Some feminists have added to this: men use violence against women to maintain the system of patriarchy. Therefore, ending violence against women means not so much punishing or treating individual male offenders, but attacking the whole social system of patriarchy.
It’s a neat little argument, but not one which catches the real motivations of men and women very well. For instance, it turns the hard-working husband who sacrifices a great deal to earn money for his family into an evil patriarch, intent on dominating his wife. Similarly, it undercuts the position of the woman who takes time off to raise her own children, as she is not successfully competing for money and power in doing so.
Still, the argument has been very influential. For instance, in 1994 the Keating Labor government released a “National Strategy on Violence against Women”. This strategy argued, in line with patriarchy theory, that all men were responsible for domestic violence.
The spokeswoman for the strategy, Kate Gilmore, denied that “men that are violent are different from every other man in the country”. Instead, all men in the family represented an aggressive, violent force against women. She wrote:
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.
Keating was unwise to endorse a strategy which understood the role of men so negatively and pessimistically. The blue collar male voter, in particular, was unimpressed by this and other hostile policies and turned against Keating at the next election. The Labor Party has to this date been unable to win them back.
Kate Gilmore seemed to have an inkling of how unpopular her strategy might prove, as she said at the time that,
there are a lot of men who feel very resentful of this message, there are a lot of women who out of loyalty to the men in their lives also find this a very difficult message.
Patriarchy theory was too insulting to men to succeed electorally. It will also in the future face other hurdles, including recent research into the causes of male violence.
For example, in Saturday’s Age there was an article on the topic of women who sexually abuse adolescent boys. The article contained this surprising information:
there is growing evidence that not only are young male victims of female sexual abuse severely affected, but that they are also at higher risk of going on to become abusers themselves.
"When you look at these men who have been abused by females, and compare them to the men abused by males, in terms of psychological function, they were doing as badly as the men abused by males," says Dr Patrick O'Leary, a senior lecturer in social work at the University of South Australia.
O'Leary, who conducted Australia's biggest study of male victims of sex abuse, says that having been sexually abused by a woman was for men a higher risk factor towards becoming a sexual offender than being abused by another male.
A study sponsored by the Public Health Agency of Canada, titled The Invisible Boy, made similar findings. Citing four research papers, the report said, "there is an alarmingly high rate of sexual abuse by females in the backgrounds of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men (and) male adolescent sex offenders abused by 'females only' chose female victims almost exclusively".
What will patriarchy theorists make of this? There is growing evidence that sexually abusive men were themselves abused by women as adolescents. This suggests that the problem has more to do with a cycle of abuse than with a patriarchy in which all men fulfil a role of tyrants, invaders and imperialists.