violence'.

I was under the impression the part women most frequently play in domestic violence is getting abused, bashed and sometimes even killed. Apparently not.

Dr Sallee McLaren, a clinical psychologist, wrote that there's a "50-50 contribution to the final outcome of violence".

She says, in relation to her work in domestic violence, "I have to retrain her exactly as much as I have to retrain him to correct this situation".

Retrain her? Let's just read that again. Retrain HER?


To summarise her central contention, if women just hardened up and put their foot down when a man escalates to a four out of 10 on the anger scale, he'd never get to 10/10. That bloke needs to learn, and she needs to be tough enough to teach him.

Dr McLaren notes women don't have the mental toughness of men because they don't have the same uncompromising upbringing and are pretty much general wusses because they're too … girly.

Toughen up?

I grew up in New Zealand where we all played rugby union among the sheep and snow. Tough times, tough men, tough game. I also remember sitting beside a 1.8-metre, 110kg, 19-year-old teammate outside our changing sheds. The kind of guy who strikes fear into the opposition. He was crying, because he didn't want to hurt other people or himself. He hated it. But such was the pressure to harden up, be a man, he wiped his eyes and shuffled reluctantly onto the field to hurt people.

So women clearly need some more of that?

Dr McLaren also says "as a woman, I find male violence always inexcusable and repugnant." As a human being, I find violence inexcusable and repugnant, too. Whoever is perpetrating it.

On average, two women a week are killed in Australia by their male partner. Last week's budget delivered $30 million to combat domestic violence, which is good, but also brown-bagged a sweet $1.2 billion to fight terrorism.

So this is why I'm upset. Domestic violence is an epidemic. People are dying and no-one, least of all Joe Hockey, knows what to do. It's a deep, horrible, complicated and pretty much ignored problem.

When a strong nation attacks a weak one, that's wrong. When a man hits a woman, that's wrong. When a strong man hits a weak man, that's wrong. When a strong woman hits a weak man, that's wrong. When a man or a woman hits a child, that's wrong.

Anytime the strong attacks the weak, that's just wrong. Nowhere, ever, should it be the fault of the weaker for being … weaker.

With strength comes responsibility. In international politics, the strong preying on the weak is called "tyranny". No-one tells the invaded nation to harden up. Hey, Ukraine, stop being such a wuss!

The blame game

In a 60 Minutes interview aired on Sunday night, reporter Tara Brown was quite rightly horrified when failed wife-basher "Steve" told her "some people bring the best of you out, and I believe some people bring the worst of you out," in reference to his victim.

Brown baulked instantly at the inference. "Seriously? You're going to sit here now and tell me it's Sharron's fault?" she says. "Well, that's just what you've done."

She later said: "It got my back up. To me, using those words in the context of beating your wife — he was telling me that she provoked him.

This guy's in jail, but his ex "brought out the worst" in him. He burned her with cigarettes. He held a knife to her throat. He spat at her and pushed her to the ground. Yet in his head, her can still somehow blame her.

This is why I have such a problem with Dr McLaren's thesis. It makes Steve's disgraceful thought processes just a little more OK.

To be a man

To be a man is a wonderful thing and we should cherish the fact we are strong and capable. To be a real man is to love, to nurture, to use our strength to lift up the ones we love.

To be a real man is to be a good person. Simple as that.

Domestic violence can never be the victim's fault. Otherwise we'd be in the utterly ridiculous territory of saying it's a woman's fault for getting raped because she happens to look nice. How nuts would that be?

Violence is always the fault of the attacker, never the victim. Logic, ethics, experience, life, … everything tells us so.

To suggest otherwise is making a terrible situation worse. And that, more than anything else, is what makes me angry.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.

Follow Phil Barker on Twitter