Australian Army chief to men: Stop being bystanders to violence against women


Last year, as you might remember, Australian Army Lieutenant General David Morrison — the top ranked man in the Australian armed forces — made a video addressing sexual violence in the ranks. He famously urged men in the armed forces to stop being bystanders to sexual abuse among their colleagues, and told them that “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” 

The video quickly went viral and Morrison was held up in Australia and overseas as an example of how to address sexual violence in your work place: head on, with zero tolerance, and a clear message (rhetorically, at least) that it’s taken seriously at the top, and all the way down the ladder.

This week, Morrison has made headlines again after his remarks at an annual White Ribbon Day breakfast. Morrison is a White Ribbon ambassador, and took the opportunity to talk about the role that culture — and particularly what some might call Australia’s toxic masculinity — plays in perpetuating domestic violence. “It’s hardly spoken about,” he said of domestic violence, calling for men to step up. “It’s ignored or set apart by neighbors or even family members. But the consequences are just as life shattering” as violence against women in war zones.

He explained that after he came to understand the scale and scope of military sexual violence, he began to look beyond the armed forces and at the nation as a whole. “I have gone further,” he said. “I now feel that much of what we call our Australian culture has the same faults that must be addressed.” He then reiterated his calls for men to stop being bystanders to violence against women:

And for us, the men of Australia? Well, here is the really hard part. It is not enough to just abstain from hurting women; from treating them as sexual objects rather than as people with an innate right to lead a dignified life. It is not enough to refrain from distributing foul images or stories that attack the well-being of others.

No, the really hard part is to do all of that as well as ensuring that we are not bystanders when such things do happen. This means not shrouding ourselves in the comfortable shades of grey that comprise the passive acquiescence of the malevolent acts of others. It requires us to recognise that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept and that you are judged not just on your actions, but on how you allow others to act.

We need men of authority and conscience to play their part — and we most certainly need women, too long denied a strong enough voice, to be given the opportunities to lead — in all endeavours, in all parts of our polity and society. We all need to come to grips with our culture and how much it counts.

There’s no video available of the remarks, but Morrison did the media rounds almost immediately. Here, he talks more about the role men should play in changing the cultural acceptance of violence against women, and argues that one of the nation’s foundational myths — the ANZAC story, about the Australian soldiers who fought in the First World War — functions to enforce the idea of the ideal or default Australian as an Anglo-Saxon man from the country, and prevents the nation’s culture from becoming more inclusive.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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