2015 has seen an enormous increase in discussion about family violence and violence against women. Predictably, the year has also seen a corresponding increase in those objecting to the framing of VAW as a gender-based issue.
On every article and social media discussion about violence against women, there are comments from men – and, amazingly, women – who want to keep reminding everyone that “not all men” are violent and women can be violent too. It would almost be funny, if it wasn’t so derailing and pointless.
And I still find it difficult to understand, because on one level it makes no sense.
I work in the field of defensive and advanced driver training. Very often, I’m talking with people about undesirable driving behaviour, from hooning to road rage to drink driving. It will surprise nobody to hear that most perpetrators of bad driving behaviour are – ta da! – men.
Both younger and older men are drastically over-represented in road crash and road crime statistics, by any measure you care to name. They crash more, hoon more, and die more. Rehabilitation centres are full of young men who’ve been permanently injured in car crashes. The numbers of women in such places is much lower. Part of this can be explained by men’s greater involvement in driving-related jobs such as driving trucks and taxis, and because they’re more likely to be driving when travelling with a female partner, but most of it comes down to the simple equation of testosterone, risk-taking and a misplaced belief in their own level of skill.
Yet when I talk about this in classrooms and parent seminars all over Australia, nobody objects to me making men the villains. Never once, in hundreds – perhaps thousands – of such discussions, has any driver found it necessary to remind the group that “not all men” do the wrong thing when they’re in charge of a car. If they’re a good driver they know it and don’t need to defend it, and they certainly don’t need to defend other men.
Why don’t men mind being told most bad drivers are men, yet are apoplectic with rage when told most perpetrators of violence against women are men?
Once I recognised this, I started to think about other fields where men are the main culprits in bad behaviour, yet gender defensiveness doesn’t exist. Take paedophilia. The overwhelming majority of child abusers are male, and media discussions of paedophilia invariably focus on men. Yet here, too, I’ve never seen or heard anyone needing to stress that “not all men” are paedophiles. Normal men know they’re not implicated by other men being child abusers, and so are able to remain focussed on solving the issues rather than defending themselves or anyone else with a penis.
Why don’t men mind being told that most paedophiles are men, yet can’t bear it when told most perpetrators of violence against women are men?
Finally, in discussions about violence and crime in general, men don’t seem to mind anything being said about the majority of perpetrators being men. Nobody weighs into a discussion about how 90 percent of prison inmates are men or nearly all violent crime is perpetrated by men with the “not all men” response.
Men know prisons are overwhelmingly inhabited by males yet they don’t form Facebook pages and websites to hunt down those saying it. They don’t make up demonstrably false statistics about gender-based violence, such as the truly odious “1 in 3” campaign. They don’t troll women’s groups and make death, rape and violence threats against any woman audacious enough to publicly discuss this very fact-based issue.
Where does this leave us? Well, if “not all men” isn’t about gender defensiveness in general, it has to be about, specifically, the comparison with women. It has to be about the unbearable – to some men – fact that women really are less likely to abuse, control and kill their partners. It has to be about that some men see discussions about violence against women as being somehow communicating that women are “good” and men are “bad”.
And if (some) men really do see themselves as being in a kind of competition with women, it seems to me that they really must see women as some kind of alternative species. Not another human being with a few slightly different body parts, but a whole other can of worms.
The thing is, men who derail discussions about violence against women don’t seem to care about stopping violence against anybody. And they certainly don’t seem to care about research, statistics, or facts, all of which paint an extraordinarily gender-based story. They only care about making sure women don’t come out as somehow better or holier than men, and that women don’t somehow win this spurious goodness/holiness stakes.
Men prove every day they’re not arguing about equality, because they don’t get upset about bad male drivers or bad male robbers or bad male paedophiles. What such men fail to see is that women don’t care about being good or holy – they only care about their chance (or not) of being hit, raped, strangled, shot, or stabbed.
The stakes for each gender are completely different, and the downside for women is much higher. And nothing will get better until more men recognise this.
Men regularly kill women, and women rarely kill men. Get over it.