This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you.
People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact
1800RESPECT 1800 737 732, a 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service.
This podcast is recorded as part of Safer pathways projects in prevention of violence against women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services.
The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder nor of MCWH.
About Rodney Vlais
Rodney is a psychologist and men’s behaviour change supervisor and trainer who has worked for over 15 years in helping to improve programs that engage men who cause family violence harm towards the safety and well-being of women, children and others affected by men’s violence and controlling behaviours.
About Vahideh Eisaei
Vahideh Eisaei coordinates Making the Links Project, helping migrants and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing, or at risk of, family and domestic violence or sexual assault, to access support services. Before joining MCWH in 2019, Vahideh has worked in Family Violence Intervention. Vahideh has completed her Bachelor of Music at Tehran University and migrated to Australia in 2008 where she completed her Master of Music. Vahideh speaks Farsi and understand Dari. Vahideh is a Qanun player and has performed with many ensembles throughout Europe, the Middle East and Australia. After finishing her master’s degree, she enjoyed being part of a research project studying children music among new and emerging communities in Perth, Western Australia. Her love of children’s music led her to work with toddlers, preschool and school-age children.
About Making the Links
For migrant women living in regional Victoria, the pathways to family violence-related support can be unclear. Strengthening community knowledge and confidence to use support services in regional Victoria is a two way street.
Making the Links is an innovative and collaborative project to link migrant women living in regional Victoria to mainstream family and domestic violence and sexual assault services by building capacity on both sides.
Vahideh: This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you. People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service. This podcast is recorded as part of several(?) Pathways Project in Prevention of Violence Against Women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services. The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder, nor of MCWH.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I pay my respects to Aboriginal elders past, present and emerging, and I acknowledge that as migrants to this country, we benefit daily from the displacement of Aboriginal people and colonisation of their land.
Hello, I’m Vahideh from Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, and you’re listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project that aims to help migrant and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing or at risk of family violence and sexual assault to access support services.
Why do we say migrant and refugee at MCWH? There are lots of times that people use to talk about migrant and refugee communities. At MCWH we use the term migrant and refugee to describe anyone living in Australia who was born overseas or whose parents or grandparents were born overseas in a predominantly non-English speaking country. We say migrant and refugee to highlight the impacts of migration and settlement processes on women’s health and wellbeing. It reminds us that the barriers we face are mostly because of systems and policies, not because of cultures or countries we come from.
In this episode, I will be talking to Rodney Vlais on the importance of looking at Patriarca structures in violence against women. Rodney is a psychologist and men’s behaviour change supervisor and trainer who has worked for over 15 years in helping to improve programs that engage men who cause family violence harm towards the safety and well-being of women, children and others affected by men’s violence and controlling behaviours.
Rodney, thank you for accepting our invitation to be here today.
Rodney: No, thank you Vahideh. Really, really pleased to be able to contribute and to share some thoughts.
Vahideh: Thank you. Rodney, patriarchy is mainly described as men control and men’s power, and it is a social system and exists in all cultures and communities. But I’m very interested to know what comes to your mind when you hear patriarchy.
Rodney: Hmm. I think Vahideh, I think the way that you’ve described it as really affecting almost every aspect of our life is is so, so accurate. You know, patriarchy is both insidious and also quite really blunt and blatant in how it shapes things for all of us.
I guess for me, particularly when I think about the work that I’ve done with men who choose to use family violence, but also more generally thinking about men in relationships, men that I’ve known throughout my life, or many of them and I’ve known throughout my life, it’s been around in part that their expectations of of what they should and shouldn’t do. What their partner should and shouldn’t do, what their role is, what their partner’s role is, what ways of contributing to family life they prioritise or don’t prioritise, what bits of work that goes into family life they see or don’t see or value or don’t value. And that, for me, one of the ways of patriarchy works in this is that these expectations that men have are held not just as a hope, but often as a role or as a taken for granted truth.
Expectations that aren’t really negotiated with their partner, or with other family members, but are just assumed. Expectations, not just about who does what housework, but things like the emotional labour or the emotional work in the family. Expectations about who might be mindful and thinking about how their children are travelling emotionally or in their friendship networks or in their social networks. Expectations about who reaches out to support others in their community or in their family. Expectations about space, about what things men feel they’ve got the right to do without needing to ask or to negotiate.
So I often see patriarchy working in ways that mean that, you know, men not necessarily are just holding hopes and negotiating those hopes with others, but tend to believe some things as quite hard and fast rules and just see that as the way that things are and act on those rules without necessarily an awareness of the impact of those assumptions and beliefs on others.
Vahideh: How do you think this affects the gender roles in different communities? Do you see a difference in different communities, how it affects the gender roles?
Rodney: I think in answering this I need to locate myself as being of basically European background. My my father was born in the former Yugoslav. My mum here in Western Australia based on, you know, a British ancestry. So my response to this will be shaped by some of the cultures that I have grown up in and what that means for how I see the world and my blindspots to a range of different cultures.
I think every culture has things that, you know, we in our cultures are looking to guard things that are precious for us. Values, ways of being, ways of weaving community together. Things that we want to pass down through generations. How we see respect. How we build community. Values around spirit and religion. I think one of the things that I do find is that each culture, the way patriarchy works in different cultures, is that some of those ways that we tend to guard things within our cultures become very fixed, become very fixed in a way that solidify gender inequalities. Every culture is living. Every culture is changing. Every culture both has incredibly important and precious tradition, but also needs to adapt and to change. And I guess I find in just about every culture, one of the ways that patriarchy works is that particular stories about what men should do and what women should do, particular stories around what men have the right to, what women may not have the right to. Particular stories about the different spaces that men might take up and that women might take up or what their roles are, tend to become quite fixed.
And those stories, just reflecting on my culture and Christianity’s struggle with patriarchy, how much of that is actually part of a living, breathing culture that we all negotiate together versus particular rules and privileges and entitlements that are set by men and that reinforce patriarchy?
And so for me, I’m really interested in what conversations do we have about how we both value tradition. Value what we regard ferociously in our culture and don’t want to lose, that can be a threat, but in a way that’s not used as an excuse to maintain gender inequalities. It’s not used as an excuse for men to just keep maintaining the privileges of, you know, whether that be not needing to cook, whether that be of only being able to operate in particular spaces that women aren’t supposed to be in. Of men being able to control decision making within the family. That’s a lot of where my interest is. How can we focus on preserving culture, but in a way that doesn’t use as an excuse to further entrench quite significant gender inequality?
Vahideh: Exactly, culture is not an excuse to use violence. And you just said that’s your interest and it’s interesting for me to know that, do you have any answers to that? How can we preserve culture and traditions and some of the things that communities or people believe in, but still prevent gender inequality or violence?
Rodney: Yeah, I think it’s a very important question and and one that, you know, I don’t have any easy answers to. I think one of the important things around that is, is who is contributing to this? So when decisions need to be made about who attends what events or who does the preparation for a birthday party or for a cultural gathering, or who will look after the children during that time, or who will take time off from work in order for that to happen, or who will make what decisions about, you know, who to invite.
Who has a voice in that? Who has a voice and actually being able to enter into the discussion around how do we not use this as an excuse to just fall behind very stereotypical gendered roles, but also really value what’s important for us in our culture? And for me, this is just often not talked about. It’s just assumed. It’s just assumed that men will do particular things, women will do particular things.
It’s just assumed that if women move out of the territory that’s set for them and try something different, that they’re being not a good woman in their culture or that they’re being disrespectful. Rather than them exercising maybe more of some of their freedoms and ways that they want to expand. We’re not having conversations around if we want a society where there’s more space for women to move into different areas of their lives, to not be boxed in in some very traditional ways, then what does that mean for the space that men can move into? What’s in it for men to be doing more direct care for children? What’s in it for men to not have to fall behind toxic masculinity? What’s in it for men to be able to become happy in ways which is not just about financially providing, et cetera, et cetera. You know there’s opportunities here for men. So for me, it’s about how we have these conversations and how we value women’s voices, women’s thoughts, how we make it safe for women to contribute their views, because otherwise it’s so easy for women and children, when they’re wanting to try to negotiate this stuff, for them to just be criticised as not respecting culture. Rather than their voices being heard and being part of an equal negotiation of how we value culture, traditions, spirit, the values, but in a way that enables men to be more well-rounded people and also for women to not be boxed in in the ways that many women still are because of patriarchy.
Vahideh: And we know that patriarchy is in different levels in the society. It is in family, in the communities and in a society as well. Can you please think of some of the policies and systems in the society that we live in, for example, in Australia that may reinforce patriarchy?
Rodney: Hmm, totally. And I think one way of thinking about this is looking through the life span of influences that everybody is exposed to in you know almost right from from from birth. So if we look, for example, in schools and despite schools best attempts to create equal opportunities for boys, girls and for others who don’t identify as gender binary. By the age of five or six, even a little bit earlier than that, three or four, we’re still finding children falling into fairly stereotypical roles. Whether they be particular colours that they prefer, whether that be about pressures and expectations to be more or less adventurous, whether it be how children are seen if they’re loud – oh he’s just the boy, he’s just expected to be loud, whereas she’s being disrespectful if she’s being being loud. So, you know, in part, there are influences from a very, very early age that’s spread through by media, by television, by expectations on boys and girls from a very early age.
Just what we see in terms of who has power, you know, who has most of the power – political power or economic power or who’s head of corporations. So there’s those processes and policies and structures which are obviously maintaining inequalities, where the the amount of effort that women need to go through in order to obtain a position of power in a company or in our parliament is often far, far, far greater than what men need to go through, because all the way along there are so many insidious processes where if a woman succeeds, it’s being put down to luck or she’s valued because of her looks rather than her intelligence. Where if a woman says something or a man says something, he will be seen as more intelligent than her, whereas for her she’ll be valued and seen in different ways than through through her intelligence. There’s the sexist comments, even those benevolent sexist comments that occur so often in our society and those little putdowns of women. There’s the ways in which women are still sexualised in pornography and in pop music, where there’s still so many ways in which women’s bodies are being used to sell. And there are so many things in our society that values some things and not others. That value competition, that value aggression. That don’t value care or community. Look at how little aged care workers or child care workers are paid compared to the pay of other professions, which is more much about competing, much more about, you know, winning over other companies or about growth or about expansion.
Economically, communities of care or looking out for each other are just paid so much less and valued so much less, which partly explains the gender pay gap. So, you know, I think I’ve rambled across a wide range of things here. But unfortunately, patriarchal processes are just reinforced in so many different ways from what children observe as they develop, to what they see their mothers and their fathers take responsibility for, or not responsibility for. How they’re modelled into how they should be girls or they should be boys right through to very big picture structural inequalities where power is still kept largely by men, and that the things that women and particularly women of colour need to go through in order to go into positions of power with so many barriers in those ways.
Vahideh: You are listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women and children project.
Vahideh: We are back and we are talking to Rodney Vlais on patriarchy structures in communities. Rodney, one of the consequences of a patriarchal society is men’s entitlement. And I think you mention it. So society’s telling men that you are entitled to use violence and control. And this often leads to coercive control and abuse and violence towards women and children in a family. In consultation with family violence service providers in Making the Links project, family violence services reports that their unfamiliarity with how patriarchal structures function results in not being able to support victims survivors to the best of their ability. This is really, really interesting for me because it actually affects their ability to be able to support victims survivors. So how important is it to understand patriarchal structure in family violence response, in terms of risk management?
Rodney: Yea Vahideh, I believe this is really critical because one of the important shifts that we still really need to make as a society is moving away from a focus on well, why does she put up with it? Why doesn’t she leave? And trying to shift away from those questions, those really victim blaming questions towards, well, why don’t you stop what he’s doing? You know, we’re still really focussed on victim survivors, on women and children who are experiencing violence and the choices they make or don’t make, rather than putting the focus on, well, what’s enabling men to continue using violence and coercive control? And this is where the links with patriarchy are so strong.
Part of patriarchy is doubting women’s intelligence. Doubting women’s experiences. Part of patriarchy is falling on the side of believing men. Part of patriarchy is seeing women as deficient as well, there must be something wrong that they doing. That there must be something that they’re doing to tick him off or aggravate him. The sexism and the patriarchy leads women to be interrogated, women to be questioned, women to be sick and doubted. And of course, when there’s so much of those pressures and messages and women and victim survivors, they can start to doubt themselves rather than an outrage directed towards why are men entrapping and controlling women and frightening and terrorising them.
So, understanding family violence and understanding why women make the choices that they make is critical for supporting women and children and helping women and children have more faith in the services and supports that are available. You know, if a woman has tried to reach out for help, but she’s been told to it must be something that she’s doing or it’s not that bad or that if it was really bad, she would have left by now. It’s going to make it not very likely that she’s going to reach out for help again. If she sees within her community efforts, sometimes very well-meaning efforts, but nevertheless efforts to resolve, in inverted commas, conflict within family, through mediators coming in and trying to sort problems out. When she knows it is not about conflict. It’s not about a dispute. It’s about her being afraid and terrorised in her life being controlled by him. But if she sees family violence issues being handled as a relationship issue, as a conflict issue, rather than the focus being put on well want help and support does he need to change his behaviour and how can she be supported to stay safe, she may not go for help anywhere.
So, the social responses to family violence within communities is vital and all communities to some extent, unfortunately, still see this as a relationship issue. As a fight between couples or between families, rather than understanding the crux of the matter. And it’s about, generally, a man who is using his power that comes with an entitlement and privilege of being a man, to get his way. And that doesn’t mean that he isn’t struggling himself or that he isn’t depressed or that he hasn’t got a lot of difficulties in himself that he’s working through. But the privilege comes in, the choices he makes. You know, if he is feeling jealous or angry or frustrated, part of the privilege that many men have and take, is in order to feel better, they will blame their partner. So if he’s feeling insecure about things, if he’s finding it difficult to trust his partner, if he has some worries and fears. Rather than him taking responsibility to work that out himself, he will blame his partner for making him feel jealous and believe it’s her that’s causing him to have these feelings. And for him, he then starts to see himself as a victim and that he’s being treated unfairly by her. And then he believes he’s got the right to start controlling her, controlling her movements to, in inverted commas, stop her from making him feel jealous.
And, you know, this is the crux of many men’s choices to use violence and control. Making use of the privilege, making use of their power to choose violence, choose controlling behaviours, because I don’t like how they’re feeling and it’s easier for them to blame her and then to try to control her for what she is doing wrong in his eyes. Rather than him taking responsibility for his own behaviour and realising that well his partner is probably just wanting to have normal friendships and that he’s the one with a problem of insecurity and jealousy, and that that’s something that he needs to take responsibility for. So there are a whole lot of reasons why it’s very difficult sometimes for women to leave. Why that might worry about their children, why they might feel that it’s going to really affect the relationship between their extended family and his extended family. I think the patriarchy keeps us drawn to why doesn’t she leave? If it was really bad, she would get out rather than that focus on what’s enabling him to keep using fear and terror and to control her world and to reduce her space for action so that he can keep getting his way. Why are we allowing that to keep happening and why are we pretending that this is a relationship issue, rather than an issue about his behaviour?
I think the final thing that I’ll say with that, my apologies Vahideh, you know, I have answered this question in very lengthy circles, is that there still is an opportunity for men. And it’s something that I’ve come back to earlier. In my work with men who have chosen to use family violence, you know, I haven’t met too many that are really happy about their lives, happy about how things are going. This behaviour has real consequences for men as well. And I think there really is, there genuinely is opportunities not just for men are using violence, but men more generally to have to think about am I in a bit of a madbox? Am I just taking for granted particular things that I should or shouldn’t do? And am I setting some rules here? Not just rules for my partner, but also for myself and does that my children as well as I could? Do my children tend to go towards my partner rather than me when they’re upset because my partner is doing more of the emotional work than me, and do I want that to continue to happen? There is some sadness there. Do I know my children as well as I could? So I think there are real opportunities here for men’s fulfilment that doesn’t mean abandoning culture or betraying the things that we guard against or guard so intensely. But I think there are opportunities to negotiate being, you know, more wider, more varied men. And I think it’s part and parcel of understanding, listening to women more, hearing women’s views, and us not taking up so much space in ways that prevents women from leading fulfilling lives.
Vahideh: Thank you, Rodney. I think you mentioned really great points there about promoting healthy masculinities and women leadership as well. It’s very important to hear women voice, what is their cultural background? It’s important to hear their voice, their values, their beliefs, and also understand what masculinity is and gender role might mean in their culture to be able to understand the social structures of that culture. Do you agree?
Rodney: You know, I think on the one hand, there is something perhaps positive you could do there around, you know, listening to a woman’s voice and experience. Yet at the same time, there are things that men, I think, need to do and work out a bit for ourselves rather than always waiting to hear women’s views and women’s stories. And I think women are rightly just utterly fed up with trying to get men to understand the terror that occurs in some of what they’re experiencing or how common domestic and family violence is. Or what it exactly means to be a victim survivor. So I think there is some very understandable impatience that women have given how long it’s taking for men to understand how intense and how vital this issue is.
But at the same time, part of trying to decrease patriarchy is for men to start to look at how much space is being taken up, how much space are we taking up in a meeting, how much space we taking up at home. How much space are we taking up in making decisions about things? How much space are we taking up in our physical space?
How much space are we taking up in terms of our needs. How much time as a man have I spent a day today thinking about my needs versus wondering about my partner’s needs? And the more space men take up, the less space to risk for women to be able to have that voice, to take that leadership role that you’re talking about Vahideh. And if the space is dominated by men, if we’re always putting our needs forward. If we’re always putting our thoughts forward, if we’re always talking about what we think, then women have to take stronger and stronger actions to try to take up some space. And again, with our patriarchy, it means that women are criticised for being disrespectful, unruly, rebellious, for not being a woman. Because if they have few opportunities to exercise leadership, if their voices aren’t heard, then women have to be louder, have to shout, have to be more intrusive because no one wants to just be boxed in as a doormat and be completely unseen and for their experiences to be invisible.
So, I think it’s both about opportunities and about women’s leadership and women’s voices. But patriarchy is around men thinking about how much space do I take up in particular areas of my life. How much my thinking about her and my children’s needs and experiences and their preferences and what they want? And are there particular areas of life that we’re just not giving much attention to, like, as I mentioned before, how my children are experiencing things or how my partner’s feeling about our relationship at the moment. When’s the last time that I thought about how well we’re communicating? You know, women will often think about that more. They do more of that emotional type of work. And what does it mean for men to really not step up to the plate and take responsibility for those things?
Vahideh: I think it’s very important to understand that, as you said, patriarchy is, you know, a universal issue, and you said that each one of us could play a role in promoting healthy masculinities or how to avoid and prevent and reinforce patriarchal society. I think this directly impact reducing violence against women and children, as you mentioned, too.
Thank you, Rodney. We’re at the end of our talk. And I was wondering if there is anything that you would like to add?
Rodney: I think ending patriarchy or working towards decreasing patriarchy in a way does mean that boys and men take risks and it’s so easy. And one of the ways of patriarchy works is that if boys or men try to do something that’s a bit out of the man box then they’re immediately labelled as gay. They’re immediately labelled as disrespecting our culture. You know, I think some of those ways in which men can so easily be criticised in a culture which doesn’t value femininity, that doesn’t value men stepping outside of the manbox. That can still so easily criticise people who might be seen as not heterosexual or not seen as gender binary.
But I think my experience, most boys and men are a bit fed up with the man box and are a bit fed up with how they’re boxed in by masculinity. So I guess the final thing that I would say is, is really encouraging some discussion amongst boys and amongst men around, you know, what does it mean to be a man in our culture? What does it mean to hold our values? And are there particular pressures and ways of being a boy and a man which don’t really fit with who I really want to be? I think there’s some really important questions to encourage boys and men to reflect upon.
Vahideh: Such a pleasure having you on this episode, Rodney. Thank you for listening to us.
Rodney: No problem. Thank you for the opportunity Vahideh. I really appreciate it.
This was presented through Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project coordinated by MCWH and funded by the Australian government’s Department of Social Services.
People impacted by sexual assault, domestic and family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling and support service.
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