The HetPat First Directive

Following a discussion thread about moderation, I agreed with the regular commenters here that there should be an extra rule, which we hereby dub The HetPat First Directive (HPFD).I have now amended my Comments on Comments page to include the following

HPFD: Thou shalt not generalise about gender activist movements or judge people’s arguments by their association.

What this means in practice is that I shall consider moderating any comments that make sweeping generalisations about feminists, MRAs or any similar group. This is not because all such generalisations are necessarily false (although in my view they usually are) but simply because such sweeping generalisations act, almost without exception, to derail threads and discussions, spark angry reactions and foster an atmosphere that is corrosive to debate.

Examples would include statements like these:

“Feminism is a hate movement committed female supremacy and the subjugation of men  and boys.”

“Men’s Rights Activists are misogynistic trolls with no interest in the real issues affecting men and boys.”

“Your opinions are worthless because you are a feminist / MRA”

Et cetera.   

We’ve already identified a need for a First Exemption

HPFD1;X1: “In cases where the poster generalises about all movements equally without discrimination, the First Directive shall be held inapplicable.”

Example: “I think all social movements are prone to failing, turning sour or collapsing under criticism.”  This is not a provocative statement about feminism or whatever, and is instead an observation on the nature of organisations. That has to be allowed.

I’m more than happy to consider additional exemptions, corollaries or sub-clauses as the need arises, if there is a strong consensus from you guys of course. Post your suggestions below and we’ll talk about it.

What should a men’s movement look like?

In preparation for the upcoming National Conference on Men and Boys, Glen Poole has posted an interesting poll.

Picking up on Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent article arguing that there’s a need for a men’s movement, Glen asks what it would or should actually look like.

His list is a fairly accurate reflection of the different flavours of men’s activism currently at play. I’d perhaps suggest there should be a category for social conservatives and traditionalists, who although my political opposites, are a definite presence within the debates.

Many are  perfectly compatible and quite rightly you can click more than one. I’m not entirely sure there is a clear line between the different categories (I’m not quite sure of the distinction between numbers 4 and 5, in particular.)

In answer to the question, I think the men’s movement is really all of the above and more, and perhaps it needs to be. I include in that the positions with which I profoundly (and often furiously) disagree. But dynamic democracy requires debate, and debate requires different positions. I also think you could draw up a similarly diverse list of models and strains of feminism, many of which furiously disagree with and even  despise each other, but the movement requires that diversity for its intellectual health, and most people within feminism are happy to accept that, whatever their disagreements, they are all feminists.

Anyway, I’ll reprint the list, and then add my own Number 11. Except it isn’t really a Number 11, it is more what Number 5 would look like if I’d drafted it! .

Glen’s list

1.    A Men’s Liberation Movement

A global men’s liberation movement would be pro-feminist and focussed on liberating men from rigid gender roles on the past and helping men to address unhealthy male behaviours and develop and promote healthy masculinity.

2.    A Men’s Human Rights Movement

A global men’s human rights movement would tackle feminism head on and address all the areas of life where men’s human rights are under attacked, with a particular focus on tackling laws, policies and initiatives that favour women and girls and discriminate against men and boys in the process.

3.    A  Men’s Rites of Passage Movement

A Men’s Rites of Passage Movement would ensure that all men and boys had the opportunity to take part in rites of passage work with the support of other men and help every boy make a safe and healthy transition into manhood in the process.

4.    An Integral Men’s Movement

An Integral Global Men’s Movement would seek to unite everyone committed to improving the lives of men and boys no matter what perspective they came from and seek out areas of common interest and opportunities to work together for the greater good.

5.    A Men’s Social Justice Movement

A Men’s Social Justice Movement would focus on areas where men and boys experience inequality or problems with their health, education, family life, personal safety, social care needs etc and take action to find solutions to these issues.

6.    A Religious Men’s Movement

A Religious Men’s Movement would help to solve the problems that involve men and boys by actively working to bring more men to God—with a focus on one religion only (whatever that religion is).

7.    An Interfaith Men’s Movement

An Interfaith Men’s Movement would work across religious boundaries to help solve the problems that involve men and boys by actively working to bring more men to a life of faith, no matter what that faith is.

8.     A Fathers’ Rights Movement

A Fathers’ Rights Movement would seek to ensure that every child knows the love of their father by tackling the failings of the world’s legal systems which favour mothers particularly when parents are separated.

9.    A Shared Parenting Movement

A Shared Parenting Movement would work to unite mums and dads to help men and women equally share the responsibility of caring for their children, looking after the home and earning money through a rewarding career.

10. A Men Go Their Own Way Movement

A Men Go Their Own Way Movement would encourage and support men to “go their own way” and live their lives free from any problems associated with being in a long-term relationship with a women.


And Awkward Ally’s Number 11,

11. The men’s flank of the social justice movement. 

A movement that challenges male-specific issues and injustices from a holistic and humanitarian perspective, recognising that economic and social justice issues are interlinked, inseparable and intersectional.

 

So, there’s the options. If you feel so inclined, please cast your vote here and let me know your thoughts below.

Zimmerman, Martin and patriarchal misandry: An intersectional analysis

The analysis of President Obama’s press conference on the George Zimmerman verdict focussed quite correctly upon America’s ongoing issues with race. I have no wish to once more revise the debate as to whether the verdict was reasonable or not (if you’re interested, I agreed with every word of Deborah Orr’s piece the other day) but there’s another aspect to the death of Trayvon Martin that has gone almost unnoticed.

When all the dust and bluster is cleared away, the inescapable likelihood is that Trayvon Martin would never have died had he been white.  However as Obama subtly acknowledged, there is another part to that equation. Look at his words carefully:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.

Not every reference in his address specified gender, but most did. Yes, black women are also subject to racism, to prejudice and suspicion, and I do not for a moment seek to downplay that. However it goes without saying that assumptions about race and ethnicity intersect and react with assumptions about gender to create very different outcomes.  It was not just that Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he were not African-American, he would probably still be alive today if he had not been male.

Black men in the US are the most vulnerable racial-gender group for almost every known health condition. in 2001 their life expectancy gap to Asian women was 21 years. In 1990 it was reported that black men in Harlem had a lower life expectancy than men in Bangladesh. There are similar statistics in education, in employment, in mental health and, most famously, in the criminal justice system as both prisoners and victims.

To understand this we need to appreciate not only the assumptions that are made about black people, but also the assumptions that are made about men. In both cases we are talking not only about the externally imposed prejudices, but also internalised markers of identity -what we ourselves believe to be the appropriate and acceptable ways for someone like us to behave, assumptions which are inevitably informed by and reactive to dominant cultural values, including racial and gendered stereotypes.

To understand why Trayvon Martin died, we need to understand how society perpetuates narratives about the criminality and violent tendencies of men. That helps to explain why Zimmerman made the assumptions he did about the 17 year old, and also perhaps why the pursuit became a deadly confrontation (without necessarily having to apportion blame on either side.)

This seems to me a grimly profound example of what feminists and critical race theorists call an intersectional relationship. When different strains of prejudice and oppression collide they are not just added to each other in a 1+1=2 formula. They react with each other like reagents in a test tube, to create a new and unique. I’ve argued before that contrary to some feminists’ claims, misandry is indeed a thing. So too is black misandry – the stereotyping, negative prejudices and oppression visited very specifically upon black men – which is different not just in degree but in quality from either half of the whole, in other words there are assumptions made about black men which do not routinely apply to either all black people or to all men (aspects of sexuality or probable gang membership, for example.)

One very useful insight of millennial feminism has been that different oppressive structures (eg sexism, racism, homophobia etc) are not independent, but mutually supportive. Patriarchy is strengthened by racism and so has a vested interest in preserving it. Homophobic structures are given protection by transphobic attitudes, and all the vice versas, all the different combinations. This is (broadly and simplistically) what is meant by kyriarchy. If one accepts this logic, it should be a contradiction in terms to be a transphobic feminist or a racist gay rights campaigner.

I do accept this. I believe that the systematic gender oppression of men is an essential element of the economic system, running alongside and parallel to the systematic gender oppression of women. Feminists say that patriarchy hurts men too. I’d go further – I believe patriarchy hates men too. Since my last couple of blogs on these issues I’ve cautiously started adopting the phrase patriarchal misandry. One Twitter feminist described this as “the single most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard” and given my general disagreements with the same person, I take that to be a validation. The phrase captures for me how psychological, emotional and physical traumas are imposed routinely or sporadically upon men purely as a result of their gender, in large part in order to nail them to their expected place in the social order. That place that includes being the oppressor of others, whether you want to or not, and it includes not just the gender hierarchies of society, but the racial, sexual, social and economic hierarchies of society.

Having said all that, I think anyone who is concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of men has to understand how sexism. racism, homophobia, ableism and every other form of oppression and imposition are all part of the same package. A men’s activist who remains indifferent to the mechanics of racism is as self-defeating as the transphobic feminist. A men’s activist who actively contributes to misogyny or homophobia is bolstering the very system he presumes to change.

The Trayvon Martin tragedy hinges on negative stereotypes, but in different contexts supposedly positive stereotypes can be equally harmful. I wrote recently about a men’s group co-ordinator from London called Kenny D’Cruz, who commissioned me to help tell his story of his struggles with his own mental health. Kenny came to the UK as a refugee from Uganda. Fleeing the most terrible dangers, he lived through months in transit camps and years of racism in a small, all-white Welsh town. But the oppression which may have done the greatest damage to his emotional wellbeing was when he was separated from his father at the airport in Uganda and told  “You are the head of the family now, you must look after your brother and mother.”

This expectation that a 9-year-old boy would be head of a household (which still included his mother, incidentally) is deeply patriarchal and sexist. It can also be deeply damaging, as it proved to be in Kenny’s case. It is simply unreasonable to expect a small child to take emotional responsibility for the wellbeing of a traumatised family, (however symbolic it may be, and in Kenny’s case it wasn’t). This is an extreme example of the social forces which, at root, can largely explain so many of the issues in health, wellbeing and social attainment for men today. The pressures which drive men to be big cheese on their block, in their gated community or in their merchant bank are to a large extent the same pressures that drive men to the prison gates and the psychiatric wards.

 

Musings on moderation

Since I moved this blog to FTB, I’ve received about 50 comments every day on average. Over the past few weeks it has been closer to 100 per day. Many of these comments are long and intricate, thoughtful and carefully expressed. Others not so much, but I welcome them all. As a general rule, I like comments.

What do I want to provide with this blog? As well as a platform for my own self-important warblings, I want to provide a place where people can debate gender issues from any starting position, relatively neutral territory, or no-(wo)man’s land between the trenches, if you prefer. As I say in my guidelines, this is not an ideological safe space for anyone.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, I am not averse to a full-blooded internet argument. People feel passionately about the topics I raise, and part of my role is to raise those passions.  I offer strong opinions, and expect strong and rumbustious responses. If someone thinks I’m being a fucking idiot, I have no problem with them telling me that they think I am a fucking idiot. Occasionally I might even agree. If someone thinks my arguments are laughable, they are welcome to mock them. I expect people below the line to be subject to the same conditions.

The benefit of this policy is that my comment threads are full of passionate people arguing with each other, often at great length, exchanging opinions, examining the beliefs and opinions of others and, I hope, being forced to examine their own at times. That is what I want to happen here.

The downside of this policy is that my comment threads are full of passionate people calling each other fucking idiots, being otherwise rude and abrasive with each other each other and, inevitably, being hurt or offended at times. That is an inevitable consequence of the arrangement and is, within reason, a necessary price to pay.

Every so often I have someone requesting more heavy moderation on this site. Roughly half of those requests have come from people who don’t like hearing so much from MRAs, anti-feminists and fellow travellers, and want me to step in “with the aim of keeping out lies, insanity, childish behavior, spamming, trolling, threadjacking, harassment, threats, and other noxious actions that make it much harder to have a healthy grownup dialogue.”

The other half come from people broadly on the MRA side, who want me to step in to prevent ‘horrible bullying’ from pro-feminist posters and believe I “turn a blind eye to and excuse abusive behaviour when its targeting a politically incorrect person”

I take such requests seriously. I want people using the comments threads here to find this blog as interesting and engaging as I do. If people are being deterred from commenting by the atmosphere on the threads then that would concern me. On the other hand, I have deliberately created this beast, and I have to accept that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. No blog is.

If people think my moderation is unfair or biased, that concerns me too. Hand on heart, I have thought hard about these points and my conscience is clear. I don’t think I can be moderating unfairly, because with very, very few exceptions, I don’t moderate at all.

But while the space above the line here is mine, I think the space below is very largely yours. If there is a consensus that there should be a specific change of policy, I’m willing to oblige. However the only way we could reach some consensus would be if we had some agreed community standards that everyone is prepared to apply both to themselves and others.

One of the reasons I was reluctant to assent to recent moderation requests is that the people making the requests looked, to me, to be equally guilty of the very same offences they were complaining about.

I don’t think one can make sweeping generalisations about feminists or use ‘feminist’ as an insult, and then complain when people make sweeping generalisations about MRAs and use MRA as an insult. You cannot be disrespectful, contemptuous and accusatory to other commenters then complain about the lack of a friendly atmosphere. That seems to me the essence of fairness.

So, your turn. Would you like to see tighter moderation, bearing in mind that you will be held to those same standards yourself? What changes, if any, would you like me to introduce? If you’re a lurker but not a regular commenter, what would tempt you into participation?

The only absolute at my end is that I will not start deleting or banning on ideological grounds. This will not become an echo chamber.

Once this blog moves on, I will pin this thread somewhere prominent and leave it running as a place to bring across complaints, concerns or further discussion as the weeks and months go by. And of course, if you wish to raise an issue or make a complaint in confidence, you can email me any time. 

Goodbye baby boomers: the most criminal generation of them all

It is hardly surprising that David Cameron was out and about yesterday boasting of another sharp decline in crime levels. I won’t blame him for claiming credit, any prime minister would do the same, but there is little evidence that political policies have had much effect. Similar trends can be seen in most Western countries and show little regard to the ideology of the government of the day.

Criminologists continue to ponder the decline, although the smarter ones consider not the fall in crime alone, but the rise and fall in crime – a dramatic spike that probably began sometime around 1960 and suddenly went into reverse in the mid-nineties.

A less-well publicised but no less important statistic came to light recently. The fastest growing section of the UK prison population is the over sixties. They are still a small proportion of the whole, of course, but as rates of youth offending continue to decline, grey offending is on the rise. This points to a stark and rarely-stated truth. The baby boomers, those born between the end of the second world war and around 1964, were the most criminal generation of the twentieth century.

The typical cultural portrayal of baby-boomers has been bleached and sanitised. They were the political radicals, the peace-loving hippies, the architects of women’s liberation and the revolutionary soixante-huitards. They were the Thatcherite yuppies who snaffled up the wealth, launched house prices into the stratosphere, took advantage of free education and a welfare state then pulled up the ladder behind them. This painfully elitist, classist, racially exclusive narrative ignores the bigger truth that most baby-boomers were born into abject poverty and austerity, and many never really escaped it.

Those who write history tend to smile indulgently on their own, so posterity recalls the middle-class pot-smoking hippies of the late sixties and seventies who fought with police outside the US Embassy rather more fondly than their beer-drinking, working class contemporaries who fought police on the picket lines, or each other on the terraces. They may have been miles apart in wealth and status, but they were all forged in the furnace of the baby boom.

Woody Guthrie famously sang that ‘some rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.’   Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, it was largely baby boomers who were getting rich on the social disembowelling of our inner cities and industrial heartlands, and other baby boomers who were filling those voids with heroin and crack cocaine.  What happened to the crime figures in the mid-nineties? The last of the baby boomers finally grew up.

There are of course many people, mostly now aged between about 50 and 75, who claim crime has actually come down because of better prevention and detection technology; because of higher incarceration rates or even a reduction in environmental lead pollution. (The Economist has a great rundown of the theories] To which I say, well, they would say that wouldn’t they? Anything is better than admitting they belong to a generation of crooks, thieves and thugs.

To be charitable for a moment, I will admit that, as with most social science and statistics, it is all a bit more complicated than that. Nonetheless there is a pertinent truth beneath my provocations. If we ask ourselves what it was about the post-war decades that might have incubated a rise in destructive and anti-social behaviour there would be no shortage of answers.

I recently crawled through the volume of David Kynaston’s remarkable social history series covering Austerity Britain 1945-51. I’ll admit I was really looking for cheap rhetorical analogies to apply to current debates, but I quickly abandoned that plan. The sheer desperation of the hardship and poverty of those rationed years would have made any comparison offensive. It was a tough, tough time to be a child. Add to that huge numbers of children raised in families bereaved of so many fathers, brothers and sons, or with parents emotionally scarred by the terror and trauma of active service or bombed cities.

Then there was the promise of the affluent society, driven by a desire to create a land fit for heroes. It is not hard to imagine that the generation growing into adulthood through that time assimilated a dangerous combination of stressful socialisation and rampant entitlement.

There are lessons to be learned from the crimes of the baby boomers. If we want to understand why people hurt each other, harm each other, damage each other on our streets, in our homes, in our boardrooms. In the meantime, we can take comfort in knowing that the generation responsible for the selfish individualism and crime boom of the late twentieth century is gradually passing into retirement. Goodbye Baby boomers. You won’t be missed.

Official: The Conservative policy on single teenage mothers

After three years picking on the disabled, the poor and the unemployed, you might have thought the Tories would have run out of easy targets to bully. But no, today they decided to pick on one of the most unfairly demonized and mythologized sections of the population: single teenage mothers.

Cynics among you might imagine that this is a shameless piece of tabloid-rimming, a play to the lowest common denominator of public prejudice. But you’d be wrong. The new Tory approach was a carefully thought out policy, as demonstrated by the policy page on their official website.

Just in case they one day get around to changing it, here’s a screengrab

loremtories(click to enlarge)

You might think the policy is to make single mothers learn Latin. You’d be wrong. This isn’t Latin, it is Ipsum Lorem, the meaningless gobbledegook that designers use as placeholder text when they’re waiting for actual content to come in.

Nice to know they give these things so much careful consideration and planning, isn’t it?

 

[Big hat tip to @belovedsanspoof who pointed me that way.]

Recession, austerity and domestic violence: a case unproven

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

Note 15/07/13.  In Saturday’s Guardian, Deborah Orr mused on two important questions around domestic violence. The first was the familiar worry as to whether the current economic crisis has sparked an upturn in intimate partner abuse. She hangs her argument around figures from Citizens’ Advice Bureaux showing a large increase in clients requiring help with the problem.

It is very likely that this is a mistake, and falls into the same trap that caught Suzanne Moore last year, discussed below . When a whole bunch of DV services close across the country, it is inevitable that people in need of help will turn to whatever service is left. It is *possible* that the rise in CAB cases is entirely accounted for by that. We would really need to know how many people in total have been turned away from other services (not just Women’s Aid and Refuge, but the entire range of council run-helplines, youth services, community health services etc, all of which will deal with DV, and all of which have been slashed.

There’s another problem with those CAB stats which is that CAB typically see people with a range of complex problems – housing, debt etc. They did not say that the numbers they quoted were people who contacted them about DV as their primary or only problem. As the recession etc gets worse, more ppl will see CAB anyway (it would be interesting to know how much their entire caseload went up over the same period) and then a lot of them, in the course of the interview, will reveal that not only are they facing homelessness, debt collectors etc, but they are also in an abusive relationship.

My hunch is still that we will see a slight rise in DV figures from BCS / CSEW within the next year or two, because these things tend to be cumulative and have a bit of a lag before they start to turn up in the figures. But at the moment the most we can say is that there is no evidence yet of such a rise. That said, we would expect frontline services to be the first to pick up on any such trend.

As a general point, my own best guess is that short term crises and economic stresses can certainly trigger violent incidents – either directly, or by boosting problematic use of alcohol / stimulants etc which has the secondary effect. But that’s just switching the detonator. The bomb has been laid much, much earlier, in a childhood & adolescence of exposure to violent stresses and socialisation. I do genuinely believe that people in general are less violent in all sorts of ways than they were a few decades ago, and so consequently we have far fewer violent personalities around than we did before.

On Deborah’s second point is interesting. She suggest that violence may be getting shifted from outdoors, now a near-panopticon of CCTV, and moving behind closed doors. i’m not convinced of this theory, but it prompts me to suggest that one reason convictions for both domestic abuse and sexual offences have risen sharply, even as survey evidence shows the actual incidence is in decline, may be that more evidence is now collected and stored on mobile phones, whether by victims or perpetrators. The same types of evidence have also occasionally been found to acquit those who have been wrongly accused. The panopticon is not so easily escaped!  

————-

First published November 29th 2012

There is a very real likelihood that economic conditions are combining with devastating cuts to services and legal aid to create heightened risk for victims of domestic violence.  It’s something that’s been worrying me and I suspect everyone else with an interest in the topic for several years now. So I’ve had my eyes open for evidence as to the impacts. The official figures for the year 2011/12 are due in January.

But a couple of weeks ago a few agency-based news sites appeared to be presenting some hard evidence.

From www.politics.co.uk

The recession is making domestic violence worse, statistics show.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) claimed to have found a statistical link between the economic downturn and an increase in domestic violence.

Domestic violence has increased by 17% over the period of the recession.

[snip]

In 2011, 2,174 assaults were reported each day in England and Wales – or three every two minutes.

The same statistics appeared this morning in Suzanne Moore’s column in the Guardian.

I wasn’t aware of any new releases from the ONS that could have informed these claims, so I did a bit of digging.

A helpful person at NCDV explained that the statistics had not come from them. They had released figures that their own caseload had increased by 19.6% during 2011, which is in its own right a worrying glimpse of the demands now placed on remaining services, but it offers no clue to the overall extent of domestic violence. (Most obviously, when some services are cut back or closed down, those that remain are likely to see a vastly increased demand.  Alternatively, more effective marketing or raised media profile can lead to an increase in calls and referrals for any one charity or service.)

So where does the claim of a 17% rise, equivalent to 2174 cases a day, come from? I searched on the figures and they appear to be drawn from a Daily Mirror report in July 2011, which quoted the precise same statistics in exactly the same terms. That piece was reporting a parliamentary answer given in Hansard the week before. In response to a question from Gloria de Piero MP, minister Lynne Featherstone released the most recent police reported crime figures. They cover four years, 06/07 – 09/10.

06/07                     07/08                     08/09                     09/10
671,374                 674,756                 766,047                 793,526

 

Although there was a slight rise between the first and second column, and between the third and fourth, the great proportion of the 17% jump happened in one year, between 07/08 and 08/09.

There are several things to note here. The first is that the figures stop in June 2010. So any suggestion that this is new research based on new data is clearly bogus. The second point is that while the global recession began in September 2008, most of the impacts upon the general public did not begin to be felt for months or even years after that. So while it is possible that the rise in domestic violence reports can be attributed to economic conditions, it would seem improbable.

The austerity programme of the current government, of course, did not begin until May 2010, so it has to be entirely irrelevant to these data.

Another point that will be of interest to many of those commenting on Suzanne Moore’s strictly female-focussed piece is that these numbers are total reports, not just women. (Typically police reports are about 10% male victims reporting female abusers.)

It is important to note that according to BCS, which is considered to be a much more reliable (though still far from perfect) guide to the actual incidence of violent crime, there was no rise in self-reported domestic violence in the year to 08/09.  The estimate of physical partner abuse victims (non-sexual) fell from 1,456,000 to 1,137,000 and partner sexual abuse from 541,000 to 466,000. These are big falls, not rises (in keeping with the trend of the past 15 years or so.)

You can always expect some disparity between the BCS trend and the reported crime figures, but the vast disparity in that year suggests to me that whatever was happening, it was unlikely to be a straightforward rise in the number of violent incidents. Could it have been an increased awareness? Was there some very effective public education campaign that year, or a particularly compelling soap storyline? That’s possible. Rather more likely is that there may have been changes in how police recorded their reports. Was there a change in policy as to what kinds of calls would be ‘no-crimed’? Were there any new guidelines introduced for police as to what should be classified as a domestic violence incident? I honestly do not know, but if any readers have theories, I’d be delighted to hear them.

As for the more immediate issue, I believe I can quite confidently state that there is no evidence that there has been a rise in domestic violence as a direct result of the current economic situation and austerity measures. That’s not to say such a rise hasn’t happened, in all honesty I still expect to be confronted with a grim reversal, and we may know much more in January.*

In the meantime I’m not convinced it serves anyone well to propagate outdated and misleading statistical claims.

———–

* UPDATE 15/07/13 – I’m happy to report that January has been and gone, the statistics were released, and they showed yet another slight (though not statistically significant) decline in incidence of DV and no increase in sexual offences.

 

 

Just checking in…

I haven’t had time to add any sparkling new content (or even sludgy prose) to this blog for a week or so, normal service should resume shortly.

In the meantime, a couple of pieces of mine have gone up elsewhere this week.

In the Guardian, I reflected on what Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbledon might mean for the people of Dunblane, where Murray himself survived the 1996 school massacre.

Men from central Scotland are not known for our smiley, flamboyant extroversion at the best of times. In Murray’s case one senses that he has constructed a thick protective wall around himself. Perhaps he cannot easily let emotions spill out, because with only the smallest crack, the deluge would be overwhelming.

 

And today in the Independent I cover the astonishing survey from the Royal Statistical Society which revealed just how grossly skewed is our typical assessment of the state of the nation, from benefits and the economy to crime figures and religious affiliations.

our impressions of society are formed by looking at individual factoids and scare stories as if through a long thin tube, only ever seeing a snapshot rather than the full panorama. We then depend upon cognitive biases and heuristics to fill in the gaping blank spaces.

Your thoughts on either of these would be welcome. Or alternatively just continue arguing about all the other things you’ve been arguing about on all the other threads which, let’s face it, is exactly what you’ll do anyway.

Fathers 4 Justice:solutions lies in our families, not our family courts

Note: I ran this at the Guardian yesterday. It’s a topic that some of the regulars here have seemed keen to discuss, so here’s a repost

 

It appears to be the season for symbolic gestures. Last week Fathers4Justice (F4J) activist Paul Manning was arrested and charged for gluing a photo of a child to Constable’s The Hay Wain in the National Gallery. The incident occurred two weeks after another F4J activistspray-painted over a portrait of the Queen in Westminster Abbey, and three days before a similar attack on a statue in the same cathedral. That act was done in the name of a different group, Stolen Children of the UK, although a F4J activist was also reported to be in attendance.

After Manning’s arrest, F4J put out the daddy of all passive-aggressive statements. It is calling on their supporters to continue independent acts of nonviolent direct action, adding:

 

“The organisation said it was also now refusing to engage with national media over what it described as deliberately inaccurate and misleading reporting of the campaign and the crisis in the family courts. It was also refusing to deal with the government, police, courts, judiciary and any other organisations involved in family law and said it was considering shutting down all conventional social media.”

 

This may come as good news to the national media, government, police, courts, judiciary and the nation’s fine art restoration business, but to everyone else it can be little more than a symbolic gesture. F4J has always despised the political and media establishment and the feeling has been mostly mutual. Their speciality was always the symbolic gesture.

If ever an issue required willingness to compromise and negotiate, it is family dispute settlements. The latest F4J gambit portrays them as stubborn, immutable and hostile – not the symbolism intended. I do not question that the men (and women) involved in F4J feel a sincere and burning sense of anger and frustration at their circumstances. They would counter that a willingness to compromise and negotiate gets them nowhere, either politically or personally. However the timing of this particular announcement is intriguing.

This week the children and families bill entered its second reading. The bill offers changes to family court proceedings, including the introduction of a statutory assumption of shared (though not necessarily time-equal) parenting. The proposals are a hotchpotch of ideas, largely ignoring therecommendations of the Norgrove report and pleasing virtually no one. Legal commentators warn that the proposed wording is sufficiently vague to make rulings more complex than ever. F4J has dismissed it as “a feeble cocktail of proposals [and] a charter for conflict and fatherlessness”. One might call it a symbolic gesture.

We need more than gestures on all sides. Family courts rule on the 10% of breakups that present the greatest difficulty. These are, almost by definition, marked by conflicting accounts, bitter allegations and at least one if not two unreasonable parties. Each is usually convinced of their own rectitude and their ex-partner’s wickedness. The adversarial legal system then throws petrol on the flames. Every ruling on the best interests of a child is a best guess and a judgment call, and so subject to assumptions, prejudice and prevailing cultural values. It is not just that we don’t know for sure whether the system is working adequately, it is that it is literally impossible to say objectively whether the system is working adequately in any one case, far less for all 500,000 adults and children entering the system per year.

If the workings of the court are an opaque mess, the political debate around it is often worse. Commentators often quote statistics on initial residency rulings, without acknowledging that most unresolved disputes centre on maintaining the agreed contact – an entirely different issue. The Ministry of Justice’s own research finds that fewer than half of cases that return to court due to non-compliance result in secured contact. Sweeping generalisations are made about “deadbeat dads”; separated fathers are portrayed as probable abusers or, from the other side, innocent victims of terrible injustices. In reality every case is unique and adversarial courts are not only the last resort, they are the worst resort.

Arrangements for shared parenting cannot begin in the family court. They need to begin from the moment of birth. Far more separated fathers maintain satisfactory relationships with their children in Sweden than the UK, and it is not because their courts have a magic formula, it is because fathers are assumed to be equally responsible parents from the word go. We don’t need symbolic gestures. We need a wide-ranging and holistic revolution in parenting, and fatherhood in particular. Without that, the family courts will continue to wrestle with impossible knots, and separated fathers will continue to cry out in anger and frustration.

Dear Paul Elam…

Oh hi Paul, how nice of you to take an interest in my writing.

First, credit where due. This line was a zinger:

“Fogg said what MHRAs have been saying since before he could spell DV”.

That’s a great line. it’s spectacularly inaccurate, for what it’s worth, but why let the truth get in the way of a good joke, eh?

But talking about “jokes”, let’s glide over your ad homs, your spurious readings of my motives, and indeed some legitimate differences of opinion about the issues, and look at the bit that seems to have rattled your cage – my reference to your response to that obscene Jezebel piece and thread. You quote yourself saying:

Now, am I serious about this? No.

You carefully omit your next few words.

“Now, am I serious about this? No. Not because it’s wrong. It’s not wrong.”

Yes Paul, it is. It is very wrong in all sorts of ways. First of all, you were not discussing the right to reasonable and immediate self-defence, which nobody seriously challenges. You were revelling in a fantasy of retaliatory violence, peppered with shamelessly misogynistic language and imagery, which is not the same thing at all, as I think a reasonably functioning five year-old could explain.

I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.

And then make them clean up the mess.

More significantly, you seem to have this strange idea that it is morally acceptable and politically constructive to spout the most vile, hateful, arguably even criminal shit for paragraph after paragraph, whether it is instructions to beat shit out of women, or fabricated claims that women enjoy being raped, providing you conclude with some variation on “ha ha, only joking. SATIRE SEE?”

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by spelling out to you all the reasons why that type of behaviour is wrong and indeed dangerous. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. But what astonishes me is that you appear to believe you can pull shit like this and then still expect be taken seriously as a commentator, even a force for social change? You gleefully and knowingly squirt misogyny and hate from every orifice and then get all affronted when people conclude you might in fact be a misogynist, or describe your site as a hate group. What the fuck do you expect?

You suggest your article was “a red herring”. it was more than that. It was a whole basket of rotting, stinking fish carcasses, and three years old or not, it remains a technicolor illustration of everything that is wrong with the men’s rights movement today. It is you. You are the problem. Not so much that you personally have attained a degree of prominence and influence, though that is worrying enough, it is more that the broader movement is prepared to indulge you, laugh along, defend you from criticism say things like “oh that’s just Paul being Paul, he doesn’t really mean it.” The fuck you don’t. The men’s rights movement is swimming in so much misogyny that it has become oblivious to it, like a fish is oblivious to water. You may recognise that metaphor from somewhere. You cannot judge a movement by the rantings of one individual. You can judge a movement by how it reacts to that individual.

The rest of the MRM needs to recognise and address the fact that you, and a fair few others of your ilk, regularly drop huge, steaming turds which pollute and poison the whole pool. I honestly hope they can recognise it, because until that happens those of us who genuinely care about the welfare and wellbeing of men and boys and try to do something about it will continue to work under the putrid pong wafting from the pool next door.

The ultimate, indeed the only victims of that are vulnerable men and boys.