Gender-issues - which way forward?

 
The gender-issues debate has become so dominated by inflated hysteria and 'politically-correct' thinking (if that's the right word...) that it's difficult to get back to the real issues. The basic theme of equality is simple:

"The needs, concerns, feelings and fears of women and of men are of exactly equal value and importance"

Yet it's surprising how many people have enormous difficulty with that concept... Men;s descriptions of their experiences are exactly as true as women's accounts of similar situations: no more true, but also no less true - a point which many people would apparently prefer to be forgotten...

Regrettably, much of the so-called 'feminist research' on gender-issues in general, and on domestic violence in particular, can only be described as ill-researched, ill-thought-through rubbish which suffers badly from circular reasoning and a psychological problem known as 'projection'. Probably the least-known - certainly the least-publicised - fact is that in almost every category, from infancy onwards, males suffer far more violence, from both sexes, far more seriously than females: yet it is only the protection of females - and adult females at that - which is promoted politically as a serious concern. Abuse of girls in childhood is rightly regarded as abnormal and wrong; yet abuse of boys is considered so normal, even so 'right', that an abusive mother may legally be classified as the victim of her infant son... Men's status, women's safety: they're both societal obsessions which work directly against any gender-equality in our society.

Worse, most of the information used to promote the current 'politically correct' view of women's risk of 'assault by the patriarchy' is at best methodologically indefensible, often simply wrong, and on occasion even intentionally and knowingly false.[1] As a result of the flood of spurious pseudo-'facts' from this 'research', most public perceptions of the problems are completely wrong - as is invariably shown by any methodologically-sound study of genuine source-data, especially if data on both sexes (rather than solely on women) are included. For example:

  • " violence is essentially male": the bleak reality is that lesbian relationships have similar or, according to several studies, significantly higher, rates of incidence of domestic violence than heterosexual ones. [2]
  • "males are the primary, or even sole, abusers in domestic violence": the bleak reality is that women initiate assault - convert a verbal argument to a physical attack - three times more often than men, and are more than twice as likely to indulge in 'severe violence' on their partner. [3]
  • "women are at permanently high risk of assault or murder at the hands of men": the bleak reality is that a woman's year-on-year risk of being murdered by her male partner or ex-partner is about ten times less than that of her killing her own baby - especially if the infant is male. [4]
  • "domestic violence is at epidemic proportions - 50% of all women presenting in public hospitals were injured in domestic assaults": the bleak reality is that this claim by Stark and Flitcraft was achieved only by classifying all motor-vehicle accidents as domestic violence... the real figure turns out to be somewhere between 2% and 5% - with men almost as likely as women to be the victims who need hospital attention. [5]
  • "domestic violence is a specific women-only problem": the bleak reality is that similar numbers of men and women are victims of domestic violence, and are equally in need of and deserving of support - yet in most states, support services are available only for women, and male victims are still generally ignored, or even publicly blamed for having been assaulted, much as women used to be, thirty years ago. [6]

None of those common misperceptions can be said to help towards a genuine equality...

In reality, most of the well-known supposed 'facts' about the problems of domestic violence and sexual-assault - "one in four college women raped!" "one in ten women seriously assaulted at home each day!" and so on - simply aren't facts at all. The 'studies' that promote them are, almost without exception, ludicrously sexist in their sources, and fundamentally incompetent in their methodology: most can only be described under the general category of "all the news that's fit to invent". [7] Their link to genuine fact is often tenuous at best, but they do make for good newspaper headlines and political slogans... and 'jobs for the girls' - a new self-appointed 'God's Police', as Australian feminist Ann Summers admits - in an entirely unnecessary 'gender war'.

The basic political situation we have on gender issues in most Western cultures at present is that women have rights, and men have blame. The society is in real danger of falling apart, for the simple reason that no-one is taking responsibility: women have few legal responsibilities for their own actions - and are often prevented from taking responsibility even if they wish to do so - whilst vast numbers of men are too shell-shocked to be able to respond to what's going on, since any and every action brings forth further abuse. It's becoming clear, too, that one of the few real changes wrought by decades of 'equal opportunity' legislation is a huge increase in the gap between rich and poor: so-called 'equality' has been very much a middle-class phenomenon, with high-earning middle-class women depending on a new underclass of underpaid women to do housework and child-minding, whilst little or no work is available for working-class men. This is not a tenable situation... the risk of a full-scale right-wing backlash is very real indeed at present...

We have no chance of achieving a genuine equality of the sexes unless men and women start being honest with themselves and each other. Yet the political is personal: before prescribing what others should or should not do, we must look to our own actions first...

  • Where do you, in your own actions, doubt that "the needs, concerns, feelings and fears of women and of men are of exactly equal value and importance"? (Look closely: in this society, for example, you're likely to find that you'll routinely, automatically, put women's feelings and fears first, and rarely acknowledge men's feelings or fears as having any value at all...)
  • Where do you acknowledge the needs and concerns of men and of women? And can you do so equally - or do you assume that some imagined patriarchy 'out there' is so concerned with men that you need only concern yourself with women's needs, women's concerns, women's feelings, women's fears?

It's also important to recognise that social stereotypes are immensely powerful - and that if we do nothing about them, they will simply reassert themselves, sneaking back in through the side door. Three matched pairs of stereotypes that are useful to explore are:

  • "Men do; women are"

This stereotype is the key reason why it's so difficult for women to get acknowledgement for what they do - and the low status still accorded to what they do. A great deal of work has been done in the past three decades on the women's side of this equation, which has led to all those ludicrous "the first women to do this... the first women to do that..." stories in newspapers, but also a simple acknowledgement to women can and will do almost any kind of work in our society. What hasn't happened is a matching acknowledgement that men are: the definition of what it is to 'be a man' is invariably described in terms of actions - "you must do this to be a man... and this... and this... and this..." (a list which changes wildly, even faster than women's fashions - a list which usually contains impossible demands and impossible contradictions) - in other words men are still viewed as 'human doings' rather than 'human beings'.

  • "Women don't think; men don't feel"

Although a depressing number of women and men do exemplify their respective halves of this stereotype, it is only a stereotype - a fact which has been illustrated many, many times over by countless professional women. Yet, again, whilst enormous work has been done in the past few decades to counter the women's side of this stereotype, the male side has, if anything, been reinforced. There are constant demands that men should say what they feel - but are actively silenced or denigrated if they do. The Melbourne journalist Terry Lane commented that the instant response of his wife and daughter to his innocuous comment that he'd 'like to climb the Himalayas whilst he still had the knees to do it it' was "You don't feel that! You can't feel that! You shouldn't feel that! You have no right to feel that!" - the notion that he actually did feel that was simply not permitted to exist. Yet our feelings are our link into reality: if our feelings are constantly denied by others - if we are constantly told that we do not feel the feelings we actually experience - we slowly lose touch with reality, and may eventually go insane. In many ways, this is actually the so-called 'normal' experience of most males, especially in mother-dominated or mother-only households... yet our society 'blames the victim' in these cases because they are male... More disturbing is that many self-styled 'feminists' have argued, either implicitly or even explicitly, that women have an inalienable right to abuse males, on the assumption that men have no feelings, therefore cannot be hurt, therefore must accept whatever abuse any woman cares to dish out (for example, Dale Spender's oft-repeated exhortation to "insult at least three men a day, on principle, to keep them in their place"). The reality, as shown in a Australian national study, is that adult males experience at least as much psychiatric illness arising from abuse as women, and adolescent males at least twice as much psychiatric illness arising from abuse - yet support services are reserved almost exclusively for women, on the assumption that men's feelings simply do not matter... Exactly the same applies in Family Court rulings in most 'Western' states: the mother's feelings are deemed paramount, above those of the children, let alone those of the father, who is legally regarded essentially as a slave who must provide for others regardless of the cost - in any sense - to himself... Put simply, no society can maintain that kind of stress indefinitely: and there are clear signs that the resultant strains are beginning to approach catastrophic failure at a social and societal level...

  • "Men are hunters; women are gatherers"

This again is primarily a stereotype, but it's one that does have genuine roots in anatomy, physiology and perceptual psychology, and as such can be useful. It's the reason, for example, why men so often seem to expect praise after having done the washing-up: to a 'hunter' perspective, every task is a distinct project with a beginning, a middle, an end, and a celebration or rest-period - not simply part of a continuum, as it is to the 'gatherer' perspective. Male physiology and anatomy are geared to high-energy, low-endurance 'burst' tasks; female physiology and anatomy are geared to low-energy, high-endurance tasks; hence the comment in the Vietnam era that "a woman can carry only 80% of the load of a man, but for 150% the distance". Yet it's also the reason why the infamous 'housework' debate - who does what, and for how long - can never reach a valid conclusion: the gatherer/hunter stereotype ensures that men and women tend to do the same overall tasks in very different ways, with very different uses of time. And male and female perceptual psychology tend to be different, with males tending toward a hunter's 'one-pointedness' and spatial orientation, and females toward a gatherer's concern with multi-tasking and minute detail: hence women's greater difficulty than men with upside-down maps, but greater ease with selection of items when shopping - especially for clothes, with which many men have great difficulty. But this is only a stereotype, a useful generalisation: ultimately we're all individuals, our own individual variant on the threads and themes of life: hence in practice 'identical' is rarely 'equal'...

At the end, equality is down to us as individuals. We each choose our own wyrd, our own fate - which in turn interweaves with those of others. If you choose to support the current pseudo-equality - where women (especially middle-class feminists) can almost invariably claim to be 'more equal than others' - you're welcome to do so: yet don't delude yourself into thinking that it is in any way a genuine equality. "There's always a choice", says the wyrd, "yet there's also, always, a twist...": do what you will, but be very sure that you will it!



Footnotes


1. For detailed examples of such 'studies', and a discussion of the concomitant impact on gender-equality, see Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?; for examples of often blatantly circular reasoning and obsessive male-blame, see National Strategy on Violence Against Women, Office of the Status of Women, Canberra, 1993. [back]

2. Martin Hiraga, Gay and Lesbian Task Force, quoted in "", 1995. Also relevant are the comments in a personal communication from a (gay male) AIDS counsellor, who also counsels lesbian women on management of violent relationships: he complained to me that at a conference that he attended (in 1996) on violence to and within the gay and lesbian communities, all research papers on violence to gays and lesbians, and violence within gay relationships, were open and public, whereas those on violence in lesbian relationships were private to women only, and - unlike all other papers, were not published in the conference proceedings. As he said, he knows how serious the problems are, as he sees lesbian clients with violence problems every week: but without genuine and accurate research data, he cannot properly help his clients. Courtesy of the continuing obsessive denial of women's violence - solely to prop up a pointlessly dishonest form of politics - women themselves are being hurt badly, by other women... and no-one is being allowed to stop it happening... [back]

3. Initiation of assault: from Straus and Gelles' (US) National Family Violence Survey, 1975; incidence of severe violence: from Kantor and Straus, 1995 (male minor violence 9.9%, female minor violence 9.5%; male severe violence 2.0%, female severe violence 4.4% of cases studied) [back]

4. From analysis of UK official (Home Office) statistics on murder rates: the highest risk was for the 0-1 age-group, then the 15-25 age group, then the 1-5 age-group; adult females were way down on the list. In all cases victims were predominantly male - in the 15-25yr group killed mostly by each other, and in the infant and toddler groups killed mostly by mothers. Note also that whilst child-killings by adult males are invariably classed as murder, child-killings by mothers are usually classed as the lesser crime of infanticide - and hence are not shown in the more-commonly-quoted official statistics on murder, thus exacerbating the illusion that violence by females is rare. [back]

5. For an analysis of the dubious methodology and results of Stark and Flitcraft's 'study', see Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism?; "the real figure" quoted is from "Domestic Violence: Patterns and Indicators", Monash University Accident Research Centre, [Victoria, Australia], Dec 1994 - though note that even this has a number of severe methodological errors which, in every case, artificially inflate incidence-rates for women and/or suppress incidence-rates for men. [back]

6. The Domestic Violence support services in the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and Victoria (Melbourne) explicitly state in their literature that their facilities are "for women and children only"; I know of several men who have called for help and been told either to go away, or referred to a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence. The absence of services for men has been circularly used by these organisations to argue that since men are not permitted to use these 'women-only' services, this proves that no such services are needed by men... Although women are known, from virtually every study, to be the primary abusers of children, there is at present only one shelter in Australia to which a father may take a child away for safety from an abusive mother: in most states there is instead a legal requirement that the man, in such circumstances, must be charged with kidnapping, and the child returned to the mother... For details of the situation for women thirty years ago, see Erin Pizzey, Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear; as Pizzey herself now argues, the situation was always much the same for both women and men, but whilst support for women has radically improved, that for men has radically worsened - a result, for the most part, of intense lobbying and intentional misinformation by self-styled 'women's organisations'. [back]

7. Again, Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism? provides detailed analysis of many examples. [back]