Book projects – No Fallen Angels: 10: Personal and political

[Notes, some content]

A question of strategy

– reprise on ‘women are victims of patriarchy’ – show how it disempowers women

– full-length discussion and re-work of the National Strategy on Violence Against Women, moving towards a realistic strategy on violence in general


So here they are: the ten basic tenets of the National Strategy on Violence Against Women:

1. Violence against women must be responded to as a crime.
2. No woman deserves violence, ever.
3. Women have a fundamental right to be safe.
4. Men must be held completely responsible for their violence.
5. Women are at greater risk of violence in their homes than on the street, and are likely to know their attacker.
6. The criminal justice system provides the appropriate response to violence against women.
7. Male violence against women is about power and control.
8. There are no social, cultural or economic boundaries of violence against women.
9. Everyone, everywhere must become intolerant of violence against women.
10. Violence against women will stop only when men stop being violent and the community stops condoning it.[1]
Re-read the list above, exchanging ‘women’ and ‘men’ throughout, as if it were the basis for a National Strategy on Violence Against Men. What’s missing? What isn’t being acknowledged?

Using that awareness, re-read the original. What’s missing? What isn’t being acknowledged? Given that this document is not just someone’s opinion but the current basis for current law, what are the likely legal and practical problems?

As a national strategy for violence against women, it tackles a bare fraction of the problems; as a national strategy for violence in general, it is almost completely useless. It is, in fact, the Angel Factor writ large, as absolute law: and we’ve already seen that the subtle sexism of the Angel Factor creates far more problems than it solves. So we need to start again – from scratch.

Not quite ‘start from scratch’, because we can rework the National Strategy document to demonstrate its own flaws, and then use that as a base from which to start. If we ignore the blatant sexism of the original, and consider it to be a general strategy on violence – applying not solely to protection of adult women, but of men and women, girls and boys, anyone or anything – we’d reframe it like this:

1. Violence against anyone must be responded to as a crime.
2. No-one deserves violence, ever.
3. Everyone has a fundamental right to be safe.
4. Everyone must be held completely responsible for their violence.
5. Everyone is at greater risk of violence in their homes than on the street, and are likely to know their attacker.
6. The criminal justice system provides the appropriate response to violence against anyone.
7. Violence by anyone against any other(s) is about power and control.
8. There are no social, cultural or economic boundaries of violence against anyone.
9. Everyone, everywhere must become intolerant of violence against anyone.
10. Violence will stop only when everyone stops being violent and the community stops condoning it.
Explore the differences between the two versions for a while. Why does the original lose so much of its force when – as in the second version – there’s no one easily-definable group to blame?

[notes prepared for New South Wales study:]

Notes on violence

Some recommendations for the development of strategies on family violence:

Violence is ‘human’, not ‘male’

  • It is common to regard violence – especially family violence – as a gendered problem, that of abusive males against defenceless females. From a psychological perspective, however, violence is a human problem with gendered overtones, not a gendered problem as such: it is neither useful, valid, nor factually true to state that violence ‘is’ male, especially as such a statement usually leads to circular ‘proofs’.
  • Most available data is strongly skewed towards a women’s perspective, on the assumption that only women are significantly affected; the resultant data tend to reflect this assumption, often resulting in circularity. A general rather than gender-specific analysis is required to break this cycle.
  • Violence is a human problem: hence it is not a problem that can be ‘solved’, although it is a problem that, with a rigorous realism, can be reduced and managed, both at individual and societal levels.

Violence is a problem of power

  • Violence may occur at an individual and/or a collective level – such as culturally-condoned racism or sexism.
  • Violence arises from an individual’s or group’s failure to take responsibility for their own power, and especially arises from the illusion that power can be ‘taken’ from others.
  • Power is the ability to do work, as an expression of choice: in this context, the term ‘work’ is entirely open, and includes physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social and many other forms.
  • Since power is in part the expression of choice, the ultimate source of power is always within the self. Hence power cannot be taken, though can easily be given away or abandoned. It can be demonstrated, however, that many facets of our society are focussed on creating an illusion whereby power is ‘taken’, ‘stolen’ or ‘lost’. In that sense, our society is inherently violent.
  • Violence can be defined as “any means, in any form, by which an attempt is made to create the illusion of empowering the self by disempowering any other” (where ‘other’ includes adults, children, animals, objects such as machines or property, or the environment in general). A lesser form of violence – ‘abuse’ – is created through any attempt to offload or ‘export’ responsibility for personal issues to others: examples include habitual complaining, and the artificial manufacture of guilt or fear (such as in many forms of advertising).
  • Studies of violence are complicated by the many ways in which our society confuses power and violence, often describing violence as ‘power.’ Another common error is the notion that power is the ability to avoid work, although in practice this simply perpetuates other forms of powerlessness.
  • Power and violence are mutually exclusive. At anything other than a surface level, it is not possible to be both violent and powerful. Violence of the supposedly ‘powerful’ generally arises from what is actually a felt sense of powerlessness.
  • Psychological and other studies indicate that the form which violence takes is not greatly significant: the fact of violence is what is significant. The common tendency to emphasise physical violence and to ignore non-physical violence creates serious distortions in both data-gathering and resultant strategies: for example, the physical trauma of rape generally heals quickly, but the non-physical trauma can occur at many different levels – e.g. emotional, spiritual (‘self-esteem’, etc.) – and may take far longer – if ever – to heal.

Responsibility for violence

  • Responsibility and blame must be distinguished. Responsibility is ‘response-ability’, the power to respond in the present, including development of intended behaviour in the future. Blame is the assignment of exclusive responsibility to an ‘other’: an inherent side-effect is the self-disempowering of the blamer, since it assigns all power to the ‘other’.
  • Blame, as an evasion of responsibility, is thus the least useful of all possible responses to violence.
  • To ignore violence is to condone violence; it is also an evasion of responsibility.
  • Responsibility in all incidents of violence is shared, if only at a societal level. To respond to violence only as a crime of a single party is a near-guarantee of failure to reduce future violence. Violence can be reduced only by treating each incident of violence as an opportunity for all parties – up to and including the entire society – to explore their own involvement in and responsibilities for violence.
  • Arbitrary ‘punishment’ of individuals for collective violence is, like most punishment, itself a form of violence. Arbitrary assignment of blame is an evasion of responsibility on the part of the blamer, and is thus also a form of violence. Most existing strategies on violence – which are primarily focussed on blame and ‘criminalisation’ – are thus inherently counter-productive, resulting in the observed high rates of recidivism and ‘tit-for-tat’ violence.
  • Strictly speaking, to be violent, or to condone violence, is a choice. In practice, it is realistic to admit that violence is generally a habit – i.e. a non-choice or avoidance of choice – and hence it is more useful to suggest to violent persons that in each circumstance they do have choice, to be powerful or to be violent. Constructive approaches to violence – e.g. the Duluth Wheel methodology – focus on educating awareness that in each potentially violent circumstance there is always a choice to not be violent – and that to take the non-violent option is inherently empowering for all parties.
  • Legal structures which aim to remove choice are inherently violent, and inherently counter-productive as ‘solutions’ for violence. Legal structures which can be used to increase awareness and support education are far more likely to be productive.
  • No education process – with or without legal support – can be developed without reasonably accurate data.

Requirements for accurate data

  • Most data on violence at present are seriously affected by circularities. Reliance on crime statistics, for example, is severely skewed by our society’s tendency to define many forms of stereotypical male behaviour as criminal, and to treat exactly the same behaviour in females as ‘temporary insanity’, or even to ignore it completely. Other data are known to have been greatly distorted by researchers’ prejudices (in some cases intentional), by circular selection criteria, and by poor statistical or other methodologies. The resultant picture of primarily gender-specific violence may be politically appealing to some, but there is far from sufficient evidence to consider it as describing anything other than a series of special cases, from which it would be extremely unwise to generalise to the wider population.
  • Despite the cultural emphasis on male-to-female violence, such as in the National Strategy on Violence Against Women, there are sufficient data to indicate that this is no more than a special case. On physical violence alone, male-to-male violence runs at much higher rates than male-to-female; female-to-female violence – especially those in lesbian relationships – occurs at a rate not less than in heterosexual relationships, and in some studies at a significantly higher rate; and although female-to-male violence is currently reported at roughly one-eighth the rate of male-to-female, it is well understood that social and legal pressures greatly reduce the effective reporting rate, and that some hospital studies indicate a serious-injury rate approaching parity. Data for non-physical violence, which in terms of long-term damage is often far more severe, have proven difficult to collect, and have demonstrably been even more subject to researcher bias than those for physical violence – partly because of a traditional tendency of women to resort to non-physical rather than physical violence. Under these circumstances, it would be wise to regard all existing data as unreliable, and usable for correlation purposes only under the specific circumstances to which they apply.
  • The assumption that only male-to-female violence is ‘significant’ leads to circularity. There is sufficient available evidence to suggest that female violence is, if anything, a greater cultural problem than male violence: Straus and Gelles’ US National Family Violence Survey, for example, indicated that male violence fell between 1975 and 1985 whilst female violence increased; even when all responses from males were excluded, the (women) respondents indicated that they were more likely to hit or otherwise assault their (male) partner than their partner was to assault them. Greater male strength is countered by strong socialisation that “it’s not OK to hit a woman”, and a far greater tendency amongst women to use a weapon of some kind; other evidence also indicates that women tend to discount their own violence far more than do men, and to initiate physical violence in one-on-one private situations far more often than men.
  • Any survey of inter-gender violence which requests data from only one gender, and especially one which only requests data on violence done to that gender, is unlikely to to give an accurate picture of inter-gender or intra-gender violence. Most available studies of a statistically-significant population base ask only women about their experience, only of violence done to them, and only that done by men (Straus and Gelles’ National Family Violence Survey is one of the very small number of exceptions).
  • If a study is required for the development of realistic strategies on violence, rather than political propaganda, it should be assumed that such a study will be valid only if exactly the same questions are asked of approximately equal numbers of both women and men. The same questions should be asked both of inter-gender and intra-gender violence, and of violence both within and between different age-groups.
  • Because of different socialisations, survey questions will need to be framed carefully to minimise effective differences in response between women and men, and between those of different cultures. In particular, since men are strongly socialised against reporting what they feel, and to tolerate far higher levels of both physical and non-physical abuse than women, especial care will be required to frame appropriate questions on experiences of non-physical violence.

Development of strategies

  • Violence is a problem at both an individual and a societal level; responses to the problem of violence must therefore be both personal and political. Strategies on violence need to support both contexts of response.
  • Strategies on violence need to be developed from accurate data which are applicable to all conditions and circumstances of violence.
  • Strategies must be grounded in a solid understanding of human psychology and human sociology. Neither is sufficient without the other. As a human problem, gender-based analyses of psychology and sociology are unlikely to be useful, especially if they are the primary or only theoretical basis for those strategies.
  • Gender-based ‘feminist’ analyses tend at present to dominate most discussions of violence; ‘masculinist’ analyses are rare, and usually even less adequate than feminist ones. Whilst some feminist concepts are useful, almost all examples of theory or methodology suffer from serious structural flaws.
  • Many feminist analyses, such as that underlying the National Strategy on Violence Against Women, are based primarily on blame and export of responsibility; as such, they are inherently violent, and are thus often worse than useless.
  • Exclusive attributions of human characteristics or behaviours to one gender or the other – such as describing men’s anger as “instrumental” or controlling, but women’s anger as “expressive” – occur often in many feminist theories: since in most instances, intra-gender differences are far greater than inter-gender differences, such gross simplifications cannot and do not clarify in any useful way the full complexities of human behaviour and human interactions.
  • Many feminist theories of violence – or almost any other human behaviour – are grounded in demonstrably inadequate observation, methodology, psychology and models of power: the common tendency to dismiss any responsibility for any woman in any incident, for example, makes any attempt to use these theories to empower women inherently self-defeating.
  • In a significant number of cases, studies have been further distorted by the use of feminist analysis which presupposes a structural bias that solely impacts on women’s lives: such analyses have inherent circularity, and should be regarded in most instances as useless for any purpose other than propaganda. Dworkin’s model of rape, for example, defines all male heterosexuality as rape, regardless of what the woman may choose or experience: no meaningful strategies to protect women from rape can possibly derive from such a model.
  • Other ‘feminist’ notions have been routinely used to promote or describe non-physical violence as ‘women’s rights’ – for example, Dale Spender’s oft-repeated exhortation to “insult at least three men a day, on principle” – which greatly complicate any realistic strategies on both physical and non-physical violence.
  • The above comments are derived from the perspective of an experienced researcher on the psychology and practice of non-analytic skills education – primarily the development of individual responsibility, judgment and self-awareness – and are in no way intended as ‘anti-feminist’. Feminist analyses have demonstrably been, and will continue to be, useful in certain contexts – particularly on social pressures towards self-abuse by women – but because of the inherent structural problems outlined above, they should never be used as the sole theoretical ground for any study of violence.
  • Human violence arises from a human error, the evasion of responsibility. No-one is immune from this error; no-one is immune from violence, or is free of responsibility for violence.
  • For violence to not exist requires every aspect of the world – every adult, every child, even every animate and non-animate entity – to be fully responsible and fully ‘in control’ at all times. This is not an achievable goal: any strategy which demands or expects this is doomed to fail, and often to be counter-productive.
  • Any strategy on violence must accept its inevitability as part of the human condition. Violence is, however, often learned behaviour, and can be reduced through learning alternate forms of behaviour. To learn how to minimise violence, and to maximise recovery from its incidence, is everyone’s responsibility. Practical strategies on violence will focus primarily on education at all levels, using legal structures to support this, rather than to punish with further violence its inevitable occurrence.

[1] Adapted from a pamphlet issued by the National Committee on Violence Against Women, Canberra [Australia], May 1991, later used as the basis for the National Strategy on Violence Against Women.

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