One in three Australian women faces violence at some stage in her life. As a nation, we must find the leadership and the conviction to tackle effectively this blight ... That one in three women is subjected to violence is a scandal.
One in three women? Back in the mid-1990s, third wave feminism reached a peak in Australia. Kate Gilmore was in the midst of it, being the spokeswoman for the Government's campaign against domestic violence.
The feminism of the era was so pervasive that eventually there was a backlash against it from a section of the left. Gilmore was criticised by a film maker named Don Parham and by a fellow feminist, Moira Rayner. Rayner said that the "1 in 3" claim about domestic violence was "guesswork and should be dropped" (The Age, 01/06/1994). The Australian Bureau of Statistics released a survey showing that only 2.6% of women reported that a partner had been violent (including pushing or shoving) - a long way from 33%.
In the middle of the backlash against feminist excesses, Kate Gilmore fessed up. She wrote that it was important to make the 1 in 3 claim, not because it was accurate, but because it helped to drum up support for feminist causes. She wrote:
Fact is an elusive notion ... feminists have no more distorted the truth than any other advocates of disadvantaged groups fighting for public support.
What's going on here is trying to get something up on the public agenda that hasn't had any public attention. For all the excesses of which the field might be deemed to be guilty, it is only through these advocates that law reform ... has come. (Age 24/09/1994)
Gilmore admitted in The Age newspaper back in 1994 that the 1 in 3 figure was made up to further a cause; now, 14 years later, she is back making exactly the same claim in the same paper!
Gilmore is a follower of feminist patriarchy theory. This is the theory that society was organised by men to oppress women - which means that domestic violence is not an aberration from social norms, but is a traditional part of masculine culture and family life which is intended to maintain male power over women.
That's why back in 1994, when Gilmore was in charge of a national strategy on violence against women, she used her prominent position to make this claim:
You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it's that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.
The official strategy on domestic violence, loudly supported by then Prime Minister Paul Keating, asserted that all men were equally to blame. Gilmore herself denied that "men that are violent are different from every other man in the country". All men were tyrannical wife bashers.
Gilmore is now less strident in her message, but the underlying theory remains the same. For instance, she runs an argument in her column that male culture is accepting of violence against women:
... an effective national plan will create long-term change through sustained education and programs to ... challenge and change those otherwise deeply entrenched attitudes that make violence against women somehow acceptable, or at least excusable ..
... In the long run, the best protection for the women of Australia will come from a fundamental shift in social attitudes. Of course, achieving such change is tough but it is possible .... [to achieve] a fundamental change in social norms and attitudes.
To change attidues to violence against women, a co-ordinated and sustained approach must be adopted ...
It's ironic that Gilmore's article is based on a speech she gave to VicHealth. This organisation released a report in 2006 on men's attitudes to domestic violence in Victoria. The results? 97% of Victorian men not only believe domestic violence is wrong, they consider it a crime.
Where then is the deeply entrenched attitude which accepts domestic violence? What fundamental shift in social norms is required?
Gilmore's theory is wrong. Domestic violence does not exist to uphold the power of all men against all women. It does not, and never has, represented a social norm. When I was growing up in Melbourne in the 1970s, one of the strongest aspects of the male code was that you never hit women.
It was pointed out to Kate Gilmore by Moira Rayner back in 1994 that domestic violence is associated with "stress" factors, such as poverty, alcohol and unemployment. Just last month Anglicare Victoria research found that:
More than four out of five family violence cases also involve mental illness, financial hardship, alcohol abuse or housing difficulties.
Kate Gilmore writes of Australia becoming "fairer, more deeply humane and simply more just". It's difficult to see the justice, though, in unfairly attacking men and men's attitudes to women. It is not the norm for men to support violence against women, nor is such violence, as Gilmore's 1994 strategy claimed, "a product of the social construction of masculinity".
It is in families and individuals under stress that you are most likely to find domestic violence - with men not always being the perpetrators.