In the last of a series of posts examining perceptions and attitudes about the gendered nature of domestic violence, EYE consider the argument that championing male perspectives on domestic violence can cause a detriment to female victims of a crime predominately perpetrated by men.
EYE recently supported Fathers4Justice’s complaint about the above poster by promoting a petition asking for it to be withdrawn. Over the next few posts I’ve outlined why I believe this was a worthy and worthwhile exercise but I want to end by exploring the perspective of a group of (mostly) mums who don’t.
The Nope Bench
One of the last things I did to promote the petition objecting to Greenwich Council’s poster was to post an invitation on the dadsnet section of mums net with some background detail and a link for anyone who wanted to support it.
To say that the invitation was unwelcome would be an understatement, with approximately a hundred mumsnetters taking the time to leave a message and one by one declare their intention to sit firmly on the opposing ‘nope bench‘.
Men’s feelings are more important than women’s lives. That’s the message of this petition. Mumsnet User
In retrospect, it may have been incredibly naive of me to expect any other outcome but while I’d anticipated something of a mixed reaction I genuinely expected a much more diverse spread of opinions from users of one of the most active forums about parenting. Especially in the dad’s section.
One user openly supported the petition and very kindly shared it with a pioneer of the early women’s refuge movement Erin Pizzey, so it wasn’t entirely a wasted venture but I have to say that if there are many dads lurking around mumsnet then they certainly weren’t putting their head above the parapet on this particular subject. That is unless you count a few vicarious votes voiced by their more vocal partners, which struck me as slightly ironic given the subject matter.
I have subsequently discovered that there is a completely separate website called dadsnet which describes itself as ‘like mumsnet but with fewer users and less radical feminism‘, so I guess that says something about something.
In fairness to the heavily populated nope bench though, even if there was a bit of ‘What about teh menz?’ rhetoric flying about, the discussion thread was generally populated by predominately polite people who clearly felt very felt strongly about the subject matter under discussion. Many of them shared some very personal and extremely harrowing stories about their own experiences of violent men, as well as citing evidence which very clearly shows that the population of violent offenders in this country is almost exclusively comprised of men.
Statistics show domestic violence is overwhelmingly MALE: (CPS) 93.4% of those convicted were MALE. Mumsnet User
The general consensus seemed to be that the vast majority of incidents of domestic violence are caused by men and any objection to Greenwich Council’s necessarily direct public information message should be considered at best petty, or over-sensitive, and at worst downright dangerous.
Dangerous because it detracted from the victims of domestic abuse who are overwhelming women, dangerous because it makes excuses for perpetrators who are almost always men and dangerous because by criticising services trying to support them, you are ultimately exposing victims of domestic abuse to more risk.
Just once, I’d like to see decent men stand up and say “These other men, these deadbeats that don’t bother to support their children, that don’t bother to help raise their children, or that abuse their partners and their children, these so-called men are not acceptable. They need to be called out in public, they need to understand how unacceptable they are.” And then those men need to follow through with it. They should push for stricter laws and better child maintenance enforcement (one that doesn’t cost the resident parent money!!). And socially shun those wretched men that do these things. Not sit back with a beer while they commiserate about how their wife doesn’t know her place and just let it stand. Challenge them. Support women that are struggling with this and show that it’s not men against women it’s nonabusers against abusers. Mumsnet User.
Clearly I wasn’t going to win any popularity contests by attempting to expand on why I think the petition serves a genuine and meaningful purpose but having elicited such a negative response to my initial post I felt I had some responsibility to at least try.
So I acknowledged that women are much more often injured or killed as a consequence of intimate partner violence and clarified that the last thing I wanted to do was detract from the terrible experiences of many women, quite the opposite in fact.
I also proposed that personal experiences (including my own) may have a bearing on how people view this issue and that because ‘men’ may be more likely to commit violent crimes, it does not follow that most ‘dads’ are violent and Greenwich Council could have just as easily promoted a more effective and balanced message without having to demonise dads.
Despite this the mums netters stood firm and the nope bench just got longer. Observations included that my perspective clearly did ‘detract from the terrible experiences of many women’, that I was incredibly naive, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t understand statistics, that I should read up on the concept of ‘not all men’ and ultimately that clearly the vast majority of dads wouldn’t think the poster was speaking to them, so perhaps I needed to have a good long think about why it touched a nerve with me.
I remember lying in bed screaming for help whilst my dad kicked the shit out of my mum. Whilst he bit her. Whilst he burnt her with cigarettes. I remember flinching every time he walked past us because he thought it funny to slap us on the back of the head for fun. I remember him sticking a hot teaspoon on my hand and holding my head in the washing up bowl. I remember him throwing my mum down the stairs. I remember him telling her and us that we were lucky he didn’t kill us fucking cunts. I remember the police turning up and asking him to leave the house “for a few hours”. I don’t remember him doing any of that to my brother. Think I’m gonna sit on the no bench dickhead. Mumsnet User
It’s impossible not to be moved by such responses, potentially swayed even. At the end of the day I can only speak my own truth and given the direction of travel of the thread, I quickly began to feel that participating in a lengthy debate with the members of the nope bench would probably be a relatively unproductive exercise for everyone involved.
I also sensed that it might be in some way disrespectful to the victims of violence who had posted their personal experiences to extend a debate that was already 100 more posts longer that I had ever intended. One users repeatedly asked me to tell the group what I’d learnt from the nope bench’s perspective but I left that question unanswered and retreated from the thread.
I’m a firm believer in instinct. My instinct is hardwired to be protective towards women and I have enough respect for mother nature to respect the fact that there is a reason for that. But my instinct also tells me that this debate is not so one sided as it can easily appear on the surface, especially if we are to believe the domestic abuse professionals who promote the perception that the proportion of domestic violence incidents reaching courts really only scratch the surface of a much larger and still largely hidden problem.
Some will argue that this only serves to exacerbate the point the mums netters were putting forward but to the very best of my understanding research just doesn’t support such a one sided perspective.
In a previous post I considered the proposal that a great deal of cherry picking appears to go on when the relevant research is considered but, to be honest, to argue how heavily the victim or perpetrator chips stack up on any particular side distracts from my most immediate concern about this debate (or lack thereof).
It’s not about men against women, to a fair degree it is about nonabusers against abusers but even then when the research also points to reciprocal cycles of dysfunctional behaviour, first and foremost it should be about focussing on finding solutions for people that need help regardless of who you are or what your sex, or (perhaps more significantly) your political opinion might be.
I agree, even in the so-called enlightened 21st century, dads are still looked down upon to a great extent. And the non-physical grief that some of the dads have had on here from their soon-to-be-ex-wives is surprising. We can all be good or bad, dishing out labels isn’t helping anyone. Dadsnet User
The reality is that women and men are both capable of extraordinary cruelty. The reality is, in my humble subjective opinion, domestic abuse is not a gendered issue, it’s a human rights issue. The reality is that if we promote the myth that women are always victims and men always oppressors then it is our children that will suffer the most.