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(Eureka Street)

Is breaking the “man box” the key to ending domestic violence, asks Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ. Source: Eureka Street.

In recent years, both public awareness and condemnation of domestic violence have greatly increased. Once it was commonly met with silence and resignation. More recently, however, its extent and its serious effects are widely recognised and deplored. 

Overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and children, it is now more attentively policed and subject to heavy penalties. These developments are important in registering the disapproval of society against domestic violence, but they do not of themselves prevent people from reoffending. Neither do they address the reasons why men act violently, nor discourage young people from doing so.

The risk inherent in focusing on men’s behaviour and on its punishment is that it will lead us to belittle men as a whole, or to see men who act violently as monsters and not as persons. To be incurious and dismissive of people rarely helps them to change.

If women and children are to be free from violence, the men responsible for violence need to be seen and respected as persons – even as we reject their behaviour. The attitudes and beliefs that influence their behaviour need to be recognised, and they and boys today to be introduced to a better way of expressing their masculinity.  

In building this respect and understanding a recent and beautifully written report is exemplary. The Jesuit Social Services Men’s Project initiated the Man Box 2024 report on how men perceive masculinity in Australia. The name Man Box might initially seem to imply disrespect, suggesting that it places men into a box containing undesirable specimens of the human race. In the research, however, the Man Box insists on respect. 

The Man Box is not about boxing people in but about releasing them from a socially constructed box that diminishes them. 

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

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Is breaking the ‘man box’ the key to ending domestic violence (Eureka Street)