In Melbourne, on the 25th of August, handfuls of white men gathered in small troupes at Federation Square. Their wives stood dotingly by their sides as they held onto coffees and the tiny, angry placards they had printed for the occasion. There was a unique feeling in the air. A little like thrill, almost. It was palpable: a hot, antagonistic breeze ready to stifle the lungs of any one who dared disagree with the uncles, fathers and brothers who had braved the occasion. Protest initiator Sydney Watson was donned in a pair of suede heeled boots, and families full of determined patriots boastfully sang the national anthem with delight.
The March for Men was about to start.
In Australia, the right to protest is an abstract freedom, but a freedom no less. There is no clear law that states that citizens are legally entitled to demonstrate their public grievances, but the ability to agitate inexorably goes hand in hand with Australia being a democracy. As Gaze and Jones state in their book, Law, Liberty and Australian Democracy, the right to protest falls under the realm of the right to assembly, making both rights “essential to the proper functioning of [any] democracy”.
The self-proclaimed male victims were searching for a kind of blind recognition that white men are naturally afforded.
As men from a variant of ages and classes congregated, Federation Square felt increasingly taut. Many proudly exhibited a deliberately contentious item of clothing – be it a Make America Great Again hat, a Proud to Be White tee, or an End All DV wristband – as well as dark shades and untapped anger. Many flew from interstate just to have the opportunity to arrogantly pat the backs of their male comrades as they each jeered and taunted counter-protestors between a wall of statuesque law enforcers.
Such a right – the right to assembly – is far more than just a political privilege, but rather a display of individual self-governance and emotion. This is why, when mourning animal activists hold the putrescent bodies of butchered piglets on the stairs of Parliament House, they are demanding more than just urgent, political action: they are expressing, with welled eyes, the real sadness that oppression and injustice is forced to answer to. The pulsing bodies that now corrode.
Perhaps this is what made The March for Men so unique. The self-proclaimed male victims were searching for a kind of blind recognition that white men are naturally afforded. The sufferers were there – laughing, striding and carrying on – and not the lifeless remains of sexism, racism or otherwise. Their want to be seen was ironic; their loud voices and faceless demands meaningless.
That is because the same men that donned their torsos in slogan tees and yelled aggressively in the name of men everywhere are the ones that pervade all powerful, political structures in this country. They are mirrored in the suited-up legislators that caustically argue for more women in parliament, despite holding such addresses in an exclusive clubs that do not allow female members. They are reflected in the smug, puffed up lines of police officers that banded around the angry troupe on the day. They are made up of the same entitled superiority that allowed for women like Laa Chol, Jill Meagher, and countless others that the media did not name, to die at the hands of male anger and liberty.
When Sydney Watson decided to champion the march, she described it as a response to “weeks of attacks from the media”, rather than any particular policy that condemned men, or a spate of violence that caused their downfall. Grossly enough, it was the rape and murder of local comedian Eurydice Dixon that invited the question of untapped, male rage into public discourse, and not an unsystematic case of casual bullying. The body of a spirited 22-year-old, and her inclusion into a select list – joining 46 other women who have been killed at the hands of male violence this year – was deemed an attack, an assault on masculinity.
There is something offensively poetic about how a woman’s incapacity to meander through her hometown without being violently killed – her literal inability to exist, to walk, to return home – was appropriated by an ensemble of angry, faux-persecuted men. This made the March for Men a public showcase of jealous, self-inflicted masochism: for whenever a woman dies or cries or hurts at the hands of a man, men like the ones who gathered will continue to yell and scream and insist that it is not the product of male entitlement, but of something else entirely. As Frank Brennan once wrote, “a person’s physical presence at a place or an event is the most powerful means of expression”, but for a woman, protest is practiced and exhibited when she merely exists. The female body is a demonstration, a placard.
I don’t disagree that the batch of passionate, irate Australian men that marched proudly through Melbourne’s streets were – and are – fighting for their freedoms. But the freedom they’re after is unlike the sort of freedom that marginalised people desire.
It’s a distinctive type.
It’s not freedom from the oppression that festers in the home, that nestles into a stubborn wage-gap, that paints accessibility as some kind of luxury and not an essential requirement, that relies on tasteless, racialised propaganda come election time, that builds walls and borders and sews the lips of asylum seekers shut, and that relishes in the high-pitched squealing of overwrought farm animals as they are lowered into tiny gas chambers.
It’s a freedom only they know: the freedom to remain ignorant to the real, deadly, tyrannous oppressions that exist globally.
“I hate women. Well, a lot of them. There’s a lot of fucking dumb women. There’s a lot of dumb guys out there, too, but nobody complains about misandry. Men have to be tough. Life’s a bitch. Everybody asks stupid questions like: ‘What do women want?’ It depends on the time of day! Women and men are different. You know, we want different things. I’m 48 years old. Don’t tell me what to do – unless you want to go home in a body bag.”
“I think the idea of being a man – of what it means to be a masculine man – is to teach your kids that it’s okay to fight sometimes. To fight for what is right. To punch that bully in the face sometimes, and sometimes fighting is the only answer. I think the idea of being masculine or a man is somehow being tarnished as a bad thing, when I think it’s a very, very good thing. Without masculinity we’re right for the picking for any other hostile culture or group of people that wants to take us over. Men are men, and men should be men. They shouldn’t be feminine. That’s for the women. They can do that. I’m here for men’s rights. I’m ex-military myself, and as you know, there’s been a lot of soldiers coming back from overseas committing suicide. I think over the past decade men have fallen by the wayside.”