The hidden half of domestic violence
How to have eternal life
The Sex Change Society:
Feminized Britain and the Neutered Male
October 24 1999 Sunday Times NEWS REVIEW
Women are at least as violent as men, but the evidence is everywhere being dismissed or ignored, writes Melanie Phillips ©
Mention feminism to most people and the reaction will probably be one of faintly amused indifference. Some men may be irritated by feminist rhetoric; some women might feel their agenda is a little extreme. But the extent to which feminism in its most extreme form has embedded itself within the institutions and thinking of Britain has simply not been grasped.
Feminism has become the unchallengeable orthodoxy in even the most apparently conservative institutions, and drives forward the whole programme of domestic social policy. Yet this orthodoxy is not based on concepts of fairness or justice or social solidarity. It is based on hostility towards men.
The idea that men oppress women, who therefore have every interest in avoiding the marriage trap and must achieve independence from men at all costs, may strike many as having little to do with everyday life. Yet it is now the galvanic principle behind social, economic and legal policy-making. Buried within this doctrine, though, is an even deeper assumption. Male oppression of women is only made possible by the fact that men are intrinsically predatory and violent, threatening both women and children with rape or assault. Men are therefore the enemy - not just of women but of humanity, the proper objects of fear and scorn.
This assumption runs through feminist thinking as a given. "Most violence, most crime . . . is not committed by human beings in general. It is committed by men," wrote Jill Tweedie.
According to Marilyn French, men used violence both to threaten and control, as well as actually harm: "As long as some men use physical force to subjugate females, all men need not. The knowledge that some men do suffices to threaten all women." Moreover, it is marriage and family life that expose women most to male violence. According to Gloria Steinem, "patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself . . . The most dangecrous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home".
All this has been enough to turn the stomachs of some feminists, particularly those who love husbands or sons. Novelist Maggie Gee said she once thought the sex war was exciting, but had now concluded it went too far. "Women are giving up on their relationships too quickly. Living with a man I love very much, I keep thinking that all the generalisations about men just aren't true."
These generalisations, however, are now the stuff of public policy. Male violence against women, said the government in June 1999, was no longer going to be "swept under the carpet". Virtually nobody questioned the premise that men were invariably victimisers and women always their victims.
There is no doubt that some men are violent towards women; the evidence of women's injuries is real enough. However, this is one side of the story only. There is another side: the extent of women's violence against men and children. That, though, is a story that almost every official body in Britain and America has successfully suppressed.
There are now dozens of studies which show that women are as violent towards their partners, if not more so, than men. Unlike most feminist research, these studies ask men as well as women whether they have ever been on the receiving end of violence from their partners. They are therefore not only more balanced than studies which only ask about violence against women, but are more reliable indicators than official statistics which can be distorted by factors affecting the reporting rate - women using claims of violence as a weapon in custody cases, for example, or men who are too ashamed or embarrassed to reveal they have been abused.
Many people are likely to be astonished and sceptical about the conclusion drawn by these reports. The idea that women are as violent as men is counter-intuitive and simply disbelieved. So it is important to provide a flavour of the scope and significance of their findings.
A 1994 British study by Michelle Carrado and others, for example, interviewed 1,800 men and women with heterosexual partners. Some 11% of the men but only 5% of the women said their current partner had committed acts of violence towards them, ranging from pushing, through hitting, to stabbing. Five per cent of married or cohabiting men reported two or more acts of violence against them in a current relationship, compared with only 1% of women. A further 10% of men but 11% of women said they had committed one of these violent acts. Study after study shows women are not merely violent in self- defence but strike the first blow in about half of all disputes. The American social scientists Murray Straus and Richard Gelles reported from two large national surveys that husbands and wives had assaulted each other at approximately equal rates, with women engaging in minor acts of violence more frequently. Elsewhere, they found more wives than husbands were severely violent towards their spouses.
Moreover, there is now considerable evidence that women initiate severe violence more frequently than men. A survey of 1,037 young adults born between 1972 and 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, found that 18.6% of young women said they had perpetrated severe physical violence against their partners, compared with 5.7% of young men. Three times more women than men said they had kicked or bitten their partners, or hit them with their fists or with an object.
In any event, the idea that women are never the instigators of violence is demolished by the evidence about lesbians. According to Claire Renzetti, violence in lesbian relationships occurs with about the same frequency as in heterosexual relationships. Lesbian batterers "display a terrifying ingenuity in their selection of abusive tactics, frequently tailoring the abuse to the specific vulnerabilities of their partners". Such abuse can be extremely violent, with women bitten, kicked, punched, thrown down stairs, and assaulted with weapons including guns, knives, whips and broken bottles.
It is true that most women who are the victims of violence suffer domestic assaults. Yet the 1996 British Crime Survey reported that nearly one third of the victims of domestic violence were men, and that nearly half of these male victims were attacked by women. Moreover, if a woman starts a physical fight with a man, even a mild slap might provoke him into retaliating, with far worse consequences. Women who murder violent husbands may be treated leniently because they were provoked; yet men who are violent against women are never granted the same understanding. Provocation, it appears, is a feminist issue.
Moreover, given the greater strength of men, it is particularly noteworthy that so many women initiate violence against them. The fact is that men hold back. The psychologist John Archer has noted that, among female college students, 29% admitted initiating an assault on a male partner. Of those women, half said they had no fear of retaliation or, since men could easily defend themselves, they did not see their own physical aggression as a problem. In other words, far from assuming that men are violent, women take men's non-aggression for granted.
Archer went on to remark on the apparent restraint shown by many men in western cultures. "We might speculate that to some extent a strong norm of men not hitting women enables women to engage in physical aggression which might otherwise not have occurred," he wrote. Male aggression, he suggested, was a kind of default value associated with patriarchal structures.
When these are overridden, as they have been by modern secular liberal values and by the emancipation of women, female aggression increass. "These values will have greatest impact in a relationship that can be ended by the woman at little cost, and where the rate of male aggression is low. "We can speculate that these represent specific instances of a more general set of circumstances entailing a relative change in the balance of power between men and women."
In other words, as women have become independent of men, they have also become more violent towards them - because men have become dispensable. This unpalatable conclusion, however, has been completely overlooked in a culture that believes infamy is the prerogative of the male. Much to everyone's astonishment, the Home Office recently produced its own evidence that domestic violence was not a male disease. In January 1999, it reported that 4.2% of women and 4.2% of men aged 16 to 59 said they had been physically assaulted by a current or former partner in the past year.
Women separated from their partners were most likely to be victims, with 22% assaulted at least once in 1995. The public reaction to the Home Office research was almost complete silence. The government, too, appeared impervious to its implications. Shortly after it was published, the Home Secretary opened a domestic violence court in Leeds that was founded on the explicit assumption that only men were violent.
In June this year, the Cabinet Office women's unit launched a campaign to "change the culture" that presented domestic violence as almost exclusively a problem of male crime. It managed to omit another under-reported fact: that most violence against children is committed by their mothers, not their fathers. A study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children revealed a few years ago that natural mothers, not fathers, are most frequently the perpetrators of physical injury, emotional abuse and neglect. This is not particularly surprising, since mothers generally have much more daily contact than fathers with their children.
There was yet another notable omission: the women's unit material did not differentiate between couples who were married and people who were living together or had irregular lovers. It therefore omitted a key fact: that the risk of violence increases significantly for unmarried couples. The Home Office study itself observed that marital separation was a "key risk factor". Only 12.6 in every 1,000 married women are victims of violence, compared with 43.9 in every 1,000 never-married women and 66.5 in every 1,000 divorced or separated women. As husbands are replaced by partners and lovers, therefore, violence against women increases. Marriage is a strong safety factor for women. Yet this is not said. Instead, the opposite idea is fostered, that violence against women typically takes place within marriage. In November 1998, the women's unit announced a new initiative. Children were urged to report violence against mothers and sisters. There was no mention of abuse against fathers. Instead, a television advertisement showed a husband berating his wife when she told him dinner would be late. That was the violence. It was followed by a helpline number for children to call if a woman in their house had been abused.
This fictional scenario illuminated some remarkable thinking by civil servants and ministers. It had become acceptable, it thus appeared, for children to inform on their fathers to teachers or "helplines" simply for shouting at their mothers. Shouting was now to be classified as domestic violence. If that is the case, then violence happens with enormous frequency in families. Don't women sometimes shout at men? There was another telling aspect of this advertisement. It featured an "Oxo" middle-class nuclear family. The thinking behind this, according to the then Scottish Office minister Helen Liddell, was that "domestic abuse knows no boundaries of social class or social group". However, not only was this scenario not violence, but the nuclear family is the least likely setting for abuse of women or children. It was no accident, however, that it was chosen. The married nuclear family has to be demonised because it is said to be the vehicle for the oppression of women.
The outcome of all this is that it is now generally accepted that violence is intrinsically male. This is a gravely distorted picture. It is true that most recorded crime is committed by men. It does not follow, however, that most men commit crime. Yet this is the false conclusion that has been drawn, as the result of the suppression or distortion of the facts about violence as well as the message that is constantly promulgated that violence is a problem of masculinity. The evidence suggests that a quite different conclusion should be drawn. This is surely that both women and men are capable of aggression and violence, but that violent men, like violent women, are not typical of their sex.
© Melanie Phillips 1999
Extracted from The Sex Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered
Male, by Melanie Phillips, to be published by Social Market Foundation next
Monday, £12.99. Copies can be ordered for £11.99 from The Sunday Times
Bookshop on 00 44 870 165 8585
October 17 1999 Sunday Times NEWS REVIEW
Women, not men, are driving a collapse in moral values that is undermining the family and ultimately themselves, says Melanie Phillips
WOMEN BEHAVING DISGRACEFULLY
It is a
truth universally acknowledged that one of the most significant problems of
modern western society is the male of the species. Without a job, without a
role, outsmarted and outstripped by women, men are said to be reverting to
their natural proclivities for rape and pillage. They truant from schools,
abuse alcohol and drugs, commit crime and father children by serial
girlfriends. They are innately promiscuous, heartless and unreliable. Women,
in contrast, are long-suffering, patient and put-upon victims of men's
excesses. The key point, however, is that while many men and women are now
living sexually free lives, it is the change in women's sexual attitudes and
behaviour that has made this possible. This is because women are the pivot of
sexual relationships. Men compete for their favours; women have the power of
selection. So women's freer sexual habits have fundamentally changed the
nature of relations between men and women.
The idea that women were repressed until the sexual revolution in the 1960s is absurd. There is no evidence to suggest that women were ever anything other than sensual and passionate; quite the reverse, in fact. While they may not have been repressed, however, they were restrained, a crucially different matter. Social and religious norms and conventions, along with the fear of becoming pregnant and the tactical game of hooking a husband,
women strayed, it was in the knowledge that they were transgressing strong
social norms. Now, however, with sex and marriage detached from each other and
the collapse of all norms and stigma, women's sexual appetites have been freed
from their previous boundaries of restraint. The result is that more and more
women are reducing sexual encounters to physical gratification.
The evidence for this can be seen not merely in the popularity among women of male strippers, but the fact that, as George Sik, the psychologist, has claimed, women at strip clubs behave in a far more abandoned manner than male customers. They become frenzied, scream and even storm the stage. In Newcastle, for example, women objected to the "no touching" rule in its strip clubs as "prudish and meddling". Undercover police said at one show they saw several women on stage with a stripper simulating a sexual act. An officer said: "The police officers present thought it was disgusting and many of the staff felt the same way."
The remarkable aspect of such behaviour is that it is far more boorish than the way men behave at strip clubs. If men were regularly to touch up women strippers, storm the stage and simulate sex acts with them, they would be considered a menace. They would also be said to be acting in character, behaving as men are programmed to do. The idea that women may also be "programmed" to behave in this kind of way is resisted, even faced with the evidence of frenzied sexual excitement over male strippers. That is because the idea is deeply ingrained that women and men have completely different attitudes to sex. Current evidence, however, suggests that the truth is rather more complicated. Women now openly boast about their involvement in adultery. In almost all cultures, including western society until recently, adultery has always been subject to strict social and legal sanctions. This is because it was rightly held to be lethal to a marriage; marriage was the cement that bound families together, and families were the building blocks of a society's values. Sanctions were more severe for women who committed adultery than for men.
This was principally to safeguard the integrity of genetic inheritance. A mother knows beyond doubt that her baby is hers; a man does not know beyond doubt that it is his. Of course, there have always been women who committed adultery. In the past, however, they felt bad about it - or at least appeared to do so. To betray a husband, or to procure the betrayal of another woman by her husband, is a form of spiritual and emotional dishonesty or thieving, with almost inevitable consequences of injury, damage and destruction for innocent spouses and children.
Men who betray their wives or help to destroy another husband's life generally have the grace to be sheepish about it, even ashamed. Now, however, the woman who commits adultery tends to display no concern for anyone else's interests but her own. Marika Cobbold, the author, seduced her married publisher Patrick Janson-Smith. He walked out on his wife Pamela and their two young sons; she divorced her husband. Cobbold used this experience to publicise her latest novel. "One is a real little tart in this game. I was completely head-over-heels in love for the first time as an adult. I hurt other people. Absolutely selfishly, what happened was a wonderful thing for me," she said.
Men who leave their wives are regarded, quite rightly, as cheats and creeps. Women who leave their husbands, however, or break up other families mysteriously escape censure in the media. Anthea Turner left her husband Peter Powell after eight years for Grant Bovey. A newspaper interview admired her "coping strategies" during her "annus horribilis" when Bovey went back to Della, his wife,and sympathised with the emotional cost to Turner even though "she's got her man back". Yet "her man" was someone else's husband and her annus horribilis occurred because he had briefly remembered his responsibilities to his family. Nevertheless, Turner spoke as if she was the injured party: "I kept thinking: I can't believe this is happening to me. In a minute I'll wake up from this nightmare." She seemed to put herself beyond responsibility: "What has happened between Grant and me," she said, "has been beyond the control of either of us."
Of course, the male lovers in these affairs behaved badly, too. But what is ignored is the part played by the women, which draws little criticism. The real problem, surely, is that both men and women feel they can be irresponsible with impunity and a total absence of shame. The key figure in this situation is the woman who has become openly sexually available. In doing so she has shattered the delicate equilibrium between the sexes on which stable relationships depend. The conventions of commitment, fidelity and duty which once restrained the sexual appetites of women have broken down. Women feel licensed to behave with the sexual opportunism that was once considered the particular characteristic of men. The family gamekeeper has turned poacher. The problem is not a collapse of the male role, but a collapse of conduct which has brought about a new sexual order or, rather, disorder. Driven by women, it is a process which is loaded against men. Women, however, are ultimately losers, too, with children the worst casualties of all. There are three key characteristics of the new sexual order. The first is the spread of sexual relationships outside marriage, free from social disapproval. The second is the erosion of stable marriages, both as cause and result of the new spread of sexual relationships. The third is the widespread toleration of illegitimacy and the exclusion of the father from the family unit, now defined as the mother and child alone. These three developments taken together have fundamentally altered the
About one child in every four experiences the divorce of its parents. Such children generally lose their fathers from the family. Even worse, studies suggest a large number lose contact with their fathers altogether, with one third of children losing touch with one parent immediately after separation and another third losing touch five years after their parents' divorce. It is because the mother and child unit by itself does not constitute an adequate kinship unit that every society has in the past regarded illegitimacy as a social taboo. Yet Britain has now departed from this universal pattern.
The proportion of never-married lone mothers began to increase quite sharply around 1986, when the incidence of births outside marriage started to rise at a faster rate. In 1991 never-married mothers started to eclipse the numbers of divorced mothers in the lone parent population. In 1996 the proportion of births outside marriage was 36%, compared with 9% in 1976, featuring a six-fold increase for women in their twenties. Half of all conceptions now take place outside marriage, compared with one third in 1986. The implications of this change are considerable. Unmarried motherhood and births out of wedlock once aroused social disapproval. Stigma, however, is now taboo; there is an absolute prohibition against hurting people's feelings by implying there is anything to be disapproved of in their chosen way of life. This has caused a moral paralysis. Fear of giving offence has left people so reluctant to criticise irresponsibility that irresponsible behaviour has itself been redefined as blameless, even heroic. There is no doubt that many lone mothers perform valiantly in successfully bringing up their children against all the odds. However, the idea that lone motherhood is a misfortune best avoided has been banished. More and more women are choosing it, or are relatively indifferent to the probability that they will find themselves in it. No doubt many never-married mothers have their babies in the belief that their relationship with the baby's father is more than a passing affair.
Nevertheless, the fact that they choose not to marry means they do not regard the father as an integral part of the family furniture. Their
Even more remarkable is the increasing trend for women to use men deliberately and instrumentally as the means to have a baby, but with no intention of living with the father as a family. Celebrities and other public figures have bestowed upon this strategy of elective fatherlessness a patina of glamour.
The rock icon Madonna, for example, became a lone mother by 29-year-old fitness trainer Carlos Leon who she appeared to use as a means to an end. Other women are doing without an identifiable father at all, reducing paternity to an emission in a test tube and dehumanising altogether the men who are used. As one women's magazine encouraged its readers: "So what do you think you need a man for? Babies? Think artificial insemination." Carol Fox, Labour candidate for the Scottish parliament and a single mother, said she was keen to have a second child fathered by the same
anonymous sperm donor who fathered her daughter Natasha. "New Labour has no difficulty with my lifestyle," she said. "Natasha is not some statement I'm making to the world, she's a wee human being. I put a great deal of thought into it before I had her." Malcolm Chisholm, the former Scottish Office minister who resigned in protest over cuts to single-parent benefit, said: "Carol is a brilliant candidate and a brilliant mother." She had been turned away from fertility clinics because she was single, before a clinic in Eastbourne treated her through 12 attempts at in vitro fertilisation at a cost of £15,000. "Women should be able to choose to have a child or not in whatever circumstances.
The important thing is that the child is wanted rather than being born into any recipe or equation of a family," she said. It often appears that such mothers want the baby to gratify themselves rather than seeing a child as the living embodiment of a spiritual and physical union with a man. The result is that the father is openly used and discarded. Laura Baker-Graves, 42, conceived her son Matthew during an affair. "When I became pregnant with Matthew, I had no plans to continue a relationship with the father. I wanted a child and I used David as a means to an end - and I don't regret it." They had a three- month affair and continued to share a night every so often. Then, aware that her body clock was ticking, she decided to have David's baby but without telling him. "I didn't want him in my life - he was just baby-making material." Now, she said, her one regret was that she had contacted David about the baby. "I should have used David just for his sperm and not told him I was pregnant. Although he has wanted to see Matthew, he has proved to be inconsistent to the point of annoyance." Since Matthew became tearful whenever David had not rung, she concluded: "It is better to have one stable parent than a second unpredictable one."
A repeated refrain among women is that, having failed to find a man with whom to settle down they fear they are running out of time to have a child.
While girls are young, they can play the market. In their late twenties, perhaps, or early thirties, they begin to panic as time slips away and they still have not found the perfect mate. They have forgotten that men commit themselves to a woman not in return for sex but for exclusive sex. If it is not exclusive, why should men bother to stick around? © Melanie Phillips 1999
* Extracted from The Sex Change Society: Feminised Britain and the
Neutered Male by Melanie Phillips, to be published by Social Market
Foundation on November 1, £12.99. Copies can be ordered for £11.99 from The Sunday Times Bookshop on 00 44 870 165 8585
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