We can do better: In response to the death of Courtney Herron

Courtney Herron | White Ribbon Australia Courtney Herron | Source: 7News

Courtney Herron was the 20th women this year to be killed in Australia1. Every week a woman in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. Yet all too often, statistics around violence against women are obscured and the larger picture goes unrecognised.

Courtney’s death was not because she was homeless. It was not because she was at a party. It was not because she was unaware of her surroundings.

It was because of a toxic culture of masculinity that marginalises women.

Initial responses from Premier Daniel Andrews and Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius were productive. Both placed the blame for the murder on men’s behaviour. Both made it clear that it was not an isolated incident.

Unfortunately, outside of a small number of officials, the wider male response has been mixed. Some men have been hostile or defensive to the notion that men’s behaviour is the problem, rejecting the idea that these statistics tell any wider story about the treatment of women.

The most common contribution from men, however, has been silence.

Countless women have spoken up after Courtney’s death, sharing their fears and anxieties and talking about how this kind of behaviour needs to stop. Yet the male response, from the inappropriate Herald Sun front page to public discussions on Facebook, has been one of minimisation and shifting responsibility, if it is discussed at all.

Men’s violence is an issue for men. We must do better in dealing with it.

By saying this, I do not mean that all men are murderers. The majority of men are not violent. But all of us could do more to counter the harmful views of women that underpin acts of violence. Not being violent ourselves is not enough to absolve us of responsibility.

All of us as men engage with the concept of what we associate with being a man every day. When people describe aggression as manly and passivity as effeminate, we propagate an image in society of what it is to be a man.

Most of the time this engagement is innocuous, but often it can be harmful, both to the man who feels the pressure to live up to these expectations and to the women who suffer under the toxic extremes of these beliefs.

Men are shaped by these expectations and pressures, but we also have the capacity to shape them ourselves. Young men especially are uniquely positioned to redefine what they associated with masculinity for the next generation.

We should do more to challenge violence against women and the toxic attitudes that underpin them, not just because we have an obligation (though we certainly do), but because we don’t want these harmful views to be associated with what it means to be masculine.

We as men can do better to call out poor behaviour by men. As we do so, we can create an image for what it is to be masculine that doesn’t rest on harmful attitudes toward women.

For Courtney, Aiia Massarwe, and more importantly, for all women whose suffering never made the front-page news.

Author is Corey McCabe, University of Melbourne student, and member of the White Ribbon Youth Advisory Group.


[1] Destroy the Joint (2019), ‘Counting Dead Women Australia 2019. We count every known death due to violence against women in Australia – 20 by May 25.’

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