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John Birmingham: Coward punches, it's a guy thing

It's instructive watching YouTube videos of unprovoked assaults. King hits, coward punches, whatever you want to call them, more often than not they come in from the victim's blind spot, a negative space akin to the blind spot of a car; slightly to the rear and off to one side, beyond the radar cone of peripheral vision. Not all of them do, of course. Some spin up out of nowhere and take the victim right between the eyes. But mostly stealth and surprise define a successful attack by a true coward.

There is no way of defending against that type of assault other than to maintain a paranoid level of vigilance in any public space, and probably no way of suppressing them through policy beyond neutering half the population. The unspoken truth of the coward punch is its gender bias. Mostly, it is an attack launched by men on men, notwithstanding the weekend assault on female bar manager in Mount Isa. The violence is often inflamed by alcohol, but not always. The victim is often disarmed by alcohol, but not always. It's roots lie in the fertile mulch of toxic masculinity.

Boxer and anti-violence campaigner Danny Green, pictured with one-punch victim Cole Miller. The pair met while Miller ...
Boxer and anti-violence campaigner Danny Green, pictured with one-punch victim Cole Miller. The pair met while Miller was on a water polo trip to Perth. Photo: Facebook

In the wake of the unprovoked killing of Cole Miller will come the demands to do something, but what can be done? Nothing to bring him back, that's for sure.

He will be buried and mourned and the heavy hand of the law will lay upon the perpetrators, but none of that will restore a future with Miller in it; nor any other victim of these attacks.

Would tougher lock outs help? They seemed to in Newcastle. Harsher sentencing? Danny Green's campaign to reframe convictions as being for literal 'coward punches'? It's hard to say.

Not every idiot who swings a punch in anger, or drunkenness or narcissistic psychosis is actively evil. Some are stupid. Some misguided. A few are consciously vicious and malignant.

You can never stay all their hands, but even one fist unclenched is progress.

This is where somebody like Danny Green genuinely has something to offer. The psychology of random sneak attacks is the psychopathology of manhood gone wrong and Green is the sort of man who can show others that Simone de Beauvoir was mistaken, that men don't need to find self-affirmation in their fists. It doesn't mean renouncing his professional history as a boxer, but rather foregrounding it. There is a lot of unhinged bullshit floating around the construction of modern masculinity; from the high-pitched whine and special pleading of the Men's Rights movement to the paleo-intellectualism of repackaged red meat and rape fantasies of that sad little movement's daffier micro-celebrities. Hard men like Green are uniquely placed to undermine that crap.

As long as some men feel masculine worth can only be found in aggression and dominance they will walk the streets to deliver on their belief, feeling in their fists the reassurance of their sovereignty. They will prey on the weak, because they are weak. 

Of all the things we will talk about when we talk about the death of Cole Miller few will get to the heart of why men do this, to each other, to women and children, to anyone they think they can beat down. Lockouts, licensing restrictions, the criminal code and punishment regimes, they all have their part to play. But until men change, nothing will.

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