But the campaign is based on feminist political theory - which ends up grossly distorting the issue of domestic violence.
Those running the campaign are supporters of patriarchy theory: of the idea that men have used violence against women to uphold their privileged status in society (i.e. to uphold the patriarchy).
Those who believe in patriarchy theory claim that violence against women is systemic in society - that it's a traditional part of the culture and institutions of society. Therefore, patriarchy theorists will usually:
- exaggerate the extent of domestic violence
- claim that domestic violence is prevalent throughout all parts of society
- claim that male culture has traditionally supported domestic violence
- present men as the perpetrators of domestic violence and women as the victims
- argue that the solution is a political one in which men are to "break ranks" with other men and with their own privileged status
- male culture has traditionally condemned rather than supported violence against women
- domestic violence is not spread evenly throughout society; it is far more prevalent amongst men who are unemployed, who take drugs and who have mental health issues
- women are sometimes the perpetrators rather than the victims of domestic violence. They not only initiate violence against children and other women, but some studies show they initiate violence against male partners just as frequently as men initiate violence.
- the campaign unjustly maligns the average man as being responsible for domestic violence
- such campaigns if taken seriously contribute to the poisoning of relations between men and women (what happens to the mind of a woman who believes that the average man hates and disrespects women to the point of violence?)
- the campaign requires all men, even those who have never been violent, to adopt a "penitent" attitude, in which they are to accept that they are an unjustly privileged group. If men do adopt this attitude, they lose moral status, not just in terms of the issue of domestic violence, but in society generally.
- the campaign radically attacks a masculine identity, seeing it as being hostile to, rather than protective of, women. Not surprisingly, the campaign activists have prioritised feminising traditionally masculine environments
The Age had a TV quiz show host, Andrew O'Keefe, address the issue. He followed a familiar path of beginning with a vague but alarming statistic:
At least one in three Australian women at some stage experiences violence at the hands of a man.
Not true, but that's not the point. The idea is to give the impression of domestic violence being systemic. Note too that O'Keefe has already quietly led us into the assumption that domestic violence involves a male perpetrator and a female victim.
By virtue of being raised a man in our society, most men will have contributed to the problem in some way over the years.
Thanks Andy. We men just haven't been maligned enough over the past generation, have we? You've never hit a woman? Doesn't matter to Andy, you're still part of the problem - by virtue of being "raised a man".
Every time I behave that way [laugh at sexist jokes, act insensitively], I am supporting the belief that men have rights and privileges greater than those of women, or that somehow men have a special place in the world that isn't shared by women. It doesn't mean that I beat my wife. But for many men, that belief is the basis of the notion that it's OK to beat your wife ... Because those forms of abuse are all based on the notion of male privilege and power.
At least Andy is upfront with the theory. What he's arguing here is that it's a belief in male power and privilege (patriarchy) which leads men to think it's OK to bash their wives. Therefore, men who believe in male power and privilege are contributing to domestic violence. And, according to Andy, it doesn't take much to be a male "patriarchalist". Even laughing at a sexist joke or being insensitive makes you a supporter of male power against women.
Heaven help any man who took this seriously. You'd end up paralysed from fear of offending women.
As I wrote earlier, Andy's analysis doesn't explain much. It doesn't explain why violence against women was considered so unacceptable in earlier times when men dominated public life more than they do now. It doesn't explain why women commit acts of violence against children, men and other women. It doesn't explain why domestic violence is relatively rare amongst some groups of men, but common amongst men experiencing certain known "stressors", such as alcohol and drug abuse, mental ill-health, homelessness and unemployment.
We need men more than ever to assert their masculinity confidently in society, as a civilisational force. Men won't do this successfully if they are always on the back foot, wondering if they are too powerful or privileged, or if they are oppressing others in virtue of being men.
My local paper, the Diamond Valley Leader (25/11/09), also ran a column on domestic violence. It contained this gem:
Victorian Health Promotion Foundation chief executive Todd Harper said the attitude and behaviour of boys and men in all walks of life needed to urgently change.
"Violence contributes to more death and disability among women aged 15-44 than any other cause," Mr Harper said.
We get it Todd. It's systemic. It's all groups of men. It's a problem of male culture and masculine attitude. It's the biggest threat to women.
Only it's not. Most men already think it's wrong to hit women. They don't need to change their attitude. And it's ludicrous to claim that domestic violence contributes more to death and disability among young women than any other cause. Not only is this untrue, it's obviously untrue. And yet it's peddled in the media because it fits the theory.
And it's the theory that needs to change.