What is this radical ideology? It's the idea that men use violence against women as a means of imposing patriarchal rule. That leads feminists to emphasise:
- that domestic violence is gendered: that it is to be understood as violence committed by men against women
- that domestic violence is systemic: that it is part of the norms of a traditional society and is to be found amongst all groups of men and is widely prevalent in society
- that a society can rid itself of violence by dismantling traditional gender roles, traditional social norms and by creating a new equal, non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal society
But such claims run up against the following realities:
- a significant percentage of violence is committed by women not men (here)
- violence is concentrated amongst an underclass and some ethnic groups (e.g. Aborigines) (here and here)
- violence is strongly linked to alcoholism, unemployment and homelessness (here)
- traditional social norms amongst men did not condone rape or violence against women
- women are safer when in relationships with men than when alone (here)
- violence against women is not as prevalent as claimed in the false statistics peddled by the white ribbon day campaign (e.g. see here and here)
- the shift toward a matriarchal feminist culture has not, so far, led to an increasing respect for women, nor to self-respecting behaviour by women, and has, if anything, encouraged rather than discouraged the rise of a "thug" culture amongst men. (at the end here)
The white ribbon day people have explained their ideological approach in documents at their website. For instance, Stephen Fisher has authored a paper titled From violence to coercive control: renaming men's abuse of women. (It's currently the first paper listed at the site.)
It's an extraordinary document - a kind of ideological madness. Let me give you one example. According to Stephen Fisher we shouldn't understand domestic violence as being about acts of physical violence. If we do this, then we might start to think that non-violent men are innocent of patriarchal control. Fisher complains that,
the focus on physical acts allows a distinction to be made between good and bad men. For example, some people may say that most well-meaning men do not perpetrate physical or sexual violence against women. This allows men to believe that if they are not hitting women, then they are not violent and are not the target of violence prevention efforts. In fact many women victims report that they feel most trapped and fearful when the frequency of physical violence decreases.
According to the patriarchy theory of domestic violence, the violence has to be systemic. That's why Fisher isn't keen on making a distinction between good and bad men and why he favours a broader definition of domestic violence to include:
emotional, sexual, financial and spiritual violence
Yes, now there is even a category of "spiritual violence" against women (no, I don't know what this means).
Fisher also makes very clear the ideological distinctions he wants to draw. He wants us to take a "profeminist" view of domestic violence, which means a belief that,
men’s violence against women happens because individual men are supported to perpetrate this violence by the social context of gendered inequalities in a patriarchal society. Ignoring these inequalities is both a symptom and outcome of seeing men’s violence against women primarily as a medical or individual issue.
So the right approach, according to Fisher, is to see domestic violence as being a product of gender inequality in a patriarchal society. The wrong approach is to see it as a medical or individual issue which he explains as follows:
Many of the ways that men’s violence against women is commonly presented either implicitly or explicitly reinforce the idea that there is something wrong with the perpetrator (and sometimes the family or even the victim) that needs addressing. It is said that he may have a problem with anger, alcohol, communication skills, conflict resolution, childhood trauma, or even have ‘sexist attitudes’.
This way of naming the problem results in solutions that diagnose these perpetrators with some kind of ‘disorder’ or ‘problem’ and then devise a therapeutic intervention to 'fix’ them.
Fisher has other ideas. He believes the fault lies with social norms:
Firstly our dominant culture and everyday social norms support men’s superiority and women’s inferiority. Secondly it is not necessarily the case that men are merely ill-informed. There are distinct advantages for men to continue to hold and act on these beliefs, not the least of which is control over women. So while violence may be perpetrated by individuals this is done within the context of wider social norms.
He doesn't want treatments for those men with anger management issues. He wants men to identify themselves as privileged, with all the loss of moral status that entails:
So men’s violence against women is not simply the action of a bad (or mad) man losing his temper and hitting his ‘loved-one’. Nor is the issue one of men simply needing to develop more respect for women. It is true that perpetrators have little respect for women but the central issue is their desire for control over women rather than their lack of respect. The issue is one of systematic power inequalities and a society that supports men’s entitlement to a range of gender privileges.
White ribbon ideology is designed, ultimately, to get men to assent to the idea that they are privileged oppressors of women. If that is true, then men get to be at the bottom of the totem pole of identity politics. They then have to work on themselves, doing what they can to humbly listen to and learn from those they have oppressed. As Fisher advises in the conclusion to his paper:
men who are committed to supporting this important work must continuously strive to listen to and read the work of feminists who have worked tirelessly for decades for gender equality.