Yes all men: why men need to talk about violence against women

The world is filled with implicit and explicit ideas and messages telling men they should be tough, aggressive and sexually dominant. These are harmful ideas that can drive violence against women.  

While not all men are violent, all men can do something to change those harmful ideas and messages.  

The harmful ideas about being a man – violence, dominance, aggression – hurt men: men who strongly agree with these ideas and beliefs about harmful forms of masculinity are more likely to experience poorer mental health and wellbeing than men who reject them, including high rates of self-harm, problem drinking, gambling and other behaviours. 

Everyone benefits when men feel able to challenge harmful ideas and assumptions, have a more expansive and positive sense of what masculinity means, and can have meaningful and caring relationships.  

Men and boys today still feel pressure to conform to harmful gender stereotypes. The Man Box 2024 study found that half of young men feel social pressure to act strong even if they feel scared or nervous inside. They’re unfairly told to toughen up, that “boys don’t cry”, that talking about their emotions – especially talking about them with other men – says something negative about their masculinity. 

Is the men’s violence crisis a mental health issue?

Most people with mental ill-health do not perpetrate violence. Not everyone who perpetrates violence has mental health issues. Men who choose to use violence aren’t “good guys who just snapped”.

There are many factors – across personal, societal and systemic levels – that underpin the crisis of men’s violence against women.  

Supporting men’s mental health and emotional resilience is important for men’s safety and wellbeing. But this needs to happen together with addressing the drivers of men’s violence against women, and the reinforcing factors that can intensify such violence.  

The current state of men’s poor mental health and the crisis of violence against women are both important and require specific, tailored responses. However, hey do hold a shared reinforcing factor: men feeling unsupported to express their full range of emotions, leaving ‘anger’ to be their default negative emotion.  

Encouraging men, and more broadly society, to safely widen the definition of masculinity can challenge the conditions that evolve into violence against women.

What about violence against men?

Anyone can experience family violence. Anyone can perpetrate family violence.  

But the vast majority of family and gender-based violence is perpetrated by men – as is most violence against men. 95% of victims of all violence, whatever their gender, experience violence from a male perpetrator. The social story that men should be aggressive, dominant and non-emotional is a major contributor here.

Evidence shows that women’s violence against male partners is usually motivated by self-defence.  

Advocating for the safety, equality and rights of women doesn’t detract from the safety, equality and rights of others. We are calling for a society where we are all safe, equal and respected – which means challenging the assumptions that limit and endanger us all.

What can men do about stopping violence against women?

This year, there has been a groundswell of community action to prevent violence against women. Men are ready to have the conversation about what they can do – because violence against women is a men’s issue

Recognise violence against women

Across Australia, we have a skewed view of what violence in intimate relationships looks like. What comes to mind is physical violence, or sexual violence – something that is much easier to categorise as “not okay”. But that type of behaviour typically doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It usually follows non-physical violence – insidious behaviour that breaks down a person’s boundaries, instincts and self-esteem to gain control over their independence, autonomy and judgement.  

Being able to understand violence against women means being able to recognise: 

Talk about it with other men

Women and gender-diverse people have been advocating for their safety for decades. It is important that men are part of this advocacy. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or not have the right words. But talking about violence against women with your friends, family and workmates helps to show that men have a role to play in preventing violence against women, and all forms of gendered violence.

Take a look at The Imperfects: An Imperfect Chat About Men as an example.  

Many of us never really learn how to be in a healthy and equal relationship. When we don't talk about our relationships with our friends, we really only have pop culture and media – including, concerningly, pornography and misogynist social media influencers – to look to for guidance.  

Talking about real life relationships with our friends and being open and honest about the good stuff and the challenges can help us work through with each other what’s healthy and respectful – and what’s not.

Show up and listen

Read the news, listen to podcasts and, most of all, listen to the women in your life without judgement or defensiveness.  

Stopping violence in our communities starts with understanding what the range of men's violence against women looks like – because physical violence isn’t always the first act of violence, it’s important to see the early signs and what drives it.  

Some places to start are: 

Knowing how to respond when someone tells you they’ve experienced violence is also important when asking to learn from your friends.  

Sign up to the Respect Victoria newsletter or follow us on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep learning about prevention in Victoria.

Share the resources you’ve found useful with your friends and networks – use them as a conversation starter.

Challenge disrespect and abuse

Many men – most men – don’t actively disrespect women. But when you let someone else’s poor behaviour pass without comment, you are condoning it. You let him think that you agree with his way of thinking, and that violence is acceptable. Not challenging his “harmless” comments makes him feel entitled to escalate his beliefs and behaviours in public and in private. 

So instead, when safe to do so, call it out or call him in. Whether it’s a friend, co-worker or stranger. Whether it’s “just a joke”, and whether it’s about a specific woman, someone with profile/someone well known, or women in general.  

Speak up if you notice him controlling his partner or treating them disrespectfully. Ask questions if you think he is love bombing or gaslighting a woman. Shut down his attempts to share intimate pictures without permission. Think twice if, out of the blue, he starts talking about his ex as “crazy”. Call out sexist and misogynistic comments online.  

And when you see one person speaking up, don’t let them be the only one saying it. Make it clear what you do – and don’t – support.