Since the genesis of theWhite Ribbon movement in Australia, the endorsement of community representatives, particularly men, as Ambassadors has been a central feature of our mission to end men’s violence against women. Our Ambassador Program has been highly successful, although it hasn’t been without its critics.
The original thinking behind our Ambassador Program in 2003 was for every Australian man to become a White Ribbon Ambassador. Whilst this model of campaigning saw many successes, and made significant strides in spreading awareness about men’s violence against women, it was not without its flaws and drew criticism; some justified, some constructive, and some misleading and inaccurate. Critique is something we always consider seriously, as learning is crucial to this journey. The criticisms we faced could be seen to follow certain themes that I would like to address to reflect the developments of the Ambassador Program.
If anyone can be an Ambassador, the status becomes obsolete or too easy.
This is something we’ve learnt from, as we accept not every man should be an Ambassador. We instead need individuals who are genuine, knowledgeable and active to lead the charge in ending men’s violence against women. Our original rationale was to make all men part of the solution in ending men’s violence against women. This failed to fully account for the way in which the gendered inequalities that drive men’s violence is perpetuated, often unconsciously, through socialised and normalised patterns of behaviour. The insufficiently flexible ‘blueprints’ or ‘social scripts’ given to men and women, which at their root often give men a more valuable social position, enable abuses of power. In short, this did not go far enough to challenge the status quo, and a movement that does not challenge the status quo will have limited success in changing social outcomes.
In recognising this, we have implemented a more robust recruitment process for White Ribbon Ambassadors, which we continually reinforce. All Ambassadors have demonstrated a depth of understanding of the issue, real-life engagement with the movement, and credibility as a representative through a 5-step application process involving:
An online training package.
Telephone interview with a White Ribbon Australia Ambassador Team staff member.
This has reduced our numbers from 2900 to 1200, and we aim to ensure that only the right people will becomeWhite Ribbon Ambassadors.
What do Ambassadors actually do?
White Ribbon Ambassadors come from all levels of society, in communities across the length and breadth of Australia.
Their main role is to bring the movement into everyday life – personally and professionally. Through their roles as friends, brother, fathers, sons and colleagues, Ambassadors drive the movement to prevent men’s violence against women through their interactions both publicly and privately. By continuously discussing the issue, they put the message more firmly into the public consciousness that violence against women is an issue that must not be tolerated.
Whilst the widely-publicised promotional campaigns to raise awareness are the most immediately visible, and make a significant contribution to the movement, the power of everyday interactions cannot be understated. It is through everyday interactions that society changes. Through the network of active Ambassadors, we can influence hard to reach people or those less connected to the issue, and this is the real strength of a genuinely community-led grassroots movement.
We create accountability for the individuals who represent the movement. All Ambassadors have agreed to a role description and code of conduct that sets out expectations for an initial two-year tenure, which if not met will result in this status being lapsed. We have regular communication with our Ambassadors to provide support, give training opportunities and educational tools, and we have implemented an activity log where Ambassadors evidence their activity towards the movement under three streams: Engage, Educate and Act. It is a requirement for Ambassadors to demonstrate their activity to remain in this position.
White Ribbon is about the brand.
The white ribbon as a symbol has become ubiquitous in the movement to end men’s violence against women. As a symbol, it’s a powerful tool in bringing attention to the issue and uniting those supportive of the movement to end men’s violence against women. We make no apology for utilising this powerful tool to spread awareness, and harness support under the banner to prevent violence. As an organisation passionate in its mission, we view the symbol as one of our greatest assets in empowering communities to take up the charge, and unite people from all backgrounds to work together.
Ambassadors tell us that the white ribbon is a physical reminder that holds them to account in their behavior wherever they are. It reminds them to notice the issue more in their day to day lives, commits them to doing something about it, and gives them the platform to act with confidence.
The ribbon is a unifying statement that our Ambassadors carry into their communities. One of the most important functions of the symbol is that it tells other people that we oppose violence against women wherever it occurs. It makes the issue visible and stops us from turning away. It is a declaration to act, for if we don’t act now, nothing will change.
Applications for the White Ribbon Australia Youth Advisory Group (YAG) are now open!
White Ribbon are looking for people aged 15 to 24 years old, who are passionate about promoting respectful relationships and preventing men’s violence against women. YAG members will advise and support the White Ribbon Australia movement over the coming year. If this is you, or someone you know, apply now.
Applications will be accepted between Monday 27 August until Friday 21 September, 2018. Late applications will not be considered. If you have any questions, please contact our Youth Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic buildings in the world: its architectural vision and the methods required to build it were cutting edge; and the sails floating over the harbour inspire wonder whether seen for the first or the thousandth time. But the opera shown there isn’t as progressive as the building. The stories inspire wonder for the wrong reasons.
I moved back to Sydney with my wife in 2015. We were keen to go to the Opera House regularly: initially for plays, contemporary dance and music. Then we decided we’d go to the opera as well. I’d always heard that the opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings, but the truth is different and distressing. Usually, it’s not over until a woman dies.
In 2015 we went to Madama Butterfly. I’d heard the name, but knew nothing more. I became incensed as the plot played out before my eyes. An American man arrives in Japan and decides he wants a ‘wife’, but only for the time he’s there. He chooses a young geisha who throws her all into their relationship and the false promise of a future life in the USA. After getting her pregnant, the man goes back to America, but Butterfly holds onto the hope he’ll return. After three years he does, with a new wife, saying they want to adopt the baby. Butterfly is devastated and commits hara-kiri (suicide). That’s the grand finale, then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!’
When the director, Moffatt Oxenbould, was interviewed about the themes of the production, he focussed on the set and then on the male character’s grief. He excuses the character from treating women and children like possessions and causing others pain.
Perturbed but not defeated, in 2016 we went to Carmen. I’d learnt the music on piano as a boy, but didn’t know the story. At the beginning, it was great to see a vivacious women live her life as and with who she wanted. However, I was horrified at how the story continued. Carmen’s ex-partner stalks and then stabs her to death when she leaves him. Then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!’ I don’t remember any warning that this was about to occur, there definitely weren’t people at the entry and exit talking about men’s violence against women. Yet one in three Australian women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by someone known to them; and one in five women over 18 have been stalked. None of this was mentioned, it was just another night at the opera.
John Bell, who staged the performance, said that his inspiration was “what leads you to love the one person who is going to destroy you?” I have huge respect for John Bell’s career, but found this comment out of line. These words seem to suggest that women in abusive relationships have ‘chosen’ what happens to them. This is victim blaming and removes responsibility from where it lies: with the man who chooses violence when he can’t get what he wants.
We knew people in the 2017 performance of Tosca, so we attended the production with trepidation. As the story goes, Tosca’s lover is captured by a dictator. The dictator tells Tosca that unless she sleeps with him, the dictator will order the death of her lover; she is forced to submit due to the threat of violence. However, when the dictator begins to assault her, she assassinates him. Tosca stands up in defence of freedom and liberty, and against authoritarianism and corruption. In the grand finale, she’s killed with a machine gun. Then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!
Again, John Bell was director. He described the plot as, “a tyrannical regime, resistance fighters hunted down, women forced to give sexual favours in order to protect a loved one — these things are still happening, and always have been, during war”. In fact, men force women to do things against their will through violence and threats every night and day.
Violence at the opera
We were slightly traumatised by this time. Butterfly, Carmen and Tosca all died fighting against the same issues of our society today. Yet in another cruel irony, their struggles were abstracted by the men staging these productions, who portrayed each of them as having fatal flaws, rather than blaming the men who cause their deaths. And the music and voices soar, to make it all seem okay – reviewers seem to say it’s only the music we’re really there for.
I get that these stories happened in a different place at a different time. I definitely get that they were also all written by men. However, the argument is that we study great works of art like Shakespeare because their themes still have relevance today. Yet opera runs away from the most direct connection with today’s world in each: men’s violence against women. Opera doesn’t own up, contextualise or really explore the theme, it celebrates violence. Killing the woman onstage and then the audience gives a standing ovation. I mean honestly… what is going on?
Why can’t opera showcase stories where the women live? If these stories can’t be found, why don’t we write some? Or deconstruct the stories by inverting the gender roles or the endings? Why is it always women that have to die at the opera and how can this be seen as acceptable?
The opera bubble
Opera seems to exist in its own bubble, disconnected from the world around it. Globally, we’ve been having a massive discussion about men’s violence against women and gender equality for decades. Two Australians of the Year in the last five years have campaigned on this issue. Surely influential people within the opera community have heard what’s going on around the country. We don’t need these tragedies played out in seasons onstage. These stories are lived out nightly in homes, on streets and on TV screens during the news. And in real life, there are actually empowered women and survivors.
To be relevant today, opera needs to provide the context of what has happened in the past and how those attitudes are no longer acceptable, or it needs to change the story.
The Opera House has just started seasons of Rigoletto and Aida this week. We’ve learnt our lesson and have read the synopses first. Each time, another woman dies to end the performance. Rigoletto has the most disempowered female role in opera that female opera singers hate to play. More stories telling women that they must suffer in this world based on the power and violence of men. We don’t need to hear the bravos, we’ll stay at home instead.
Author Jeremy Tarbox is a White Ribbon Ambassador.
Views expressed in this article are that of the author and don’t necessarily represent the views of White Ribbon Australia.