It appears our brothers and sisters in Australia, by hanging posters around the campus of Monash University, have attracted the attention of concerned citizens, including the National Women’s Officer – based on a message posted in the Australian Clayton Feminists Working Group.
Their problem appears to be the message of one of our posters which reads: “Domestic violence, women are half the problem”.
Obviously, this is an extremely condensed and simplified message, since it is intended for presentation on a poster, and a detailed exploration of all its implications would be ineffective if presented in poster format. Nobody would read it. That is why the poster also includes the domain address of A Voice for Men – where domestic violence and many other problems are discussed in detail, including in an article written by Paul Elam several years ago that was the namesake of the posters: Domestic Violence: Women are Half the Problem.
The poster, succinct in its message reflects the reality that domestic violence which as a significant problem does not occur in a vacuum, but does occur in the context of violent relationships. In addition it reflects the fact, established and confirmed by a growing body of peer reviewed research that the popular public narrative of violent men abusing innocent, female victims is at best only a partial representation of the reality of DV, and at worst, a deliberate fabrication.
In the real world, outside the expensively produced public service announcements in which brawny male actors pantomime assaults on decorative and waif-thin female actors in advertisements and entreaties to fund this or that women’s shelter – real world domestic violence is driven by factors a bit more complex and nuanced that the canonical narrative of “male violence”. And the professionals working to ameliorate the problem of intimate partner violence know it. Poverty, drug addiction, previous childhood abuse of adults, psychological disorders are just a handful of contributing factors which lead both men and women to participate in reciprocal violence within domestic relationships.
This misleading popular narrative; that DV is sexually directional, and solely the issue of violent men abusing women is a problem for two clearly identifiable reasons.
1: Public maintenance and promotion of a false narrative – the myth of one-sided male-against-female violence has the effect of cultivating fear and hostility between men and women, hatred of men by women, and resentment and disaffection toward women by men. The narrative of innocent female victims and violent angry men serves to cultivate hatred and fear between men and women who would otherwise be one another’s natural compliments. The false narrative of bad men and good women is socially toxic.
2: The popular model of domestic violence, that of violent men and innocent female victims – because it does not reflect real-world domestic violence, is doomed to fail where it is used as the framework of any effort to reduce or eliminate DV. Anti violence activism, programs or public policies cannot succeed if they are built on a theoretical model which does not correspond to reality.
Combatting the problem of DV from a false model of sexually one-sided aggression is as useful as fighting a structure fire by spraying water on only the North and East facing walls, and letting the South and West facing walls burn freely. Approaching the serious issue of domestic violence using a known broken model may even exacerbate and amplify the problem.
Of course, all of this, even in the summarized format presented in this discussion is far too much to fit neatly onto a poster. Thus, the poster employed a terse condensation of these facts into the simple statement; Domestic Violence, women are half the problem.
However, the response to this poster and its message, from the Australian National Women’s Officer, appears from the point of view of AVfM’s editorial board, peculiar.
Here is the body of the message posted by Sally D’Amélain to the Clayton Feminists Working Group on facebook.
“A message from Noni the National Women’s Officer, similar kind of campaigning to what we were talking about in the meeting today by ways of having the ability to show support from all different sorts of people for our efforts:
This one is especially for the pro-feminists out there. In response to the ‘A voice for men’ and their claims about domestic violence I was hoping we could get some pictures (like this one but with men) of people taking a webcam photo of themselves with ‘In my own voice’ and then some kind of statement anti-violence against women. It will take like 5 minutes and would be a really great thing to do. Please, please, please do it! This is only an example you can use whatever ‘In my own voice: I don’t condone violence against women’ ‘In my own voice: I’m a part of the solution’ whatever you can think of! I would love you forever.
Peculiar to say the least. The message doesn’t seem at all to address the content, or the veracity of whether domestic violence is a sexually bi-directional issue, or in formulating an effective strategy to ameliorate the problem of continued domestic violence in the real world. Rather, the message here appears to be entirely concerned with managing public perception.
Its as if maintaining a narrative is more important than addressing the problem of violence. But it might be worse even than that. In the example position statements requested that members of the public provide, each statement of opposition to violence includes the limiting clause; “against women,” as in “anti-violence against women” and “I don’t condone violence against women”
If we start from an assumption that the goal is reduction or elimination of domestic violence, this doesn’t make any sense. Even a basic writer’s guide to style and rhetoric, such as Strunk and White indicates a preference for simplicity of message.
“Use short sentences.”
Obviously, because the limiting clause “against women” is nearly omnipresent in feminist anti violence rhetoric, it must be meaningful, and simple opposition to violence (against everybody) isn’t the intended message.
And this realization, assuming we interpret such rhetoric correctly indicates a goal apart from any real opposition to violence – whether against women only or otherwise.
Why maintain a narrative incorrectly portraying intimate partner violence as sexually one sided when it is clearly reciprocal and bi directional?
Why oppose violence in rhetoric which uses a standard limiting clause – suggesting to a readership informed on the issue of DV that male targeting violence is to be ignored?
Why address the published reality of sexual reciprocity in the commission of domestic violence with a campaign of spin, and public opinion rather than a fact or research-based address of the veracity of that statement made in poster form; that in fact, in matters of domestic violence; women are half the problem?
One possible explanation suggests itself, and it is included here as a hypothesis only, in the absence of a better explanation.
Maintenance of a narrative of domestic violence as sexually-specific; only aggressive, angry men, abusing innocent and victimized females – is emotionally satisfying. Despite its falsehood, it fits neatly into the maintained mythology – and taps into all of our natural desire to protect women from harm.
The more nuanced reality that intimate partner abuse and violence is sexually bi-directional, and that men and women are both victims and perpetrators of DV – this doesn’t tug so neatly on our emotions, and thus, doesn’t provide DV service agencies as ready and quick a pathway to all our wallets for donations.
In addition, the salaried employees and directors of DV service and aid providers, if they were to significantly reduce the problem of domestic violence , would effectively put non-trivial numbers of themselves out of jobs. There is no profit motive is actually reducing domestic violence – which may be why a broken, dysfunctional model of DV is used in almost all efforts to “reduce” the problem.
But surely, this view is incorrect, and such cynical, mercenary disregard for actual human damage and suffering couldn’t really be what informs the policies of service agencies and (ahem) non-profit organizations run along gender-ideological lines. No, of course not.
Which is why this public letter is being written and posted, obviously, a genuine desire to reduce domestic violence and its associated long term human damage is the motivation of both AVfM as well as DV service providers and their supporters in Australia.
For that reason, this letter is an open invitation to members of Australian National Women’s Officer and the Clayton Feminists Working Group to join the discussion and contribute here on AVfM with the long term goal of a rational and effective public policy on domestic violence – leading to long term amelioration of violence against men, women and children inside and outside the family and in intimate relationships.
 Headey, B., Scott, D., & de Vaus, D. (1999). Domestic violence in Australia: Are Women and Men Equally Violent? Australian Social Monitor 2:57-62
 Dutton D. G. (2007). Female Intimate Partner Violence and Developmental Trajectories of Abusive Families. International Journal of Men’s Health, 6, 54-71  Archer J (2000). Sex Differences in Physically Aggressive Acts between Heterosexual Partners: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680
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