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09 May 2024  •  Politics & Law

Gendered Violence and the Labour of Listening

This is not a girls versus boys problem, this is an everyone problem. Because children are not born to hate and hurt, this culture has been learned. And now it is time to unlearn it.

By Raphaella Katzen (she/her)
Content Warning: Gendered violence, sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence, murder, stalking.
Gendered Violence and the Labour of Listening

Yesterday afternoon, a 39 year old woman was stabbed by a man allegedly known to her, in a gym car park in Alexandria.

On Sunday, it was reported that a group of boys from Yarra Valley Grammar school in Victoria, had categorised their women classmates under a scaling system ranging from 'wifey' to 'unrapeable'. 

On the 26th of April, Molly Ticehurst was murdered by her ex boyfriend, who was on bail for sexually assaulting her just a few weeks prior. 

On the 13th of April, a man stabbed fifteen women in Bondi Junction, killing five of them. One of the fifteen stabbed was a nine month old child in her stroller. 

Men of Australia, does reading that make you uncomfortable? 

Does it make you question the values and beliefs that are indicative of our collective culture in Australia? 

Does it make you angry for change? 

Because it should. 

It is time we recognised that the drastic examples of gendered violence we are reading about in the news, are not actually as detached from our lived realities as we might hope them to be. 

In the hierarchy of gendered violence, assaults, murder and domestic abuse fall into the higher percentiles of offences. But what is often not acknowledged, is that the higher percentiles can only exist when they are upheld by the lower percentiles. 

This means that the everyday examples of rape culture or locker room banter that every single Australian woman has been subjected to, is working to normalise gendered violence across the entire spectrum. I'm talking about misogynistic slurs, catcalling, groping, sending a girl unsolicited nudes. When you partake in these acts, or when you quietly stand by when witnessing others do so, you’re helping to entrench a precedent of behaviour that validates all mistreatment towards women. 

No, you’re not responsible for all gendered violence because you didn’t stop your friend from calling a girl a slut one time. No, you’re not responsible for all gendered violence because you laughed at that sexist joke your uncle made at dinner last week. But collectively, these little actions (and your response to them) has the power to shift an entire culture. 

Maybe if you pull your friends up on using misogynistic slurs, it will change how they perceive women, which could impact the way they behave towards them. Maybe when you correct your uncle at dinner, your little brother will notice and he’ll follow your example when he witnesses someone else do the same. 

We need to acknowledge how our actions correlate with our culture, because that culture is currently placing Australian women in danger. However, I firmly believe that before men can holistically comprehend the full weight of their actions and attitudes, they must first understand the universal feminine experience of being scared

“I want you to come up and write onto this board all the things you do on a weekly basis to keep safe,” asked a professor of mine to all the men in the room during a sociology class I took last year. 

The boys were hesitant at first. One boldly got up, writing that he locked his door each night. 

Another got up and wrote that he locked his car while driving.

One raised his hand. 

“What do you mean keep safe? Safe in what way?” He asked. 

My professor shrugged. “That’s up to you to decide. Interpret that in whatever sense it means to you.” 

The boys couldn’t think of anything else to write on the board.  

When it was the girls’ turn to respond to the same question, the entire white board that stretched the length of the classroom was covered in writing. Everything, from being escorted to a car by a male coworker when finishing work late, to pretending to be on a phone call when out on the street, to walking with keys jammed between fingers, was written on that board.

At the end of the class, our professor told us that she ran that experiment every semester, and that sadly, the outcome was always the same. The boys always struggled to think of things they did every week to keep safe, and the girls always ran out of space to write on the whiteboard. 

“But what is most interesting to me,” my professor continued, “is that every time I run this experiment, a boy always asks me to define what I mean by safe. There is no way that a girl would ever have to ask that question.”

That last comment of hers struck me more than the experiment itself. My friends and I often talk about how we are scorned by men when expressing fears of gendered violence. 

Of course you’re fine to walk home alone. It’s so safe here.

This is Australia! Relax. 

And if I’m honest, most of the time, it is fine. Most of the time, I feel silly for asking someone to walk me home, or for crossing the road when a man is walking towards me on the street, because statistics tell us that assaults in these scenarios are significantly less common than assaults committed by people known to the victim. But I always feel the need to explain that it's not just the potential attack that I’m scared of (although that is reason enough). I don’t want to walk home feeling scared, because that feeling is mostly what I’m scared of. 

For some reason, before this class, I thought boys understood that. This was the first time I realised that they didn’t. 

Gendered violence has become a topic of conversation in the media again recently. When the #MeToo movement was trending, it was all over my Instagram. So was Chanel Contos when she created a poll on her story asking respondents, Have you or has anyone close to you been sexually assaulted by someone who went to an all-boys school in Sydney?, to which she received just under 7000 testimonies. 

And now it’s being talked about again, as alarming statistics of women dying at the hands of men are splashed across news headlines weekly. 

“Almost 30% spike in rate of Australian women killed by intimate partner last year, data shows” writes The Guardian.

“A woman is being violently killed in Australia every four days this year” writes the Sydney Morning Herald

However despite this, I am continuously baffled at how men fail to reckon with the feminine experience of feeling scared, and I find Australia's attitude towards gendered violence increasingly problematic. I don't care if you’ve never felt scared on the street. Surely you’re reading those headlines and at least attempting to understand it? 

Because I promise you, that all women in Australia feel scared reading them. We are all changing our daily habits and rituals in light of it, and we are all sick of the lack of effective action to stop it from happening. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that in Australia, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. These statistics are grossly compounded for Indigenous women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the disabled community, or those with any other form of intersectional identity. 

So if sexual assault is a crime perpetrated against one in every five Australian women, why does the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimate that only 7.7% of victims/survivors reported their assaults to police between 2012-2022? Why does the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research state that in 2019, only 21% of reported sexual assault cases lead to a criminal proceeding, of which only 10% secured a guilty verdict? 

Can you even fathom a legal system so unsuccessful in prosecuting such a common and psychologically damaging crime? 

Can you blame the 92.3% of victims/survivors who choose not to relive their assault over and over again in front of police and court officials, only to watch their attacker walk free? 

What those statistics essentially tell us, is that there is little to no benefit for women to pursue legal action against crimes of sexual violence. 

What world is this? 

Are you telling me that is the best we can do? 

Are we expected to listen to men retort that it’s not all men forever? 

Are we meant to listen to the Prime Minister, stand in front of protesting women and say that governments of all levels must do better?

It’s time we all started making legitimate moves to fix this problem. 

It’s time that all men recognised the link between ‘locker room banter’ and the events we’re reading about in the news. 

It’s time men chose to be allies to victims, not allies to perpetrators. 

Because this culture – call it rape culture, call it toxic masculinity, call it whatever you like – is affecting all of us. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that future generations aren’t raised in a world where men use aggression to rid themselves of emotions they are told they’re not supposed to express. 

This is not a girls versus boys problem, this is an everyone problem. Because children are not born to hate and hurt, this culture has been learned. 

And now it is time to unlearn it.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of violence, abuse or harm, please seek help using the following support services: 

NSW Police: 000

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 373 732

NSW Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277


If you require support due to the confronting content of this article, please access help using the following resources:

If you are an onshore UTS student, you can access the UTS counselling service for confidential support. Find out more details including contact information here:

Lifeline national crisis helpline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline (free, confidential service for people aged up to 25): 1800 55 1800


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