[A] study into the impact of violence on young people has prompted calls for violence prevention programs in schools.
The report called An Assault on our Future was commissioned by the White Ribbon Foundation, a body that campaigns on the issue of violence against women.
The report's co-author, Dr Michael Flood, says among the most worrying findings was that one in three young people had witnessed their fathers being violent towards their mothers and one in every three boys believe it is not a "big deal to hit a girl".
The report is available online. Dr Flood draws his statistics from a 2001 study called Young Australians and Domestic Violence - also available online.
This study did find that 23% of young people had witnessed male to female domestic violence; it also found that 22% of young people had witnessed female to male violence.
These are relatively high figures, though they do include threats of violence and hitting in self-defence.
The main point to note about the 2001 study, though, is its explanation of what causes violence. The study points out that when children live with both parents the rate of violence drops to 14% compared to 41% for those living with a mother and her boyfriend.
Furthermore, if the father drinks a lot the rate of violence rises to 55%. Aboriginal children are also more exposed to violence (42%), as are those living in poverty (one and a half times more likely).
Children who are exposed to violence are also more likely to perpetrate violence as adults (i.e. there is a cycle of violence).
The 2001 report therefore reaches this conclusion:
The most important policy implication of this research is the reinforcement it provides for an approach to domestic violence prevention that recognises the differences that exist in the community.
Certain sectors of the Australian community experience levels of domestic violence that are much higher than other sectors ... (p.5)
The implication is that strategies to prevent domestic violence must have particular relevance to disadvantaged communities ... an integrated approach is needed ... to identify pockets in the community where risk factors exist ... (p.6)
Dr Flood does not draw the same conclusions as the report he relies on so heavily. He is much more interested in "traditional gender roles" as the source of domestic violence:
Males are more likely to accept violence against females if they have traditional gender role attitudes. (p.25)
He claims that domestic violence is a social norm amongst men:
Violence-supportive attitudes are grounded in wider social norms regarding gender and sexuality. In fact, in many ways, violence is part of ‘normal’ sexual, intimate, and family relations.
In the same vein:
The most well-documented determinants of violence against girls and women can be found in gender norms and gender relations.(p.24)
We are even told that:
Some men have rape-supporting social relationships ...(p.26)
Unsurprisingly, Dr Flood concludes:
Given the evidence that social norms, gender roles, and power relations underpin intimate partner violence, strategies that address these will be critical to successful prevention efforts. (p.31)
Why would Dr Flood have such a strong focus on gender roles and power relations? The answer is that he is committed ideologically to patriarchy theory. He believes that masculinity was constructed as an act of power and aggression to oppress women and homosexuals. Therefore, he sees it in negative terms as something to be either overthrown or radically reconstructed.
He is, in other words, anti-masculine.
In one of his articles, for instance, Dr Flood considers those domestic violence campaigns which focus on the idea that real men don't hit women. He isn't comfortable with such campaigns:
We should be wary of approaches which appeal to men's sense of 'real' manhood ... These may intensify men's investment in male identity, and this is part of what keeps patriarchy in place (Stoltenberg, 1990). Such appeals are especially problematic if they suggest that there are particular qualities which are essentially or exclusively male. This simply reinforces notions of biological essentialism ... (Engaging Men, p.3)
The book by John Stoltenberg cited by Dr Flood is titled Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. In this book, Stoltenberg claims that the "belief that there is a male sex" is a complete fiction, a "political and ethical construction" created by men for the sole purpose of oppressing women.
Stoltenberg tries to be consistent in his view that there is no such thing as a male sex. Instead of using the term "man" in his book, he frequently employs the alternative expression "human beings who happen to be penised".
Dr Flood is sympathetic to such ideas:
Nor should we take as given the categories "men" and "women". The binaries of male and female are socially produced ... (Between Men and Masculinity, p. 210)
So the situation is this. Dr Flood is a patriarchy theorist. He believes that masculinity is a mere construct, created for an aggressive, dominating oppression of women. He therefore associates traditional masculinity with dominance, aggression and violence.
Therefore, he explains domestic violence primarily in terms of an existing masculinity, and his solution is to launch a large-scale effort, involving all levels of government, to "profoundly" alter men's lives.
The White Ribbon campaign is being used as a battering ram to attack masculinity, when it should be focusing on practical and targeted ways to reduce the incidence of all forms of domestic violence.