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Dividing society into groups of angels and demons is an old unhelpful game that has been replayed this week 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. I had many conversations in the following year with people who knew the family.  The attack happened just a few streets from my house, so it is no surprise it has been a topic in a number of close circles. My daughter, knew the family and like many in the fitness industry, admired Hannah for her kindness, professional skill and beauty.

Many people spoke about Rowan, now a certified monster, as someone who was aggressive, strange, volatile and generally a dickhead.  I spoke to Rowan’s best friend after he had spent three days being interviewed by the police. I didn’t even get a question out when he saw on my face the longing to know what everyone else had asked. “No” he said “I had no idea what he was going to do, how could I?”. I didn’t actually want to ask that question, the question I had within me couldn’t form on my lips, it didn’t even formulate in my mind, it was just a deep and inexpressible “why?”  It was the same question everyone had, that comes forth in less important and more tangible questions.  People were asking, what could I have done? If only I had known. How could we let this happen? How can we make sure it never happens again?

My daughter followed both Hannah and Rowan on Instagram, and in the weeks following the murder she sat with me and played their family videos, some happy, some showed a strange and disturbing dynamic. I didn’t want to watch the videos, but I felt the insatiable “why” within her as well, and I knew she had to pool the question that none of us could ever answer.  It wasn’t the first time I had to tell her that I had no answers to that 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 this week, 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 the rage, confusion, and grief to place all of these incidences in a wider story.  It’s the patriarchy, it’s a crisis in masculinity or it’s the abandonment of faith, the failure of government.  The very worst of the angel and demon narratives are those of the loudest intersectional feminists (libfems) and those of the angriest men’s rights activists (MRA).

Libfems almost spit when they hold conservative leaders, like the Prime Minister, to account for the next incidence of terrible violence. 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 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.  I remember the grief stricken face of the father and brother of the beautiful girl who died at the hands of her mentally ill mother at our school.

We could feel the competing narratives emerge in the raw community grief following the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children.  The pressure of this showed when the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation made a stupid public comment about the influence of the domestic situation on Baxter’s actions.  He was stood aside amid a scattering of voices clambering for the high ground. No one wants to hear the Rowan Baxter “side”, nobody wants to even mention his name. I have heard in my own circles about his background, his state of mind and strange behaviour. Those closest to him comb over their memories forensically, driven by the insatiable “why”, while they wish in vain that he had killed himself first.  

Feminists like myself will not hear the suggestion that there is any allocation of blame in the situation, but where it rightly sits.  Yet if we apply it to the suicide of men in similar situations, we can acknowledge there may be a reason to look for a pattern behind male violence, suicide and depression.  Given the online aggression I receive from men’s rights activists I am loathed to make their point for them, but they do have one.

I understand the pushback that MRAs give to the libfems in areas of cultural policing of masculinity. Modern gender theory central to intersectional feminism gives credence to gender over sex.  In the inclusion of “gender identity” as a protected characteristic, intersectional feminism casts masculinity and femininity as socially constructed entities that become the focus of social policy over sex. 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.  It is a simplistic theory with no scientific basis.  It is reflected in the simplistic instruction we hear given to “all men” to “stop killing women”.

Although I sympathise with social measures to promote respect in cultural representations of women, I don’t believe we can cure domestic violence through the recasting of gender by government.  I also don’t see any evidence that changing of gender identity or expression in an individual cures male pattern violence. The problem with simplistic answers is they never call for research, they never site data except raw numbers. And worst of all they pursue ideologically driven aims and neglect policing, safeguarding and research-based education for young men and women.

The current aim of the foundation set up by the Clarke family “Small Steps for Hannah” is a legislative one.  The Queensland Parliament is currently investigating coercive control legislation to give police more powers to intervene at early signs of dangerous controlling behaviour. I don’t have any opinion of the legislation and I believe it is just at consulting phase.  What we are assured of, is that the legislation will be “gender neutral”. This is pointed out to appease the MRAs.

Liberal or intersectional feminists have an agreement that trans women are women and therefore “woman” is not a biological reality but an identarian one.  Most conservatives and men’s rights activists do not agree on this issue, but the MRAs have been able to be appeased by the libfems at the legislation phase by neutralising gender language.  They align, not in a agreement but against a common enemy, the discussion of sex based violence.

In the discussion of domestic violence, mainstream conservatives make an unhelpful friend with men’s rights activism against libfems. If sex does not exist, we can’t talk about sex as a characteristic that is relevant in male violence against women, we can never talk about sensible legislation to protect women against men at all. 

If the problem is gender, then the solution involves all men with the recasting of masculinity through cultural policy.  If the problem is innate to the male sex but is a small section of the male population, then the solution lies largely in safeguarding.  If we accept that male pattern violence is a problem that we map in males, then we have to maintain the distinction in law and policy that sex is real and gender is just a word we used to describe the social expression of sex.  

In a stark example of the way that intersectional feminism gives way to safeguarding measures, Joe Biden has announced that he will not allow rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. His tweet has been posted on twitter next to the boasting of a female identified male person, posing naked in a woman’s shelter.

Progressive feminism has facilitated the same weakness in female safeguarding in Canada. If a shelter or crisis centre wants to be single sex in Canada it has to exist without the support of government funding.  Women are again organising against the government to protect themselves and their children when they become vulnerable to male violence. As they do, they are opposed by both libfems and MRAs.  It is not all men who kill women, but it is mostly men who kill women and if we can’t create single sex spaces to protect women, women become less safe.   And if we can’t talk about male pattern violence we have no hope of helping either men or women build safe homes. Conservatives need to look at the larger picture in the gender debate in the future, and not fall into the trap of mainstream feminists to side with those who are also against the interests of women and girls. 

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