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How Joe Hildebrand made the murder of a woman about his feelings | Van Badham

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Commentator Joe Hildebrand informed me this morning that one of my Twitter followers is a murderer.

He can’t tell me which one, of course. He’s speaking statistically, not to me direct, in a comment piece he published to justify the remarks he made on Studio 10 earlier this week.

In the show Hildebrand was in a conversation with activist Phil Cleary, held in the wake of another brutal alleged murder of a woman, Courtney Herron. Victoria Assistant Police Commissioner, Luke Cornelius has said “violence against women is absolutely about men’s behaviour”.

Cleary – whose own sister was murdered by a man in 1987 – urged the need for men to collectively address the sexism of pervasive cultural traditions. The overwhelming narrative of the culture we’ve inherited still positions women as expendable objects, deserving of lesser status while defining “masculinity” as a capacity for physical force and brutality. The moral obligation of men who didn’t want women to be murdered, argued Cleary, was “to explain to men everywhere how we’ve got to revisit our relationship to women and the position of women in society.”

Hildebrand took umbrage. “I don’t really understand where this is coming from,” he said. “There is nothing dark in my heart.”

“I didn’t say in your heart,” responded Cleary, in a conversation that was supposed to be about the murder of a woman in the context of a culture that deprioritises women and which lasted precisely 4:23 seconds before it was suddenly about Joe Hildebrand.

It was the perfect demonstration of what has long been known on the internet – yes, for nearly a decade – the “not all men” meme. When Vox was writing about when men “remind the speaker that ‘not all men’ do something, they derail what could be a productive conversation … and that little qualifier … recentres their feelings as the central part of the dialogue” it was in 2014, not actually this week.

Hildebrand went on to refer to himself 43 times in the subsequent five minutes of discussion.

On both the issue and the personalisation, he has doubled down. “I was asked what I thought about Victoria police’s comments,” he began, “I thought it was a really nonsensical thing to say.”

Only 1 in 23,000 men are murders, he said, so “is mass reflection of this really going to stop that one man from killing?”

The police, advocacy organizations and the recommendations of a royal commission suggest, well, yes. They have decades of research to draw on, like that mentioned here, here, here, here, here and here. The persistency of unequal gender roles are overwhelmingly the conditioning factor for gender-based violence.

Either we can truthfully have the conversation about how we work together to transform the social understanding of those gender roles or – do what, exactly?

We all just have to live with the fact that every community in Australia with 23,000 men in it – from a Twitter follower count to a Facebook page, a football club to a country town – contains a murderer? Research be damned, let’s not do anything about it?

Let’s allow more than 100 male murderers to wander Sydney alone… before, of course, we add to their number the rapists, the bashers, the abusers, the thousands and thousands of men at the end of #metoo allegations, the criminals who don’t even register in the crime statistics because women maintain some strange notion that people don’t take crimes against them seriously.

“People still commit murder” despite powerful disincentives, writes someone who probably by now should have heard of an “anti-terrorism initiative”. But, pfft, whatever, don’t get het up about this dead women stuff. Roll with what life gives you, folks. Chillax.

There is something more precise to be identified from these events than is covered just by their inclusion in the #notallmen discourse.

This what I would call the Masculine Insistence Paradox – a man passionately refuses to share responsibility for the perpetration of sexist narratives and dangerous gender roles and by doing so affirms both.

“I don’t see how me reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered,” the man said.

No, you don’t, Joe. And – I really hate to say it – but maybe that’s something we should all discuss.

  • Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist

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