When does it become acceptable for a group of people to own an issue?
Racism has killed white people and the families who lost their child are the victims of a heinous crime. But these were racially incited incidents, not a trend. White people do not have issues to fight because of their race; as a group, they are socially and economically advantaged..
Lack of social mobility is a class issue, whether or not middle-class individuals are affected by a failing school; the phenomenon is far more prevalent in socially deprived areas, and far more injurious to socially deprived individuals. Middle-class people do not have issues to fight because of their class; as a group, they are socially and economically advantaged.
So there are plans to tackle racism, there are think-tanks looking at social mobility issues, there has been a successful movement to afford gay people the rights other groups enjoy, a recognition that the trans* population have had inadequate access to decent healthcare for a long time and so on. We no longer debate who ‘owns’ these issues. We accept the rough criteria usual when looking at a critical mass of people with a high amount of shared characteristics outside of the white, male, straight, middle class standard.
But what about women?
Ally Fogg wrote a blog this week following the release of a video from the Mankind Initiative (a charity which supports male victims of abuse), which highlighted society’s attitude to female-on-male violence. A hidden camera reveals that when a man is violently aggressive to a women, people intervene. However, when the situation is reversed, instead they laugh and wander off.
Good work all round. A rock solid insight, clearly and engagingly dramatised which perfectly delivers against the brief that society doesn’t take violence against men seriously enough. (And the brief is undeniably well meant, for of course, it doesn’t.)
But what that ad has done (perhaps unwittingly), and what Fogg is now propagating, (completely wilfully), is the myth that violence is not gendered. The myth that until now, all we’ve heard about is wives battered by husbands, but actually, there’s an equivalent population of men battered by women and that’s really terrible. In fact, the ad implies, with a stated (yet disputed)* 40% of all domestic violence victims being male, it is virtually a shared, genderless issue. The sub-text is: ‘Actually, we’re all in this together. We’re not taking, violence per se seriously enough. And worse – shit just got real. Actual men are affected.’
We are not in this together. Men are overwhelmingly committing the violence – 96% of all violent crime is committed by men. Two women a week are killed by male violence and one in four will be the victim of sustained domestic violence, more than 7 million women. And Fogg can debate the robustness of the sources, and argue over the exact percentages but in so doing he is counting sapling trees in the middle of the rainforest; he is ignoring the vastness of the trend, denying the galloping social phenomenon, neutralising the prevailing characteristic of this infectious global disease until it is impossible to distinguish its very nature.
Although these facts are often quoted, still – when a single man is killed by a woman it is front page news for days. The Mankind ad made headlines for the very fact that people were relieved to feel that whilst violence is ugly, at least it’s not (whisper it) ‘misogynistic’.
The Fogg level of analysis is inadequate. We are not dealing with an indiscriminate, ubiquitous social ill, we are failing to examine a fatal pandemic for what it is – an unnatural social disease which is abusing and killing women, in far, far, greater numbers than men, banally, routinely, and – almost silently.
Until we all face up to this deadly diagnosis, all we’re doing up is reminding people how nasty being ill feels, and sharing out the paracetamol. We should be in the lab, forensically examining the disease at molecular level and developing at speed a vaccine that will save its biggest victim. Yet we’re not even dignifying the victims with the acknowledgment that the disease even exists.
Domestic violence is not one of ‘the men’s issues’, Fogg. It is a Woman’s Issue from which some men sometimes suffer. And we call it ‘Male Violence.’
*does not take into account retaliation / self-defense from abused women, a tendency by men to report early, or the number and persistence of the abuse.