Dividing society into groups of angels and demons is an unhelpful game that is played in our nation around issues of domestic violence by what are erroneously called feminists. The issue of violence against women is framed as an ongoing gender war by intersectional feminists, as men, usually conservative men, go to the mattresses to defend the good ones among their ranks. The reaction of conservatives plays into to the feminist feedback loop and the discussion is of no help to anyone.
I remember clearly, as many do, the morning that Hannah Clarke and her children were burned in their car by her husband and the children’s father Rowan Baxter, followed by his own suicide. The attack happened just a few streets from our house, so it is no surprise it has been a topic of conversation in a number of close circles. My daughter, like many in the fitness industry, knew Hannah and admired her for her kindness, professional skill and beauty.
People spoke about Rowan as someone who was aggressive, strange and volatile. I talked to Rowan’s best friend, who had had spent three days being interviewed by the police. I didn’t even get a question out, when he pre-empted what I wanted to ask. “No” he said “I had no idea what he was going to do, how could I?”. I didn’t exactly want to ask that question. The question I had within me, didn’t take form. It was just a deep and inexpressible “why?” It was the same question everyone had, that comes forth in more predictable and tangible questions, like what could I have done? How could we let this happen? How can we make sure it never happens again?
In the weeks following the murder I sat with my daughter and watched some of the videos the family had put on Instagram, some were happy family moments, others showed a strange and disturbing dynamic. I felt the insatiable “why” within her, and I knew she had to share the question that none of us could ever answer. It wasn’t the first time I had to tell her that I had no simple answer to this complex question. When my daughter was in middle school, a girl in her school was murdered by her mother. The mother killed her daughter with an axe and then drove to the Story Bridge and threw herself off, while her son watched from the car. Not long after, a teacher at a local school threw his son off that same bridge and then jumped off himself. The insatiable “why” continues to echo through our nation, as we hear of another woman burned to death and of the murder suicide of a man and baby in South Australia.
Those who have grand theories, like to situate domestic violence in their political or philosophical framework. They use our rage, confusion, and grief to place all of these incidences in a wider story. It’s the patriarchy they claim, or it’s a crisis in masculinity, or it’s the abandonment of faith, maybe it is the failure of government. The very worst of the angel and demon narratives are those of the loudest intersectional feminists and the angriest men’s rights activists.
Intersectional feminists almost spit when they hold leaders, like the Prime Minister, to account for the latest incidence of terrible violence. The problem, they continue to tell us, is in the baseline of socially constructed masculinity. The problem is, more particularly, in the kind of masculinity that conservative men emulate. “they just don’t get it” we hear over and over again, as they try to tap into our “why” with their simplistic partisan answers.
When I hear the blame being placed at the feet of men, I remember, not just the men and boys that are killed in these incidences, but the broken men and boys that are left behind. My own husband’s father was a relentlessly cruel man, I have seen the scars on him, and his four brothers play out in various ways. One of his brothers died of a heroin overdose. The toll of domestic violence in our nation is impossible to fully map.
The source of the emphasis on “toxic masculinity” is gender studies. Gender studies has largely taken over what use to be “women’s studies” in universities. Modern gender theory casts masculinity and femininity as socially constructed entities that are in an oppressor/oppressed dynamic. It is in this cultural field where intersectional feminists like all their debates to play out, even in relation to male violence. The conclusion they invariably make is that men kill because of a broken kind of masculinity, and women don’t kill as often, because they have been socialised to better control their emotions and impulses.
Never underestimate the appeal of simplistic answers to complex questions, such has become the mainstay of left-wing politics. The patriarchy is a useful shapeshifting demon for the cover of ineffective policing and culturally invasive legislation. Dan Andrews has been the master of this. In response to the Eurydice Dixon murder in a Melbourne park, he tweeted. “We’ll keep asking “Why was she alone in the dark?” instead of asking “Why was he?” We’ll keep ignoring the real problem, instead of actually fixing it.” Following the murder of Courtney Heron, also in a Melbourne park, neither Dan Andrews nor the spokesmen for the police would hear about the safety of Melbourne women in parks, because it was about “the behaviour of men”. That is a quote from both Premier Dan Andrews and Assistant Commissioner of Police Luke Cornelius. So, it is not the job of powerful men to use the taxes women pay to ensure Melbourne parks are safe, but the job of all men to “reflect”.
The error that gender ideology brings to the discussion around the safety of women, goes on to confidently lead intelligent people to proclaim that when a male takes on a female gender identity, it will cure male pattern violence in that person. This is because gender theory considers that it is the socially constructed gender, not the sex that has violent tendencies. Therefore, sex-based safeguarding is being removed in many areas in favour of gender-based safeguarding, even in hostels for domestic violence victims. Feminists who defend single sex safeguarding are then called TERFs by the intersectional feminists who insist on dominating the conversation around violence against women and femicide.
So now we have serious problems for women in our society and serious inability to communicate about the problems. In grief, and in search of the insatiable “why”, we give the microphone to people who make baseless sweeping statements and virtuous proclamations on issues they have absolutely no clue about. Conservative commentators respond by giving space on conservative platforms to the defence of traditional masculinity and men’s rights, by doing so it keeps the discussion in the field of gender and places the focus back on the needs of men. The more aggressive of the men’s rights advocates then provide online fodder for the more aggressive of the feminists, and we end up in endless, unhelpful loops.
When we can’t talk about women and the physical vulnerabilities women have, without reducing women to cultural representations, or focusing on the needs of men, real non-partisan solutions for women become illusive. Any person who is pretending they don’t understand what a woman is, any person who references women’s reproductive processes or organs without using the word “woman” (cervix haver, birth giver), any person who pretends we can cure male violence with the imposition of feminine stereotypes; these are not people who should be given any authority in this discussion. They live in a different world to the women who is trying to escape from violence and from the man who has found himself without the resources to be a decent partner and father.
To bring the conversation to a place where we are actually discussing how to protect women and children, we must maintain the distinction between sex and gender. If the problem of male violence is not gender but sex based, then we can narrow the discussion to the sections of the population who are worse affected, and focus on policy, policing, safeguarding and practical education.
It is not all men who kill women, but it is mostly men who kill women. If we can’t create single sex spaces to protect women, women lose the ability to protect themselves and their children. And if we can’t talk about male pattern violence, we have no hope of helping either men or women build safe homes for children. Conservatives need to look at the larger picture in the debate surrounding violence against women, and not fall into the trap of narrowing the fight to gender issues. It’s home ground for the cultural left and the field of most harm to women and girls by their cultural and legal erasure.