Bettina Arndt is a rare public voice speaking on behalf of men – and the women who love them – and her new book #MENTOO breaks the silence about what it means to be a man in Australia today…
Last year I found myself at the cricket surrounded by men in pink. It’s a yearly event for our Australian team which every year devotes the five days of a cricket test to raising funds for breast cancer, in honour of the late spouse of one of our famous cricketers, Glenn McGrath whose young wife Jane died of the disease. Everywhere you looked there was a sea of pink, with the largely male audience decked out in pink shirts, jackets and silly hats. Yet this great display of men’s natural chivalry and kindness left me frustrated. I spent the whole day recording interviews for YouTube asking men in pink why men’s lives don’t matter.
Fifty-seven per cent of cancer deaths are male. The risk of dying from cancer before the age of 85 is one in four for males and one in six for females, according to the 2017 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Cancer in Australia Report. Why then don’t we see men dressed in blue, raising money to prolong the lives of their fathers, brothers, friends? Yes, it’s probably true we should be wearing blue today, I was told by two brightly-dressed men in blushing hues. “It’s mother nature to look after the women,” explained the younger man who admitted it was proof that women’s lives matter more than men. And was that fair? “That’s the way it is,” he said. He and his mate boasted they were allowed by their wives to go away once a year to spend a week at the cricket — so there’s no way these two were complaining.
My concern wasn’t just losing more men to cancer than women – I realise it’s usually older men who are dying compared to some very much younger women. My real beef was that I’ve spent decades lobbying for more help for men dealing with the devastating consequences on their sex lives of prostate cancer treatments. It is just appalling how few men receive proper advice on the penile rehabilitation needed to have any hope of enjoying normal sexual functioning. It just didn’t make sense for all these men in pink to raise money for more breast cancer nurses when at that time there were hundreds working across the country compared to 28 prostate cancer nurses.
Given the squeamishness of most urologists to educate their clients on this issue, the need for prostate nurses is dire. Cancer Council research reveals many prostate cancer patients have life-long problems with erections due to this poor treatment. That’s why, some years ago, a rather embarrassed group of journalists at our National Press Club found themselves listening to me talking about why a breast shouldn’t be worth more than a penis, as I explained the inequities of funding for cancer recovery. I’ve written articles about this for newspapers, given talks across the country. The funniest was a ball in Queensland raising money for prostate cancer support services. I assumed this would attract an older audience but since it is pretty young things and their partners who most enjoy dressing up in fancy gear, it was a very surprised group of twenty-somethings who found themselves learning all about rejuvenating wilting erections.
I’ve learnt that it is not just talk of men’s nether regions that makes these audiences squirm. It’s talk about men’s issues, men’s rights. We live in a society where women’s wants and needs receive constant attention, a society which frowns on any discussion of men missing out. Just look at what happened to Cassie Jaye’s documentary, The Red Pill. In November 2016, this controversial movie was due to have its first screening in Melbourne when feminist protestors persuaded the cinema to pull out. The protestors hadn’t even seen the film, they simply believed social media stories alleging it promoted violence against women. In fact, Cassie Jaye was a young feminist who originally planned to make a movie attacking the Men’s Rights movement but after listening to what these men had to say, she ended up focussing on how feminists silence debate on men’s issues. And what happened? For months feminists in Australia strenuously tried to ban the movie. It was the ultimate irony. But it didn’t surprise me. I’ve been writing about the issues raised in The Red Pill for over thirty years – battles in the family court, false abuse accusations, paternity fraud, education pitched to favour girls, unequal health funding, the distorted debate over domestic violence. I’ve long been speaking out about the tilting of laws, practises and regulations to unfairly advantage women at the expense of men.
I’d started my career as a proud feminist, determined to help women achieve equality. My background was clinical psychology, but my passion was teaching people to be comfortable talking about sex. As one of Australia’s first sex therapists it was thrilling to help women overcome their embarrassment and gain more pleasure from their love lives. I rejoiced in those heady times for the feminist movement as more opportunities opened up for women and girls. But even as I celebrated these achievements, I was starting to listen to men. Everywhere I went men reached out to me, keen to talk about sex. But inevitably sharing such intimate revelations lead to them opening up about other aspects of their lives. I heard devastating stories of divorced fathers’ hopeless fights to see their children as they battled a family law system which enabled mothers to just shut these men out of their children’s lives. I started to write about all this only to receive a surprising letter from a retiring family law judge.
“You’re quite right” he said. “We’ve made a huge mistake. We’ve given too much power to the custodial parent… [then always almost women] and that power is often abused,” he said describing common patterns of mothers breaching orders to deny fathers contact with children, moving wherever they liked, and making false accusations of abuse to weaken the man’s case. At the time we were lucky enough to have a Prime Minister, John Howard, who was concerned about the role of fathers. I ended up being appointed to various government committees to reform family law, a most instructive experience particularly as I was there representing men because the democrats running the show insisted on appointing men to the committees who didn’t do their side many favours. Howard’s people included me to even things up a little.
I quickly learnt that while the women’s lobby groups attract large numbers of outstanding professional women, most well-educated professional men shun involvement in men’s groups, choosing instead to fight individual battles using highly paid lawyers. It became clear that one reason feminists are winning all the battles is that the powerful men in our society are reluctant to associate themselves with a group of men they see as losers. A classic example was a very senior male bureaucrat who took me aside between committee meetings. He admitted he’d always dismissed men’s complaints about bias in family law until the day he came home to find the locks on his home had been changed – his wife had decided to throw him out. His attempt to break-in to pick up a few clothes led to him being arrested, issued with a protection order and facing hundreds of thousands in legal bills and years of struggle to even see his children. How tragic that men like him are only willing to see what’s going on when they are victims of the process.
Howard was able to introduce reforms which included some real breakthroughs such as the presumption of shared parental responsibility and a new child support formula which at least made some attempt, however flawed, to account for the costs of the non-custodial parent. Yet many of these changes were wound back by the next Labor government when feminists played the violence card to frighten politicians into pulling back on the legislative changes. Claiming shared care put children at risk from being exposed to violent men proved a very effective means of undermining the Howard reforms and that opened the floodgates to the current situation where across the country false allegations of violence are being used to have men removed from their homes and denied contact with their children.
It’s been alarming watching our legal system gradually shifting to favour women as feminists gain control over key institutions. “We prefer to err on the side of the victim,” pronounced one of our state Police Ministers, unashamedly acknowledging new domestic laws are designed to make it easier for women to obtain protection orders with no evidence of violence. Now simply a fear of violence is enough to obtain such an order. As I started to write about these issues many people weren’t happy. Two friends, both prominent journalists, took me out to lunch, suggesting that it wasn’t a good idea to be seen as an apologist for men. I needed more balance in my articles, they argued. It was an absurd suggestion. The notion that my articles should include the female perspective was foolish given that the cultural dialogue had been entirely captured by the feminist narrative. It was mainly female journalists who were writing about social issues, almost always from their own perspective, with female editors acting as gatekeepers. And when men’s experiences clashed with the female view of the world, male opinions were silenced.
A man once told me he’d sat with tears rolling down to his cheeks as he heard me on the radio talking about husbands being constantly sexually rejected. My research on sexual desire, published in my book The Sex Diaries, was based on 98 couples keeping diaries about how they negotiated their sex supply and the howl of anguish that emerged from men was truly moving. But in a world where women’s right to say “no” to sex is now sacrosanct, men’s sexual frustrations have becomea taboo topic. I’ve been lucky. For most of my long career in journalism I worked full-time for some of our major newspapers. Being well-known gave me extra clout which meant I could write features and opinion pieces – many included in this book – which challenged the feminist narrative dominating mainstream media. One example was research regularly released on housework, who does what around the home. Inevitably this would lead to a rash of headlines talking about the huge load on women and how little men do to help around the house. But what was always missing from the news stories was the total hours worked – combining paid plus unpaid work – which show men work just as hard overall as women do. Australian men average twice as many hours of paid work as women. So, I was able to write about the Australian research which showed that most women are happy with the deal over housework because they are aware that their partners’ long working hours buy them choice about spending more time with their children – a point of view many of my female editors weren’t keen to promote.
I once ran into Bruce Baird, father of Julia Baird, then the opinion editor of my paper, the Sydney Morning Herald2. At the time I was writing opinion pieces which were to be published in both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Age was giving me a great run, often running my articles as the main opinion piece whilst the SMH never gave the same pieces any prominence. Baird told me he loved my work but confessed his daughter, my editor, “hated it”. He admitted to heated discussion with his feminist daughter who confessed she did everything she could to bury my work. It must have been galling that my writing was popular with the readers, and not just with males. It’s hardly surprising to me that most ordinary woman are fed up with the male bashing that has come to dominate the public agenda. Survey after survey has shown less than thirty per cent of Australians are willing to call themselves “feminist” – the only way that number reaches a majority is when feminism is defined as “achieving equality.”
Ordinary women write to me – mothers of sons, women worried about the men in their lives, or simply fed up with fainting-couch feminists treating women as victims always in need of special protection. A successful young musician wrote to complain about discrimination policies taking over Australia’s music organisation aiming at more women winning prizes. She’d made it mainly through talent and hard work, although she admits affirmative action probably worked in her favour. She strongly believes everyone should be judged on their merits rather than gender.
Most women are appalled by the #MeToo attacks where unproven allegations are being used to destroy men’s careers. They are fed up with trivial issues being blown up as sexism and once proud, independent women endlessly demanding special treatment such as lower entry standards into the police force or armed forces. Mothers write about schools where boys are filling the remedial reading classes, disengaged and dropping out whilst the girls win all the prizes. We had a parliamentary commission about boys’ education some years ago which attracted record numbers of submissions from the community. The government introduced all manner of programmes to try to engage boys and for a while Australia led the world in tackling the boys’ education problem. But here too a change in government meant the conservatives were out and the boys’ education initiatives lost their funding.Naturally, that had the activists celebrating.
One of the scariest letters I have ever received starts by slagging off at my fat poodle face, goes on to commiserate with my daughter for the shame of having such a mother and concludes that “girls today are far beyond needing equality. They need compensation for two thousand years of being repressed, mutilated, enslaved, raped and treated as inferiors.” That compensation is what’s driving our domestic violence industry – a blatant disregard for equity but blind adherence to a feminist script which is all about seeking funding for women and denying any possibility of men as victims. We seea totally one-sided debate on domestic violence in this country which refuses to acknowledge the forty years of international research showing most family violence is two-way, involving both male and female perpetrators. Governments pay for television campaigns featuring violent men and boys, they pour money into propaganda organisations which tell porkies about this important social issue.
Earlier this year a young male Perth counsellor was forced out of his job at Relationship Australia for posting on his private Facebook page my ground-breaking article summarising key domestic violence research and statistics. I find it just extraordinary that this government-funded organisation proudly promotes a one-sided feminist policy on domestic violence and pushes out their only male counsellor when he doesn’t toe the line. Domestic violence is all about respect for women, intones our former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when he knows full well that underpinning the problem is a range of complexities, from poverty and mental illness, to drug and alcohol abuse. I used to hand out how to vote pamphlets for this man, who once spent months trying to persuade me to run the Liberal’s Menzies Research Institute. He knows all about the complexities of social research yet this most powerful of men prefers to kowtow to the feminists, assuming that will win him votes. But he’s wrong.
There are signs that people have had enough. A woman at the pink cricket test told me that her father, who died of prostate cancer, would have been outraged to see the men in pink selling out other men. Anti-male grandstanding by men in power is increasingly being called out. Earlier this year I made a video about the push to allow women to join Men’s Sheds5. The Men’s Sheds Movement is all about providing men with a place to get away, enjoy male company and provide support for one another. My video revealed that the chairman of the Men’s Sheds Association, who had a background in promoting equity in the workplace, didn’t believe there was anything special about male culture and was all for having women in sheds. Boy, did he feel the heat when my video was published.
Here in Australia, as elsewhere, people are turning away from mainstream media seeking more balanced views elsewhere. Since I pulled out of journalism to make videos about men’s issues a year ago, I’ve discovered a thriving new world on what people are calling the “intellectual dark web”, with people like Canadians Jordan Peterson and Karen Straughan raising all manner of challenging issues, including demanding fairer treatment for men and boys. Huge numbers are involved in serious conversations about gender, relationships, family life – tackling questions which really matter. That includes properly addressing what’s happening to men.
I’ve been blessed by the men in my life, a brilliant, inspiring father, two loving, extraordinary sons and wonderful partners who have brought so much to my life: love, laughter and great sex. This collection of writing is meant a celebration of all the good men who do so much to contribute to our society. I’ve included some key articles dating back 20 years, adding footnotes to provide updates on critical issues. There are lengthy chapters based on my feature writing and many short opinion pieces where I vent about whatever madness inspired me that week. Reading it now I am struck by how often I was a voice in the wilderness, expressing views that I knew most people believed but were hardly ever heard.
ABOUT BETTINA ARNDT
Trained as a clinical psychologist before becoming well known as one of Australia’s first sex therapists, Bettina worked in the media educating the public about this fascinating subject before moving onto writing about broader social and gender issues. As a respected social commentator, she was invited onto government advisory committees covering issues from family law to childcare and ageing. While still making regular media appearances, Bettina is now working full-time writing and making YouTube videos about men’s issues and speaking on university campuses about the fake rape crisis.
#MenToo by Bettina Arndt is published by Wilkinson Publishing, retails for $29.99 and is available now online from www.wilkinsonpublishing.com.au
For the full article grab the March 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.