There is a disgraceful truth men need to face up to

Consultant psychologist Anthony Berrick has spent over a decade specialising in the treatment of anxiety-related disorders. He works with fear.

He has trained in Australia, the US and Europe and has a private practice in Sydney. Also a qualified dog trainer, he combines his unique skills to offer a specialised service to treat cynophobia, the fear of dogs.

But it wasn't until the recent murder of Eurydice Dixon, and sitting, listening to his wife and a group women friends talk one night that, despite his very specific skills set, "I realised how oblivious I was to the very real fear women experience around men all the time."

A discussion that has to happen

When he came to think of it with his professional hat on, some things became instantly clear to him. He had also recently read my column and contacted me with what he has to say to other men about women and fear.

Elements of the ongoing discussion about male violence against women "drive me crazy", he says.

Simply, he says, women are right to consider all men a threat. Men are wrong to cry "not all men!" because, in women's heads, it most definitely is all men.

"Women have a real and justified fear of sexual violence," he says. "From pre-adolescence, girls learn they are the potential targets of sexual violence."

Real fear factor

They are told it, and they see it happening in the world around them. There's a good chance a young woman will have encountered some form of abuse or sexual violence already in her life. So, yes, the danger is real.

Therefore, a woman's fear response, her "fight or flight" response (it should be called "fight, flight or freeze" because freezing is also a natural response) is constantly on, looking out for threats.

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If you're a man, you embody that threat. You need to know it. You need to acknowledge it. And, if you care about the women around you, you'll do something about it.

Minimise the threat

In his work with cynophobics, Berrick says his patients often say a dog will bound up to them on the street or in a park and they're of course terrified. "But the owner will say, 'Oh, don't worry, he's friendly!' but that doesn't help at all. The poor cynophobic just wants the bloody thing away from them.

It's a brute comparison but maybe we need to consider that men are to women, as dogs are to people afraid of dogs.

No matter how nice you know you actually are.

"On the train, if the only other person in the carriage is a woman, don't strike up a conversation with her," Berrick says. "That's just making it worse. She knows many assaults start out with a friendly chat."

Keep to yourself, respect personal space and let a stranger enjoy their trip in peace.

The same basic rule goes for when you're walking behind a woman in the street, late at night. Understand the possibility of a perceived threat.

"It's about creating physical distance," explains Berrick, "until you are no longer perceived as a threat by a brain trained to see you as dangerous.

"Guys shouldn't take this to heart, it's not personal. It's simply how the brain responds to a threat.

Keep your mates in line

When you're with a group of guys, understand you're now a pack, so making sure no-one in the group does or says anything that might scare a woman more, is important. You can do that simply by being the man who says "No, Mate, leave her alone, you're just scaring her."

Pretending to have a cheery chat on the phone can send a signal to a woman you're not interested in attacking her. Making eye contact, chatting, or even touching her are not going to help, they'll make things worse.

If you're looking at her, you're showing interest, and, to a brain in fear, that interest comes across as threatening.

A disgraceful truth

The fact men actually need to consider themselves as scary as dogs out there in the world is a disgrace.

It should be a clear argument to anyone who thinks men should be men, and women should do less whining, that there's actually something deeply broken in men.

Not me, I hear you say? Well we're men and women are completely justified in their fear of us. One woman a week is killed by her partner or former partner. One a week. No wonder women are bloody terrified.

Who let the dogs out? We did.

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 a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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