‘I think every day that [a] woman is killed or a child is killed is a failing of society in some way.’ Heather Douglas, Professor of Law, Queensland University
This statement from an expert in domestic violence, quoted by an ABC news article is a response to the horrific events of Wednesday 19th February 2020. Hannah Clarke and her children Trey, Aaliyah, and Laianah were doused with petrol and set alight in their car, killed by estranged husband and father, Rowan Baxter. This tragedy is one that leaves us as a nation lost for words, yet one that is repeated with frightening regularity.
For me, an incident like this and the fact that it is not one in isolation begs so many questions, and they can’t all be answered in this piece. However, if what Professor Douglas says is correct, and I believe it is, these events are a failing of society. Where has society failed, and how can we do better?
The article referenced above shows that the couple’s domestic situation was known to police and potentially other services. It would be easy to say that this knowledge should have led to more decisive action and perhaps it should have. However, this is only dealing with the symptoms and may not have in fact stopped the horrific events of that Wednesday morning. Nonetheless, it will be interesting over the coming weeks to hear of any analysis of the situation and to see who knew what, when. Not for the purposes of blame, but in the hope of more collaborative approaches to service delivery.
I believe the root causes are much deeper than that. The failing of society is not, as some would like to believe, that women are stepping up, being more assertive, taking on leadership roles that were previously the domain of men. Instead perhaps, at least in part, where society has failed, is in the recognising of this necessary demise of the patriarchy and preparing boys and men for this sense of disempowerment, but ultimately for the better role they can play in society.
Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing to the extreme where men are disempowered completely, but I hope not because just as the continued disempowerment of women has not led to a flourishing society neither will the total disempowerment of men. If the goal is for all of us to live lives of wellbeing, then I feel something different is needed.
Please don’t hear me saying this is the answer to everything, however, something like this could be part of what is needed. I belong to a men’s group where I have the opportunity to share with other men who are trying to own the negative aspects of their character and choose to be the best men they can for the others in their lives. This is a place where the macho culture is replaced by a refreshing vulnerability and growing awareness of both the negative aspects of masculinity and personal shadows, as well as what it is to be a good man for others. I believe more spaces like this need to be created, not just for 45-year-old men, but for boys, male adolescents, young adults, and so forth so that the culture of toxic masculinity can be addressed in every stage of development. The purpose behind this is not for boys and men to be shamed but to redefine what true manhood is and how best to live that out in the world in such a way that provides space, love, and light for all around them.
Family and domestic violence support services in Australia:
1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
Women's Crisis Line 1800 811 811
Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277