Known for being one of Australia’s first sex therapists, Bettina Arndt is a writer and commentator on gender issues, and has also worked in government on committees for the reformation of family law. Concerned by what she considers to be the unfair treatment of men in society, Bettina now works making YouTube videos, writing, and making media appearances to discuss men’s issues.
“I don’t regard myself as advocating for men’s rights,” Bettina says, “because it’s not about men’s rights. It’s about fair treatment for both genders, and that means I talk about men’s issues that often get silenced. I’m saying: why aren’t we treating men and women fairly?”
Bettina was recently awarded an Order of Australia membership for her significant service to the community as a social commentator, and to gender equity through advocacy for men. After many years working on behalf of gender equity, her main focus is now to address what she considers to be society’s unfair treatment of men.
“The outrage that has greeted my award says an awful lot, sadly, about our anti-male culture, and about the fact that anyone who challenges the anti-male narrative is seen as really dangerous. I take it as a huge complement. It’s an indication that I’m getting somewhere. I’m achieving something in advocating for men.”
After becoming interested in the feminist movement and writings in the 1980s, Bettina turned her attention to sex therapy, wanting to help women find more satisfaction in their sex lives. After doing this work for a while, she began to hear more from men about the issues they were facing, in particular those related to family law.
“At that time, it was even worse than now in some ways. There was just an assumption that mothers would get custody, that mothers had a right to move anywhere they liked. They had total control over decisions regarding their children after divorce, and lots of men were being totally excluded. I started to write about that.”
Bettina began to tell these stories, and to look more into the issues regarding men’s experiences in family courts. This led to her getting onto government committees to advocate for men in family law courts. She cites this issue as being the main reason for following the path she did into focusing on men’s issues.
“That was a time when we were absolutely celebrating women’s achievements. Because women were starting to do so well. Girls were just acing it in schools, there were all sorts of areas where women were taking their rightful place in the world, having choices they never had before. And that’s what I wanted. What I didn’t want was for women’s achievements to be at the expense of men.”
Bettina is particularly concerned about the relationship between domestic violence and men’s legal rights in the case of divorce. She believes there is a tendency for men to be unfairly and wrongly accused of domestic violence, when the same issues are often overlooked in violent women.
“I hear from policemen all over the country who are required to go into homes. Women can just ring the police and say ‘I’m afraid of violence’. The police have to go in and remove that man from his home. It will often mean he is homeless, doesn’t have access to any of his belongings, and he’s denied contact with his children, often for years, as a result of that one accusation, which requires no proof.”
Bettina claims that members of the police force are unhappy at being asked to enforce unfair laws, and that these laws are being carried through to family law courts, resulting in more unfair treatment for fathers. She also believes these issues are have devastating effects on men’s mental health and personal safety.
“We know that one of the major trigger points for suicide for men is family break-up. There is research on that. We have, in Australia, a gender-neutral national suicide policy, which totally fails to acknowledge that 6 out of 8 people who kill themselves every day are men, that one of the major causes of suicide is the disastrous situation faced by them when their families break up.”
Bettina also touches on the issue of homelessness, statistically a more serious issue for men than for women. She believes that media representations of this issue and others like it disproportionately favour women, and that as a result the very real issues that many men are facing do not get the attention they warrant.
“This is the sort of work I’m trying to do,” she explains. “To say: why are all these issues being misrepresented? Why are women’s needs, women’s wants, women’s vulnerabilities, always put ahead of men? Even in an issue like [homelessness], where clearly males are at the most risk.”
For Bettina, society has stopped celebrating the positive aspects of masculinity, and the narrative of toxic masculinity has been skewed out of proportion. She mentions the recent Australian bush fires in 2019, where an overwhelming majority of the firefighters were male.
“I put out a tweet [at the time], and it gave praise for the good in men, the fact that men are the ones mainly still putting their lives on the line to protect other people, and it led to this enormous pile on. It was the fact that I was celebrating men, and we’re not allowed to celebrate what’s good about men.”
Another complex issue that arises in the family courts is that of paternity fraud. In some cases, divorced men find out some years after a break-up that they are not the biological father of their former spouse’s child, as a result of infidelity, and yet are still court mandated to provide child support.
“I’ve been very interested in that issue for many years,” Bettina says. “I’ve written quite a lot about it, talked to people on all sides of this difficult issue. [Some] men feel that it’s totally reasonable to not want to pay child support, particularly if you’re never allowed to see those children. It’s a very complex issue.”
Despite the controversy surrounding her award, Bettina admits that it has represented a fantastic opportunity for her. Many people have been getting in touch with offers to help with her causes. With a team of volunteers on board, she is trying to make contact with as many interested parties as possible.
“We want to run big campaigns around all these issues, around domestic violence, around male suicide, what’s happening in the family court. We’ve got a parliamentary enquiry running at the moment, which I’m delighted about, because it actually includes in the terms of reference false allegations of abuse. It is naming that as one of the key issues to be addressed by this committee.”
Bettina and her volunteers have been working for several months to help people put in submissions to this committee, making sure these complex legal issues are being filed correctly and accurately.
“That’s the sort of thing we want to do: empower people. To help ordinary men and women to learn to speak out around these issues. I know the quiet Australians are on my side, because I hear from them all the time. Women will come up to me and say: ‘I’m so pleased you’re out there speaking on behalf of men.’ Now I want to mobilise those quiet Australians to get very, very noisy this year, and I think we’re off to a very good start.”
Find out more about Bettina Arndt’s work in the community by visiting www.bettinaarndt.com.au.