I criticised it on the grounds that it was being used to promote feminist patriarchy theory. Patriarchy theory claims that domestic violence is a result of men as a class using violence against women to secure an unjust power and privilege in society. Therefore, domestic violence is held to be "systemic" - it pervades the whole society as a cultural norm amongst men, but can be abolished for good once men start to "break ranks" with other men and act against their own power and privilege.
One reader wrote in suggesting I had missed the point in what I wrote:
This "article" misses the point on so many levels, it's comical. That's fine. Keep looking for excuses not to do anything about a problem as prevalent and upsetting as domestic violence. Keep looking outside of your comfortable existence. When you realize that we all can participate in making the world better for everyone, perhaps you'll be a happier person.
I understand this response. If you're not aware of the personalities and the politics behind the campaign you might well just take it all at face value as a worthy attempt to counter domestic violence.
But I'll repeat again - the campaign is a very long way from being politically neutral. The day after I posted, the Melbourne Herald Sun published the following news item:
Boys to get gender lessonSo I was correct in what I wrote. The violence issue is being used for political purposes - in this case to have all state schools students indoctrinated in feminist patriarchy theory across a range of subjects every year from primary school onwards.
Feminism classes aim to curb violence
Boys face compulsory feminism programs in state schools across Victoria in a major push to prevent violence against females.
A VicHealth report for the state Education Department calls for teachers to be trained in gender, violence and sexual health issues ...
The report says programs for all students should start at primary level and be reinforced across all year levels in subjects including drama, English, science and sport ...
It said feminist theories were best at explaining the link between gender power relations and violence against women, and must underpin the programs ...
Report author Dr Michael Flood admitted there was always the risk of a backlash, but said it was crucial that students were taught that sexist attitudes and unequal relationships between the sexes were central to explaining violence ...
"...a feminist conceptual framework is essential ... to anchor the political commitments of the program."
And who is this Dr Michael Flood who authored the report? He is a liberal activist who wants to deconstruct both masculinity and heterosexuality. Again, there is an ideology at work here. Liberals think of autonomy as the overriding good in society. We are to self-determine who we are, which means rejecting anything we don't get to choose for ourselves. We don't get to choose our sex - the fact of being a man or a woman - which means that liberals want to make an unchosen ("essential") masculinity or femininity not matter.
That's why Dr Flood doesn't approve of appealing to men's sense of masculine responsibility in domestic violence campaigns. He doesn't like using the slogan "real men don't hit women" because,
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)
Note that he is hostile to "men's investment in male identity". He disapproves of men having a "male identity" because he thinks of it negatively as an oppressive social construct used to prop up male privilege and power. For him, the whole notion of "man" and "woman" is an artificial construct:
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)
Dr Flood also celebrates the "queering" of heterosexual men:
Bent straights: Diversity and flux among heterosexual men
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) La Trobe University
New formations of sexuality are emerging among heterosexual men, informed by constructions of ‘queer’ and ‘metrosexual’ masculinities and other alternatives.
Some straight men express alliance with gay men or question the binary of heterosexual and homosexual, or proclaim themselves to be ‘wusses’ and ‘sissies’, or take up egalitarian or even subordinant roles in their heterosexual sexual relations, or adopt a feminised preoccupation with personal grooming.
Such developments signal a weakening of longstanding constructions of heterosexual masculinity, and there is significant diversity in the contemporary sexual cultures of young heterosexual men. Yet at the same time, many heterosexual men’s social and sexual relations with women are organised both by gendered power relations centred on male privilege and by homophobic and homosocial policing.
It's politically progressive, thinks Dr Flood, for heterosexual men to declare themselves to be "wusses" and "sissies," to accept subordinate roles in sexual relations, and to adopt a feminised lifestyle. Dr Flood welcomes such developments because he supports the deconstruction of heterosexual masculinity, which he believes underpins patriarchy and male privilege.
And yet Dr Flood is the person that VicHealth sought out to design compulsory programmes of indoctrination for Victorian school students.
So, yes, patriarchy theory must be argued against wherever we meet it, including in White Ribbon Day campaigns. It's not something harmless that we can overlook in order to get a buzz in supporting a cause.
We're not in a position to stop the VicHealth bureaucrats from imposing their views on schoolboys, but we can maintain a principled opposition and perhaps even benefit when the backlash that Dr Flood fears does eventually come about.
In the meantime, we should encourage men to be more, not less, masculine. You cannot defend or build a civilisation when men are demoralised, defensive and lacking in moral status in society. We should applaud those men who do step forward and use their masculine strengths to work not only for their families but for their larger tradition.