Common questions and how to respond

Resistance is a normal response to social change. It can occur in any setting and by anyone, regardless of their gender. It often comes when those who benefit from existing inequalities feel that their power and privilege is challenged.

Below are some evidence-based examples of how to respond when you come across resistance to preventing violence against women and gender equality in your work. Remember, there is no one size fits all approach – it depends on the relationship you have with the person, whether they’re curious or disagreeable and the context you’re encountering resistance in.

Illustration showing a group of people saying 'cat calling' and 'sexist joke' and a person standing on their own saying 'c'mon guys that's not okay'

Examples

Click the common questions below to find out how you can respond and read the facts and figures that support the response.

‘If it’s that bad, why doesn’t she just leave?’

How you could respond

“While it might feel frustrating to see a woman continue living with a violent partner, it’s important to think about why we focus on ‘why does she stay?’ rather than ‘why is he violent?’ Asking why a woman doesn’t leave an abusive relationship diverts attention away from holding the perpetrator accountable for their behaviour.”

“There are many barriers to a woman leaving an abusive relationship. For example, the risk of harm to her and her children is much higher when she leaves the perpetrator. She may also not have the financial resources to leave or have nowhere to go.”

Facts and figures

Why it’s extremely difficult for women to leave a violent relationship:

‘What about violence against men?’

How you could respond

“I can hear that you’re concerned about the violence experienced by men. Everyone has the right to feel and be safe. However, the nature, prevalence and impact of the violence experienced by men and women are different and require a different response. Focusing on violence against women does not mean that violence against men is acceptable or less serious.”

“The majority of perpetrators of violence against women and men are male. Our efforts to stop violence against women will also help address violence against men. Promoting healthy masculinities, and challenging the social pressure on men to be tough and aggressive and not talk about their emotions will benefit everyone.”

Facts and figures

'Most of the men I know are good and don't beat women. Only a few bad men use violence.'

How you could respond

“Not all men use violence against women, but all men have a role to prevent it. A perpetrator chooses to use violence, but they don’t make this choice in a vacuum. Their beliefs towards violence are influenced by the cultures that we are all part of and the things we do or say collectively contribute to these cultures. For example, if we don’t speak up against locker room talk or sexist chants, we are creating a culture that normalises violence against women and makes some people believe violence against women is acceptable.”

 

Facts and figures

An expansive body of research shows that the following expressions or drivers of gender inequality predict higher rates of violence against women:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence
  • Rigid gender roles and identities
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

These drivers of violence against women stem from and reinforce discriminatory structures, norms and practices across individual, organisational, instructional and societal levels that collectively create environments where women and men are not considered equal, and violence against women is excused.

Read Our Watch’s Change the Story and Partners in Prevention’s Unpacking the Gendered Drivers of Violence Against Women to learn more about the drivers of violence against women and how they reinforce gender inequality in our everyday life.

'Aren't sexist jokes harmless fun?'

How you could respond

“It can be hard to imagine that a seemingly harmless ‘sexist’ joke and violence against women are linked but they are. Sexist jokes involve belittling, disrespecting women or perpetuating negative stereotypes about women. Collectively, they create a culture where women are worth less. Sexist jokes also normalise disrespectful behaviours or unequal treatment against women – all of these make violence against women more likely to happen.”

Facts and figures

An expansive body of research shows that the following expressions or drivers of gender inequality predict higher rates of violence against women:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence
  • Rigid gender roles and identities
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

These drivers of violence against women stem from and reinforce discriminatory structures, norms and practices across individual, organisational, instructional and societal levels that collectively create environments where women and men are not considered equal, and violence against women is excused.

Read Our Watch’s Change the Story and Partners in Prevention’s Unpacking the Gendered Drivers of Violence Against Women to learn more about the drivers of violence against women and how they reinforce gender inequality in our everyday life.

'Are these gender equity initiatives giving women special treatment? Isn’t this discriminatory against men?'

How you could respond

“We all want to be treated equally and have fair access to resources and opportunities. However, men and women are still not equal in many areas of life. Women face more barriers to accessing resources and opportunities. Women do most unpaid or underpaid care work. They are far more likely to experience family violence and sexual assault. Initiatives that do not address these gender imbalances tend to increase existing inequalities. Gender equity initiatives aim to be fair so that equality can be achieved.”

Facts and figures

'Excessive drinking causes family violence.'

How you could respond

“Not all people who drink are violent to women, and many people who use violence do not drink. Alcohol increases the frequency and intensity of violence perpetrated by men who have already displayed aggression and disrespect towards women, but alcohol alone does not cause family violence. It increases existing patterns of violence and control, which stem from entrenched gender inequality.”

Facts and figures

Excessive use of alcohol is a reinforcing factor of violence against women. A reinforcing factor on its own is not enough for violence to occur. But, if it happens in the context of existing inequalities and disrespect towards women, it increases the severity and frequency of violence.

Read Change the Story to learn more about the reinforcing factors of violence against women. This blog post from VicHealth unpacks the complex relationships between alcohol consumption and family violence.

'Isn’t violence against women more of a problem for some cultures than others?'

How you could respond

“Violence against women exists in all cultures where greater value is placed on men over women, and where there is an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities between them. This includes the dominating Western culture in Australia.”

“Women from marginalised communities experience higher rates of violence because other forms of systematic discrimination – such as racism and colonialism – further deprive them of rights, resources, and opportunities. This provides the context for violence against women to happen more severely and frequently.”

Facts and figures

Violence is committed against women in all parts of our society and it is important that we acknowledge the different ways we talk about it. We often attribute violence in immigrant communities to culturally specific attitudes. Representing violence against women in culturally and linguistically diverse or Aboriginal communities as ‘more’ violent often shifts the focus away from the fact that violence occurs across all cultures and communities.

The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) 2017 studied the attitudes towards gender equality and violence against women of certain demographic groups, including people from non-English speaking backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It found that people from these groups endorse gender equality and understand the nature of violence against women (ANROWS, 2017).

To understand how intersecting inequalities put women from marginalised communities at high risk of experiencing violence, read:

'What about high rates of male suicide? Why is this not a priority?'

How you could respond

“I can hear that you’re worried about men’s mental health and wellbeing. Many reasons account for the high male suicide and death rate. For example, men are more likely to choose lethal suicide methods and are less likely to seek help when they experience distress. These behaviours are linked to social expectations on men to be tough, self-sufficient and show no emotion. Prevention work that challenges these gendered expectations and promotes healthier masculinities will improve the health and wellbeing of everyone.”

Facts and figures

'Haven’t we already achieved gender equality?'

How you could respond

“While we’ve made progress on gender equality over the last few decades, we have a long way to go. Violence against women is widespread. Women still experience high rates of family violence and sexual assault. Women are paid less than men for the same work they do. They do more unpaid or low paid care work, and face more barriers to advancing to leadership roles. It’s important that we continue to work and advocate for gender equality until we are all equal. Gender equality benefits everyone.”

Facts and figures

For statistics on gender equality in Australia, visit:

'Violence against women is caused by men getting so angry they just lose it.'

How you could respond

“All people get angry, but not all people are violent. It’s the perpetrator’s choice to use violence. Research has consistently found men who hold traditional views about gender roles and relationships or who already display aggression and disrespect towards women, are more likely to perpetrate violence against women.”

“Society expects men and boys to be tough, aggressive and stoic, and the use of violence and aggression is often seen as a normal expression of their emotions. This makes some men think it’s natural to use violence if they’re angry or upset. Prevention work challenges these rigid gender stereotypes and supports men to navigate healthier masculinities, including embracing a fuller range of emotions and expressing them in a positive way.”

Facts and figures

  • The Man Box, a study of young Australian men aged 18-30, found that almost 50% of the men interviewed felt that society tells them a man who talks about their worries, fears and problems should not be respected, and that men should handle personal problems on their own. One in four men personally endorsed these social beliefs. In the same study, 67% of men interviewed felt that society expects them to act strong even when they feel scared or nervous, and 50% of them personally endorsed this belief.
    Source: The Men’s Project & Flood, M, (2018) The Man Box: A Study on Being a Young Man in Australia. Jesuit Social Services: Melbourne.
  • The Max Box findings are consistent with international research that shows, while men are emotional, their emotions are often expressed through anger and rage to conform to social norms and expectations. Men who suppress their emotions are more likely to express their feelings through anger, aggression and violence towards others rather than expressing them in healthier ways.
    Read P.47 of Men in focus to learn more about stoicism and suppression of emotion as dominant masculine norms and how these norms directly link to men using violence and committing other harmful behaviours.
    Source: Men in focus: unpacking masculinities and engaging men in the prevention of violence against women (Our Watch, 2019).

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