What Men Can Do in 2018

Benjamin Law

In some ways, 2017 felt like a year of correctives. So much of it was heinous – Americans voted a known sexual predator for president; Australians got a wasteful, painful $122 million postal survey that dragged on for eternity – but something seemed to personally change in us too.

Injustices seemed to mobilise people in ways we hadn’t seen before. In response to Trump’s ascendence, we had the Women’s March – the biggest global protest movement in human history. In response to a divisive survey on the rights of LGBTIQ people, the Yes campaign won the Australian public and parliament convincingly. Whether it was about Manus, Adani or Indigenous constitutional recognition, it was as if people decided they were done. People in my life who used to be apathetic about politics knocked on doors, took to the streets, donated money and picked up phones.

For women especially, it was a watershed moment. There’s a reason why the #MeToo movement became Time’s Person of the Year (knocking off Trump). Women looked around, realised there were enough of them in positions of power to proceed safely and started tearing walls down with their bare hands.

And make no mistake: it was women who did the work. From female journalists at the New York Times to female journalists at Fairfax and the ABC, they were brutally efficient and organised. All those names – Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Australia’s Don Burke – only came tumbling down due to exposés done by women. And though the stories were hideous to behold, it also felt like a boil was being lanced. Horrific, but necessary. Vaguely satisfying in a gross kind of way, too.

But while these conversations were happening, I noticed women in my life vent other frustrations. Why was it contingent on women, yet again, to do the heavy lifting and give over their time and emotional labour? Why weren’t men engaged in the conversation? Why weren’t men calling each other out or whistleblowing? Initially, I know I backed off because I didn’t want to ‘intrude’ on women’s conversations. I now realise that was the wrong instinct. I know other men were worried they were going to ‘get it wrong’. But here’s three ways I’ve learned we can make things right.

Stop Other Men From Being Shit

Let’s be clear about one thing about sexual harassment, abuse and assault:  this is a male problem. Do you intereact with women colleagues in ways you’d never dream of with men? Do you comment on their physical appearance as a way of socialising with other men? Would you feel comfortable if a female colleague overheard that conversation? Start pulling each other up on our behaviour (“I didn’t think you were that kind of guy”), given we have so much less to lose. You don’t need to be a perpetrator to be a bad egg. Not doing anything about it is just as crap.

Put Your Money – or Time – Where Your Mouth Is

Talk is cheap. Want to stop workplace sexual harassment at work? Good for you. Now here comes the difficult part: what are you going to do to create change? What new policies and strategies will you implement? Will you start offering family violence leave as standard policy? When will you announce those changes publicly? Need help? The Australian Human Rights Commission is a good place to start.

Know When to Shut Up

And finally: as much as it’s important to speak up, let’s also know when to shut up, fellas. It’s impossible to listen to women when you’re also listening to the sound of your own voice. And let’s do all of the above without expecting to be praised, given women do the work every other bloody day.


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Benjamin LawBen Law is the prolific writer of The Family Law (also an SBS tv series), Sh*t Asian Mothers Say, Gaysia, Law School and the Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101. You can follow him on Twitter @MrBenjaminLaw.

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