A few thoughts on Don Burke and toxic masculinity

I want to share a few thoughts about the Don Burke scandal. 

As many of you know I wrote for Burke's Backyard magazine from 2001 until 2003. During that time I spoke to Burke once on the phone (a discussion about waratahs, of all things), and a few times via email about articles I'd proposed or contributed. Most of my dealings were with the magazine's then editor, Maya Harrison, who I met in person on one occasion at the CTC Productions office in Sydney and always found to be thoroughly professional. Burke's Backyard published my first ever gardening article, which as a 27 old, kickstarted my career as a freelance gardening writer. 

I ceased contributing to the magazine a few years later partly because I'd heard rumours from others within the horticulture industry about Burke's alleged bullying and megalomania. In my direct dealings with Burke I got the sense that he had a massive ego and oozed arrogance, but I never heard any sexual innuendo from the man himself, nor did I hear any rumours or allegations of sexual harassment or indecency. The bullying accusations were enough.

It comes as little surprise that there are now more than 200 allegations of sexual misconduct against Burke. The affable gardener persona who said "hooroo" at the close of his top rating TV show was clearly a facade that provided cover for a pattern of disgusting and completely unacceptable behaviour. 

Though I had no inkling of this behaviour at the time, I regret any historic involvement with the man and his enterprises. I feel sick to the stomach that I accepted monetary payment for my article contributions from a serial harasser and have since used that publication history to gain further freelance work in the horticultural media. From this point on I'm committing to not use any of my published articles from Burke's Backyard magazine to further my career and will be removing any reference to Burke from my professional bio. 

On a personal note, I want to distance myself completely from the kind of toxic masculinity Don Burke exemplifies. I'm a husband, a father of a teenage daughter, and perhaps most significantly, the father and mentor figure to two primary school age boys. I consistently teach my sons what it means to be a good man. I tell them that women should be treated as equals, that they must never, ever be treated with aggression, violence or oppression. I do my best to model these behaviours in the way I relate to my wife (and partner), my female family members, friends and colleagues, and women generally. 

To be a good man means to be humble. To be kind. To be compassionate. To have integrity. To look for signs of life and beauty in the world and to work toward their promotion and fulfilment. These are qualities of genuine strength, not weakness. Real men are not bullies. They stand up for those who are oppressed. They know how to say sorry, and I love you. They admit their mistakes and imperfections, but do their best to never let them define the way they treat others. 

Men like Don Burke need to be called out for the utter pricks that they are. The rest of us, though imperfect, ought to work doubly hard to show that real men exist and that we want to work with, and love, women as equals not objects of submission. Men, don't be pricks. Get real.