Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Zero tolerance - but only of some domestic violence

It was an exasperating experience reading the Better Nation guest post on the subject of domestic and sexual violence from Jenny Kemp of the Zero Tolerance campaign. She makes a number of points that I agree with and which are important - for instance, that Bill Walker can no longer represent his constituents with any credibility, and that he is disturbingly incapable of spotting the contradiction between his admission of violence and his denial of assault. But the conclusion she invites us to draw is an utterly incredible - albeit depressingly familiar - one. It's ironic that someone who draws attention to contradictions in the words of others is unable to spot the equally disturbing contradictions in her own.

"So, having reminded ourselves of various men who have failed to challenge violence and abuse, I can’t help wondering, who will be next?..

...What I hope is much less certain is that he (or very occasionally she – let’s not forget the deep sexism of Nadine Dorries MP, who has blamed girls for their own sexual abuse) will get away with it. Bill, William and Ken might be safe – although in the case of Mr Walker that’s by no means certain – but I hope that whoever next reveals he doesn’t know or care about men’s violence and abuse will not be left standing, so essentially undamaged by the ordeal. What kind of message would that send out to women seeking justice or recovery from domestic abuse or sexual violence? That the establishment is a safe place to hide if you are a bigot and a misogynist? That the male protection racket is alive and well? That, frankly, we don’t care? That’s not a message I find tolerable or acceptable."

I'm not going to say that Jenny doesn't care about male victims of domestic or sexual violence committed by women or by other men. I'm not going to say that she doesn't care about female victims of domestic or sexual violence committed by other women. But it is a fact that she doesn't seem remotely interested in them. It is a fact that she seems to tacitly deny the possibility of their very existence. She practically defines domestic and sexual violence as something that "men" do to women. She acknowledges that most men don't do it (thanks for that), but as "men" generically are the problem, only men can provide the solution by speaking out. That solution does of course require that the men speaking out think only what they are told to think about the subject, which seemingly will consist of a fair dose of self-loathing -

"If we only ever involve women in tackling this problem, which is caused by men..."

Good grief. Heaven forbid that both men and women might want to be involved in tackling a problem that is caused by individuals of both genders, and which individuals of both genders suffer from. Jenny talks about powerful men who don't "get it", but she's in a position of some power as well. She notes that there is already a "cross-party consensus" against domestic violence (in the terms that she defines it - exclusively male-on-female), so where on earth has that consensus sprung from if the bastard "men" are the only ones with power in this country? It's there because Jenny and those who share her views carry disproportionate influence, to the point where the worldview she promotes is practically unchallengeable in some (notably Scottish Labour) circles.

Now, there isn't a "female protection racket" that deliberately trivialises the impact of female-on-male (or female-on-female or male-on-male) domestic or sexual abuse. But there are people in the elite, of both genders, who are emotionally wedded to an antiquated ideology of mono-directional power relations between men and women, which means, to coin a phrase, that they simply don't "get it" about what happens in the real world. Jenny is outraged about the "message" that powerful men belittling violence against women send out, but I despair to think what message is being sent out by her own celebration of a cross-party consensus that seeks to silence the voices of a large number of victims of domestic violence. Indeed, a consensus that chillingly tells those victims that they themselves are the "cause" of domestic violence, through the very fact of their gender.


  1. It is understandable that Mr or Mrs Tout le Monde thinks that domestic violence is a one-way street, ie perpetrated by men on women.

    But that someone who is deeply involved in an organisation committed to its eradication should take such a narrow view is disturbing.

  2. I found myself actually afraid to make similar points to both yourself, James, and you, tris, on Better Nation.

    Reading the first tranche of postings, I felt I would be setting myself up for a lynching if I did so.

    I've always felt that the problem with domestic violence campaigns is that they almost always concentrate on the men against women (admittedly probably the most common) but this does tend to turn the problem into a "women's issue" rather than an issue for society to deal with. With the depressing news that domestic violence against young women is at record high figures, anyone portraying this as a "women's issue" does the victims of domestic violence no favours at all.

  3. Don McC & James Kelly

    I seem to have been the only one so far (JPJ2) to be prepared to comment directly in gently negative fashion about the Jenny Kemp article at Better Nation.

    I also considered for some time whether I should dare to comment but was driven forward on behalf of men by personal experience.

    I agree with everything that James writes here, and I have to say on this issue-particularly by "Scottish" Labour who always speak as if it is a men on woman only issue- Scotland is running behind the views of much of the rest of the Western World.

    I will express a view here which I did not feel comfortable enough to express on Better Nation with regard to how the lives of more women could be saved. There is considerable evidence from investigations into male/female student relationships that low grade violence is initiated by men or women more or less equally, but that women do not have the same inhibitions as men on the issue because they do not feel that they can inflict the same damage as men can. The problem with that, it seems to me, is that a woman initiating violence is liable to be subject to more damaging physical retaliation.

    I contend that one of the actions that would definitely help to save women from harm would be for feminists and others to remind women that they should not physically attack men on the grounds of self interest alone.

    My conclusion can only be that domestic abuse/ violence must not be treated as a feminist issue.

  4. I saw your comments, JP, and the utter dismissal of them by Ms Kemp. As Tris said, that someone in her position holds such a narrow view is disturbing.

  5. I posted on Ms. Kemps article sharing my thoughts which were along the same lines as JPJ2 and,funnily enough,they seem to have failed to get past the moderator! It would seem that you're allowed to hold any opinion you like,as long as it agrees with hers! It really is quite scary that she seems to think that this sort of attitude is acceptable!