Respecting Women – Expectations of the Rugby Man

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Australian Rugby has invested considerable time and resources in the Junior Gold and National Gold Squad programs. Central to this investment is the development of our young rugby players throughout Australia.

Whilst the on field skills and physical development work may be the most obvious elements of these programs, Australian Rugby values off field ‘Lifeskills’ programs as its most important. Both the Junior Gold and National Gold Squad programs seek to develop fine young men as well as potentially elite rugby players.
The ‘Lifeskills’ program developed and presented by Michael Jeh is one of the most effective and recognised components of the national talent development programs conducted by Australian Rugby.
Michael is nationally renowned for his work in developing Australia’s youth and works hard to ensure that our best young rugby players appreciate what it takes to become the best players and person they can be – the rugby man.
All players and parents should read the following article from Michael on respecting women. The article focuses on a very real and disturbing issue - an issue that Australian Rugby is seeking to educate its young players on through the excellent work and expertise of Michael Jeh.
Ben Whitaker
General Manager Development Pathways
As a wildlife ranger in Africa, I’m often confronted by the senseless brutality and evil of rhino poaching.  Sought for their horn by traders in Vietnam and China, rhinos are being poached at an ever-increasing rate.  Soon they will be extinct.  Whilst it is a problem for rhinos, it is not a rhino problem per se.  It is a human problem.  Full stop.
In the work I do with young people around the country on matters connected to respecting women, it is astounding how often the problem is perceived as a “female problem”.  Many of the solutions put forward involve teaching women to be more responsible for their own safety, to be conscious of the ‘messages’ they portray by the way they dress, the amount they drink and the way they behave in public.  The aftermath of tragic incidents often involve female counselors working with victims to reduce trauma and teach them to trust again, to be safe and to pick up the impossibly broken pieces of their lives.
It’s like trying to teach rhinos to be more careful about getting too close to humans.  Over a period of time, fear alone will drive some effective defensive strategies but are we missing the point somewhat?  Where do men fit into this equation?  When does it become our problem?
Most of the footy codes are facing current scandals involving the treatment of women.  Rugby is not necessarily immune from this except for our constant focus on what it means to be a rugby man. It’s something we’ve gone really hard at in our lifeskills programs for the National Gold and Junior Gold programs.  It would be naïve to pretend that rugby players are that much different to any other young men when it comes to matters of romance and seduction between consenting adults.  Throw in the added complications of intoxicating substances (legal and illegal) and the lines become blurred, dangerously so.  I call on the rugby man to stand up and take ownership of a new movement that holds us 100% accountable for our actions.
Imagine a world where instead of victim-blaming, regardless of what she was wearing, how much she had to drink and how much she was (allegedly) flirting, us blokes took complete control of the notion that the final choices we make are ours.  We own them completely.  Completely. The final choice to treat a woman one way or another is down to us.  No one else.  Our choice.
Sounds pretty simple?  Some of the behaviours may even sound pretty harmless.  From our side of the fence anyway!  We know we didn’t really have any evil intent when we wolf-whistled at the gorgeous lass who walked past the kebab shop.  Hey, we were just paying her a compliment.  She must have expected that with that short skirt and all.
Let’s flip the paradigm and ask the ladies what they think.  So when you walk past a guy and he does that pelvic thrust thing, you know he’s really joking right?  When those blokes start following you to the bus stop and give you marks out of ten for your vital body measurements, that’s a real boost to your ego right?  And of course you feel totally safe because we know that we don’t mean you any harm?  Is that why you’re rummaging in your handbag for a key to grip in your palm and you’re counting the steps until you make it back to the motel?   
You’re supposed to totally see the funny side of that vile comment about female body parts right?  Hell, all the other guys are laughing so it must be funny!  Never mind that you’ve heard it ten times before and it gets less funny and more “yuck” every time. 
And you must love it because after all, the only reason you wore that dress was to get attention right?  Never mind that it’s comfortable or fashionable or you just like the colour.  You wore that dress just for our benefit didn’t you, just so we could rattle off our repertoire of crude one-liners and high-five each other when you blush a brighter shade of crimson?  We’d never expect our mums, sisters or partners to be treated like this but you don’t really belong in any of those categories do you?  Really?  You’re someone’s daughter too?  Someone’s sister?  Gosh, never really thought of it like that before!
It’s a simple matter of being man enough to own your behaviours. No excuses, no victim-blaming.  The way we treat the women in our lives comes down to one simple equation – our behaviours. It’s what makes us rugby men and damn proud of it too!
Michael Jeh runs the lifeskills courses for the ARU’s junior development  squads.  He is also a wildlife ranger in Africa with his safari company, Barefoot in Africa.  He runs workshops at schools and in the community focusing on issues like respecting women and domestic violence.


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