Here's how, as a young man, I think men can help

By Daniel Cash
Updated May 23 2024 - 8:01am, first published 5:30am

In the past few weeks the shameful treatment of women has been front and centre in the Australian media. While much has been said on the issue, there has been little contribution from young men.

I expect this is because women have heard over and over that men must "be better" yet things have remained unequal and unwelcoming.

Why would a new generation of men offer anything different?

WATCH: Originally, March 19 was chosen, with 30,000 women turning out to meetings and protests across Europe in 1910. But it was not until 1928 that it was recognised in Australia.

My optimism for improvement, like that of many others, has been eroded lately. As a man I can't imagine how women feel living this daily.

Yet a disgraceful, belittling speech recently given halfway across the world has demonstrated something we can do to change.

Presenting a commencement address at Kansas' Benedictine College a few days ago, star US NFL player Harrison Butker offered an insight "for the ladies present".

"Some of you may go on to lead successful careers ...", he said, "but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world".

Happy to speak on behalf of womankind, Butker then particularised things by singling out his spouse: "I can tell you that my beautiful wife Isabelle would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother".

A redeeming moment was his quoting Taylor Swift - but the record-breaking artist, likely one of the most famous people on earth, was referred to only as "my teammate's girlfriend".

Social media's virus-like reach

Empowered by social media with a virus-like reach, Butker's chauvinism has been viewed by young people the world over, including in Australia.

It has incited and exacerbated similar sentiments of prejudice which exist within our borders. Girls and women have been told that their many hopes are nothing compared to their role in the home.

Butker's words inspire despair. In their backwardness they remind us that the treatment of women is an issue which outlasts news cycles, a problem which exists regardless of what's trending on X.

To a pragmatist, however, Butker's speech offers an example of what young men need to do to begin rectifying deep-set problems.

I realised this when I showed some friends a clip of the address.

A mock weighing scale showing a man weighing heavier than a woman. Picture Shutterstock
A mock weighing scale showing a man weighing heavier than a woman. Picture Shutterstock

While we concurred that it was an embarrassment and a shining example of the sort of toxicity which belittles women, one comment stuck out: "everybody's entitled to their opinions, though".

I certainly appreciate the idea.

In our divisive times I applaud the defence of disagreeing agreeably, of respecting different views and beliefs.

Voltaire said it well: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

Yet there's more to it than that.

Sure, Butker and others equally backward are entitled, unfortunately, to think what they think. Though if my generation is to build a world where women are equal and safe, the powers-that-be need to consider more strictly what views are given such far-reaching platforms.

My peers and I have grown up on our phones; with apps like TikTok and YouTube there has come a free-flowing stream of unchecked commentators. Andrew Tate, an influencer who is charged with rape and who believes women should be submissive to men, is a popular one.

The presence of these voices has resulted in a continued, even inflated manifestation of misogyny - their impact is exemplified in the boys at Yarra Valley Grammar who rated female classmates from "wifeys" to "unrapeable". Reflecting this, a recent UK survey found that those aged 16-29 hold more negative views about feminism than men over 60.

Even the most well-meaning of us young men suffer the result of these influences.

It shows itself when we interrupt a woman when she is giving her opinion or insight, forgetting how easily we can speak louder than her. Or when we applaud emotion in men - how sensitive and progressive! - yet dismiss it as hysterical in women.

To counter this influence, then, we must make social media better.

We must pay due attention to federal legislation for content regulation.

We must heed the findings of the eSafety Commissioner, must answer the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety's need for permanence.

And for men online like Butker, less blatantly misogynistic than others, we must fight fire with fire.

If it is social media that carries messages like his far and wide, then it is social media which will facilitate resistance against such views.

My generation, in taking to our various apps to report and block and discuss and condemn, can contribute to this resistance.

I saw a great example of this yesterday. An Instagram friend, a boy a few years younger than me, mocked Butker's backwardness. He posted a photo of Butker's mother's LinkedIn, crossing out her title "Physicist at Emory University" and replacing it with "mother and wife" - an ironic play on the message that a woman's greatest aspiration is as a homemaker. Below, perhaps less subtly, he wrote, "according to butthead Butker, his mum's life only started when she gave birth to him" - but you get the gist.

Steps like this won't fix the problem entirely.

But, with the absence of meaningful change in Australia, it's imperative that we try.

  • Daniel Cash is a first-year law student at the Australian National University.