The day after Eurydice Dixon was sexually assaulted and murdered, most of my peers and I experienced a newsfeed filled with grief, frustration, and anger as we attempted to grapple with what had happened. We know that hundreds of Australian wom*n lose their lives to domestic violence every year, and many more experience sexual or domestic violence in their lifetimes, and yet despite knowing this, the death of Eurydice Dixon proved jarring in a way that I hadn’t expected.
I got a lift from a friend to the vigil in Adelaide. On the ride over, we reflected on what it was that made us feel connected to Eurydice’s story.
Eurydice was the same age as me. She lived in inner-city Melbourne and she’d seemingly immersed herself in the progressive, artistic culture that flourished in the city’s inner-North. She wore quirky and fun clothes and expressed herself through her creativity. She looked like me. She looked like my friends. She could have been one of my friends; and she could have been me.
As my friend remarked to me, “I’ve been scared to look her up on Facebook because I think we’re going to have mutual friends.”
Of course, not all twenty-somethings that dress or engage with politics, music, or culture a certain way are the same person and we do not always have the same experiences. However, men who sit within this particular subculture - creative, urban young people - were this week mostly guilty of ignoring Eurydice Dixon and the developing conversation about violence against women in favour, in some instances, of defending alleged rapist XXXTentacion in heated Twitter rants.
I noticed the stark silence from many men who claim to reside within the left. When Unilever applied to Fair Work Australia to terminate the current enterprise agreement with a pay cut of up to 46 percent for Streets Ice-Cream workers, I saw hundreds of young men involved in youth and student politics make this cause their own. When the Liberal government threatened fee deregulation for our universities, young men were outraged for what this would do to “our” community. When the Australian Republican Movement relaunched, I saw similar expressions of solidarity and support.
These are worthy causes; they are causes that we as left-wing wom*n have thrown ourselves behind wholeheartedly. But the point remains that men feel reluctant to take part in meaningful discourse surrounding rape culture, which remains a burden to wom*n across the country and the world.
There are many men who outwardly identify as feminists and know how to manipulate rhetoric to exist within wom*n’s spaces as an undetected threat. Most of us know these men who pose as allies and exhibit micro-aggressions that go unchecked in a forgiving environment. You need only look to recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment within Australian political parties to recognise that this is a cultural problem.
Within the left and within student and youth subculture more broadly, we have an enormous cultural problem with reflecting on ourselves and improving where necessary. Worth pointing out is our failure to hold known perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault within our own community to account. ACT Young Labor was reported earlier this year as having ‘failed to live up to the values it publicly espouses, with internal claims of bullying and sexual harassment undermining the party’s stance on social justice issues’. When survivor Lauren Ingram came forward with her account of her sexual assault by a Greens NSW staff member last year, members were struggling with a lack of institutional support and were unable to take action until the media pressure brought it to a head. Within the Australian live music industry, in our nightlife venues and at our universities, sexual assault and harassment remain a known cultural phenomenon.
Youth political and social organisations, along with other hubs of youth culture, have failed to “practice as we preach” when it comes to sexual assault and harassment, and what is most alarming is that these failures often occur in service of what is politically or socially expedient to bystanders.
Men across the board, though perhaps most notably within the social and political circles that I frequent, did not talk about Eurydice. They did not talk about the wom*n who were attacked before her, or who were attacked after her. Perhaps there are numerous reasons for this, including these men not wanting to speak for us. But personally, I think that that doesn’t apply here.
Men created a culture where putting an end to violence against men perpetrated by men was given utmost priority almost as soon as it became an issue in this country. Men created a culture where women, particularly trans-women, women of colour and First Nations women, do not feel safe to walk their cities alone at night. And as if that weren’t enough, within this culture a woman is more likely to be killed by her husband, partner, brother, father or housemate than that a strange man on the street that we’re all warned about as kids.
It is increasingly clear through their silence that the young men who inhabit Eurydice’s ‘world’ do not identify with her in the same way that women do. That’s really alarming, and points to a huge issue: that most men, however progressive or left-wing, see rape culture as a “women’s problem”.
People of all genders need to come together to say that rape culture is not okay. If members of a subculture that claim to be socially “woke” cannot do that, then we’re failing miserably.
Ashley Sutherland is currently Co-Convenor of the Australian Young Greens and President of the Flinders University Student Association. In 2018, she was the youngest person to run for the Legislative Council in the South Australian State Election.