Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A one-way conversation on domestic violence?

There's an interesting guest post at Better Nation by Lily Greenan (who I met briefly at the Political Innovation conference in November) which observes that while there's a linkage between football matches and incidents of domestic violence, football itself is not the underlying problem. I must admit, though, that I winced when I saw Richard Gough on TV the other day talking about the link between Old Firm games and domestic abuse, because I actually had a nasty feeling he was trotting out an urban myth. Severe doubt has certainly been cast on similar claims in relation to other sporting events such as the Superbowl, so it would be interesting to know if there is hard statistical data to confirm this is really happening in Scotland. The idea undoubtedly seems intuitively plausible - football is such a dominant part of the lives of some that it's not hard to see how a defeat on the pitch could trigger violence in those already predisposed to it. But as someone pointed out to me the other day at considerable length, just because something seems intuitively likely doesn't necessarily mean it is actually happening, and it would be an error to simply take it as read without proper examination.

Either way, what troubled me more about Lily's piece is the implicit and familiar assumption that domestic violence is exclusively something that men do to women - or if not exclusively, then at least so overwhelmingly that it's not worth the trouble of acknowledging the existence of abuse that does not fit this pattern. For example -

"Women who experience domestic abuse talk about being controlled by their partner, isolated from family and friends, made to feel worthless. The violence their partner uses has a purpose – it reinforces the control he has over them."

"Men who abuse their partners don’t act in a vacuum."

"What is missing is real engagement with the wider public. In particular, what is missing is the voices of men. What is missing is a much needed conversation about what it means to be a man in Scotland today and why it is so intrinsically linked to violence and aggression."

I'd suggest something else is missing from the conversation as well. If "men's voices" are heard on domestic violence, some of them will be delivering uncomfortable and unwelcome truths - that they have been abused themselves. Some of them will have been abused by women. The million dollar question is - will anyone be listening?


  1. This is a knotty issue, with many strands.

    I'd certainly agree, in some areas, that our approach to gender can prove paradoxical. Take one simple conception of women's history, written as a compensation for the "men's history" we already know all about.

    The sunk - and interesting question - is the extent to which "revealing" the gendered content of history is an insight calling for a supplementary focus on women - or a transformational one that fundamentally unsettles what we thought we knew? Paradoxically, if you emphasise the first answer, men retain their position as modal, universal signifiers and it is easy for the issue to be constructed as a "women's issue", with a wave of the hand.

    Prison always struck me as another interesting example of this. While the number of female prisoners is and has been treated as a gendered issue of political for some time, not so the vast majority of the prison population - which is male. That is not to say that one shouldn't focus on prison's effect on women. Far from it. It seems queer, however, that we often seem thirled to a retrograde assumption that gender is something that only women have.

  2. To the extent that men are allowed to have gender, the purpose is generally to cast that gender as a problem. Not merely as a problem for women, but also sometimes as a problem for men themselves. For instance, the response to men's poorer general health outcomes often seems to be to observe that men take less responsibility for looking after themselves than women do. In other words, the onus is on them to change their nature, and there's no sense in which 'the system' should be proactively reaching out. By contrast, if the situation were reversed, it wouldn't be deemed remotely acceptable to pile all the responsibility onto individual women - there would be a 'gender theory' explanation of why the health care system is failing women's distinctive needs, and (quite rightly) a determined attempt to address the problem.