As told to Clementine Ford My basic job title was ‘interviewer’ and that about sums up what I did. We were employed to interview a cross variety of people for different social studies, for NGOs, for government departments, all kinds of different social research projects. Some of them occur in an ongoing fashion, others are one-off interviews. For this particular study, it was obviously pretty intense because you’re asking a lot of questions that could be potentially triggering. As a man, I was only allowed to interview other men and the women I worked with were only allowed to interview women. All participants were over the age of 18.
You’re just meant to be an objective observer, but it felt quite good when you got a young guy who maybe hadn’t even considered some of the questions and would have moments of awareness during the interview. Some of them seemed to come around to ideas they’d never thought about before. But some of the older blokes questioned the purpose of the study, asking why it was only about women and not violence against men. As someone who was meant to be an impartial interviewer, I just responded to those questions by highlighting some statistics about violence against women and then explaining this particular study was addressing that issue. I wasn’t allowed to say too much because it loads the questions and taints the research. You need to be really impartial so that respondents can answer based on what they know and think, not what they think you want them to say.
A lot of older men had trouble understanding some of the issues around violence, especially pompous men who thought they were the smartest person on earth. They often denied things were violent and then tried to define what violence was. I found it difficult sometimes not to say anything. I remember one bloke telling me that there was no such thing as rape in a marriage. Everything he said was wrong, it was just about ownership and entitlement. At the end I just wanted to say to him, ‘Look. You should maybe be in jail.’ That stuff’s enraging and it can be quite demoralising to hear. There were other people who were doing the interviewing who needed to take a break every so often.
I’d say from the outset that I had a pretty established idea of what constituted violence against women and the importance of talking about it. My mum grew up in a fairly abusive household and was married very young. Her husband wasn’t necessarily a bad guy or abusive, but he had very narrow ideas about what women should and shouldn’t do in the home. She read The Female Eunuch and that prompted her to leave him.
When she told him she was going, he said, “I should have never let you read all those books.” She loves telling that story. She ended up getting involved in a women’s crisis centre. I remember her telling about the women who would come in with vaginal infections, maybe from their husbands raping them. They were told by the onsite doctor that they couldn’t have sex for awhile and they said that their husbands would ignore that. In the end, they suggested that the doctor paint iodine on their vaginas so that they had something to show their husbands to ‘prove’ that they were really no able to have sex because it made them look infected and ‘unclean’. That story always stuck with me.
Still, I was definitely surprised by some things. At one stage in the interview, we asked if respondents thought women with disabilities were more or less likely to experience violence by those around them, or if there was no difference. Some people believed there was no difference and others believed they were less likely. To me, the answer was obvious – women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than less. But people still answered differently, even though it seemed like a loaded question. I guess the way the research is done, it doesn’t give them time to think about what the ‘right’ answer is supposed to be so they end up answering with their gut thoughts.
I found that reading the questions made more of an impact than just hearing them. In that sense, I think that visual stats are really important and persuasive. I thought this study might be leading to a billboard campaign actually. Hopefully this will still lead to something very visible. I think violence against women with disabilities deserves a campaign all to itself.
I discovered that there are no clear guides to who feels this way. I came across well educated, middle aged, wealthy engineers who had terrible views but who thought they were right because of how they were valued in society. Then there were other people who are marginalised by the community who exhibited really excellent politics.
We still have so far to go though. I think Australia is way too far behind and people get so defensive about the topic of violence against women. It’s f—ked that one in five people think that women are partly to blame for their own sexual assault if they’ve been drinking. People need to realise that they’re not being attacked personally when we talk openly about these things. Some men become immediately defensive when it comes to discussing male violence against women. They need to get over their persecution complexes.
I think the younger generations have better building blocks. They have a better ability to understand privilege and entitlement. I see more men on Facebook getting more and more vocal about it now and sharing articles with positive messages. Some men who I never thought would necessarily become engaged have done, so that’s good.
But there’s so much work to be done that it can be a little bit overwhelming. By the end of a day conducting these interviews, that’s how I’d feel. There’s just so much work to be done.