DV Op-ed. By: Dr. Tanveer Ahmed – Gender relations can often be played as a zero sum game, no different from poker or derivatives trading, an advocacy theatre where one sex’s gain is feared as a likely loss for the other.
This is most marked in debates about domestic violence, which often occur around what is known as a feminist paradigm. This model has long dominated public discourse and centres on assumptions that domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women and is committed by men, that female violence is universally defensive and that the underlying causes of domestic violence reflect male entitlement and patriarchal social structures. By this reckoning, inter-partner violence is almost always a way to control women and limit their opportunities.
This is certainly the case in Australia, where a heated discussion on domestic violence is taking place, turbocharged by the awarding of a female victim of domestic violence, Rosie Batty, as the Australian of the Year. Batty’s son was tragically killed by a violent partner.
There are, however, inherent contradictions within this line of thinking. One is that the domestic violence paradigm paints women as fragile victims whereas feminist demands for equality in the workplace rests on assumptions that women are equally capable of dominance and aggression.
The other key problem is that it is inconsistent with much of the evidence coming from scientific studies, the most recent of which suggest female violence towards women is on the increase and that men are much less likely to report it because their place as victims is not socially sanctioned. At worst, male victims are targets for ridicule.
Another key change in the dynamics of male violence towards women is that whereas decades ago men may have committed violence towards women as an assertion of their power, nowadays, and as a direct result of the considerable gains made by the women’s movement, men are more likely to commit violence as an expression of their sense of disempowerment. This is not to suggest that men had any innate rights to such power, but that a sense of loss, isolation and sometimes outright humiliation underscores acts of aggression. Mere acknowledgement of such an experience, rather than an entire focus on male villainy, can be an important plank in addressing family violence.
The nature of this disempowerment, related in Stanford’s Professor Zimbardo’s publication “The Demise of Men”, paints a picture of a marked decline in all of the major statistical markers of functionality, from the worsening figures of boys completing high school to higher suicide rates among males. In Australia for example, the most vulnerable group to suicide are young men living in rural areas, due to their relatively poor educational outcomes in combination with greater rates of substance abuse and an easier access to guns. Men, young and old, are increasingly losing themselves in the online elixirs of pornography and gaming, stimulating but less demanding than the social and occupational demands of the real world.
The sense of disempowerment can also be starkly felt within more traditional ethnic communities, particularly those from South Asian or Arab groups. Much like Canada, Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, But the sheer speed of social upheaval that migration can bring, from the disintegration of the clan based extended family to the dilution of thousand year old cultures and traditions, can be acutely felt in men, who incur the greatest loss in status both in the workplace and at home. This accelerated shift from traditional masculinity combined with much greater female autonomy in the West, can underlie acts of male aggression.
This is not to suggest it is any way an excuse, but the decades old ideas underpinning radical feminism with its focus on male privilege and female victimhood scarcely apply in the twenty first century.
Just as women are more likely to attend university, be the bread winner in the household or use a screwdriver, they are also more likely to have affairs, be distant from their children and commit inter-partner violence. Studies show women are more likely to be violent to the children than the male partner for example.
There are limits to what extent the state can intervene to prevent domestic violence, but age old orthodoxies grounded in dogma do little to help victims of abuse, be they male, female or child. Communities coming together to minimise the effects of confrontation in households need not require gender based confrontation in the theatre of advocacy.