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Oprah Winfrey right on gender equality but we need ordinary Australian men to help change cultures

January 16 2018 By Mary Barry, Our Watch CEO

​In the opening fortnight of 2018, two powerful stories from the entertainment industry on either side of the Atlantic have burst on to our front pages.

Oprah Winfrey Image

One is Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes, and the other is a fresh raft of allegations against a well-known man, this time former Neighbours star Craig McLachlan.

Alongside one another, these contrasting stories could be seen as compass co-ordinates that mark the place where we, as a society, currently find ourselves on the road to gender equality.

It is a place of contradictions. It is awash with women’s pain and rage unleashed in tens of millions of #metoos across the world last year, but it also has a spectacular view: one of the dawn of a new era.

If that sounds grandiose, don’t take my word for it. Take Oprah’s word; a black woman whose mother cleaned houses, who recently accepted one of the entertainment industry’s most prestigious awards with an inspiring speech.

“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women … and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”

Oprah’s speech stirred me. But there is one word I wish she hadn’t used: phenomenal.

It is not phenomenal men who must play a vital role in carrying us forward to this new era of equality. It is not Armani-clad privileged male celebrities wearing badges and proclaiming their support after decades spent ignoring or excusing the unacceptable behaviour of the many Harvey Weinsteins among them.

It is ordinary men who need to join this fight and it is ordinary men who have the power to help create change. We need ordinary men in ordinary workplaces to speak up when they see and hear men treating female colleagues disrespectfully.

We need male managers who hear women’s allegations to act — whether they manage a hit TV show or a neighbourhood cafe.

We need ordinary Australian men to help change the cultures that enable, protect — and worse, often reward — men who abuse women.

McLachlan has denied all accusations made against him and it is for police and the legal system to continue from here. But what cannot be denied is how much less shocked we are at each new round of allegations like this.

After all, these came soon after a chillingly similar set of statements made against another national TV idol, Don Burke. It was both Burke’s and McLachlan’s ordinariness that endeared them to Australians for decades.

There was one other point that I wish Oprah had made differently.

She lauded “every man who chooses to listen” to women who come forward against abusers.

But as head of Our Watch, an organisation dedicated to preventing violence against women, I have for too long seen men sit in silence when women speak up about abuse, violence or inequality — and sadly silence also seems to be the response of many men to the current #metoo movement.

Of course, men must listen, but that is not enough. They must break their silence. They must speak out and take action.

Men reading this — you have the power to create positive change.

You can call other men to account for sexist or degrading comments, disrespect and abusive treatment of women.

At home, you can raise your sons to understand the importance of gender equality. And at work you can help build organisational cultures that ensure women are heard, men are held accountable for abuses of power and respect and equality are valued and rewarded.

The two first entertainment stories of 2018 showed us where we are. If ordinary men start actively joining this movement for change, we could travel a long way further on the road to gender equality by 2019.

This piece was originally published by the Herald Sun.