Can we stomp on this rape myth now?

A news report in the Guardian today gives extensive airspace to Women Against Rape (WAR), a maverick feminist organisation which (despite its name) seems to devote vastly more time to campaigning on behalf of false accusers than against sexual assault, flavoured with the occasional bizarre foray into defending a fugitive alleged rapist.

Dramatically, the headline screams:

109 women prosecuted for false rape claims in five years

[Read more…]

Yes, we do need to talk about male violence

I was asked to contribute a piece to the series 100 Voices For Men which is being run by Inside Man in the run-up to International Men’s Day. You can read the original here, and there are loads and loads of interesting posts from right across the spectrum of the men’s sector.

But since this was firmly on HetPat territory, I thought I’d also repost here.

 

There is an exchange that plays out in the media on pretty much a daily basis. The moves have become so familiar we can see them performed almost as a ritual dance. In the aftermath of some tragic, violent incident – whether a mass shooting, a domestic homicide or a shocking sexual assault – a commentator with liberal or feminist leanings will describe the incident as an example of ‘male violence’ and, therefore, not just an isolated incident but part of a systematic pattern involving hundreds, thousands, millions of related incidents across the world each day.

There follows a storm of comments, social media updates and blogs as detractors – primarily but not exclusively male – throw up their digitised hands in horror and disgust. This is nothing to do with me! I’ve never killed anyone! Why are you blaming an entire gender for the crime of an individual?

The defensive reactions may be understandable, but are largely based on a misunderstanding. Saying that men have a problem with violence does not mean that all men are violent, any more than saying Britain has a problem with obesity means that all Britons are fat. In both examples, it means the phenomenon causes immense social harm and individual suffering, and occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.

What about female perpetrators?  

Yes, women can also be violent, especially towards intimate partners and family members. However in recent years the men’s sector as a whole (and I include myself in that) has often become so fixated on demonstrating and documenting the extent of male victimisation at the hands of women that we may have lost sight of the bigger picture.

According to the UN’s estimates, there were more than 450,000 homicides globally last year. Not only were 95% of the killers male, so too were 80% of the victims. In England and Wales, 800,000 adult men were injured in a violent attack in 2013 and around three quarters of perpetrators were not their female partners, but other men. On the other side of the coin, around 37,000 men are in prison today as a consequence of their own violent behaviour. To deny or turn our eyes from the extent of men’s violence is to turn our backs on one of the most pressing and severe social and health issues facing men and boys across the world today.

Only once we acknowledge the scale of men’s violence can we begin to ask why it occurs. I suspect many people are uncomfortable with the suggestion that there is something inherently violent to masculinity. What we might instead call ‘male culture’ colours our attitudes to work and to leisure, to lifestyles and relationships, even to how we communicate and interact. That culture has too often included attitudes towards violence that are directly implicated in too much death and injury.

Are men conditioned to be violent? 

How many of us grew up believing that to be a man demanded that we be ‘tough’ and ‘hard,’ or in other words to be willing to endure and inflict violence? Such traits don’t always come easy, and too many boys still have them literally beaten into us by peers or, tragically, parents and other adults. Research has consistently shown that where formal or informal physical punishment is used, boys are beaten more regularly and more forcefully than girls.

At the same time, psychologists have long known the rough recipe for a violent adult. According to one study by MurrayStraus, a child who grows up in a family where the adults are violent to each other is almost three times as likely to display violent behaviour as others. Another study found that a child subjected to physical abuse who also witnesses violent behaviour at first hand is between five and nine times as likely to become an abusive adult. It is true that not all violent adults lived through an especially violent childhood, and absolutely vital to understand that many, many people who experienced violence and abuse in childhood will never harm anyone in turn. Neither fact, however, should obscure the truth that violent adults – by which we most commonly mean violent men – are not born, they are made.

Nor does male violence exist in isolation from other male-specific issues. Only once we acknowledge and face up to the reality of male violence can we begin to unpick the complex relationship between men’s emotional isolation and unaddressed mental health needs, our tendency to self-medicate or escape into excessive alcohol and drug use and from there, the intimate link between intoxication and violent behaviour.

No I am not being anti-male 

It is not anti-man or misandrist to acknowledge that our society brutalises men and boys to a sufficient degree that some will become brutes. On the contrary, I would argue the misandrist position is to claim that men’s violence is an inescapable law of nature, some relic of evolution or neurobiology. Testosterone does not breed violence, violence breeds violence, and the evidence, I am happy to say, is all around us. Current levels of violent crime remain distressing, but are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago. The vast majority of men are not violent and the numbers who are get smaller all the time.

As mentioned above, 800,000 men were wounded in violent attacks last year, but the same statistic in 1994/5 was 2.4 million. Domestic violence, as estimated by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, has dropped 78% over the same time frame. The same story is playing out across the developed world. Nor is it just the effect of increased prison populations keeping violent offenders out of harm’s way. The number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system (ie being caught for the first time) is at its lowest since records began. Meanwhile the fastest growing section of the prison population over the past few years has been the over 65s.

The explanations for this phenomenal social change are hotly debated by criminologists but one thing is for sure, male biology has not evolved in a couple of decades. It is likely there are a variety of social and even environmental factors involved, I would suggest that it is no coincidence that the least violent generation of young men in living memory is the first to have been raised in the era of the rights of the child, in schools and homes that have increasingly eschewed violent punishments, with anti-bullying policies and where the social acceptability of violence of all sorts has been challenged and rejected as never before.

There is little doubt that men today are less violent, less aggressive, less militaristic than we have been at any time in living memory but there is still a long way to go. The journey will be driven not just by policy and politics but by the desire of all women, children and men to live in a safer, more peaceful world and the principal beneficiaries will be men ourselves.

The internet has drawn back the curtains on the human soul

In the news so far this week: In Australia, a man is convicted of attempting to commission the sexual abuse of a computer-generated virtual avatar called ‘Sweetie’ that was pretending to be a 10-year-old Filipino girl. In Westminster, the justice secretary declares that internet trolls are “poisoning our national life” and announces proposals that will quadruple maximum prison sentences for online abuse to two years. The National Crime Agency announces that many child sex offenders will escape punishment as the authorities flounder against the tide of 50,000 individuals regularly accessing child abuse images online in the UK alone. Meanwhile in Middlesbrough, a man is convicted of possessing illegal images of children – his collection of Japanese Manga-style hentai cartoons.

Just two decades after Sir Tim Berners-Lee unleashed his gift to the world, the web has brought us many wonders. It has also drawn back the curtains on the human soul in ways that might make even the most hardened cynic blanch. Oscar Wilde famously wrote that if you give a man a mask he shall tell you the truth. The internet has taught us that if you give a man (or indeed a woman) a mask, he or she may well threaten to rape and kill you.

Grayling’s proposals smack of kneejerk populism. It seems highly unlikely that someone prepared to risk a six month prison sentence for the sake of an abusive tweet would be deterred by the longer maximum term. Within that, the vagueness of the ministers attack on trolls should be considered deeply worrying. Threats of violence, harassment and stalking are criminal offences irrespective of the medium, and rightly so, but the law on malicious communications goes far wider.

A measure of the media hysteria around internet trolls can be taken in the tragic case of the so-called McCann troll. Brenda Leyland took her own life a few days after being “outed” by Sky News as a Twitter troll, an allegation that was repeated unthinkingly by virtually every journalist and commentator in the aftermath. And yet the archive of Leyland’s tweets revealed that she had never sent abuse directly to the McCann family, had never harassed anyone, had never threatened anyone. She was branded a troll for holding and expressing strong opinions about a prominent news story. It should worry us deeply that our government are hurling around unspecified threats to jail more trolls when the working definition of a troll includes people sharing unpopular opinions.

It used to be considered a cornerstone of justice that you can punish people for doing bad things, but not for being bad people. The internet is changing that. Throughout human history, our hate-filled or hateful thoughts, our strange and dangerous opinions, our sexual peccadilloes and perversions would remain safely locked in, shared perhaps with only a handful of close friends or intimate partners, if at all. Even professional writers and creative artists would have their output filtered through editors, publishers and agents.

Now our wildest fantasies can be projected to the world at the click of a button. Our erotic flights of fancy involving our favourite pop stars can find millions of readers (and lucrative book deals.) The most sick and sadistic urges, from incest to cannibalism, can find solace, justification, occasionally even realisation in like minds and accomplices.

Our political and legislative framework is playing a desperate game of catch-up, and losing. Two of this week’s stories may offer a guide to where the limits of criminality should lie. The paedophiles ensnared in the ‘Sweetie’ sting appear to have been trying to solicit the sexual abuse of real children. Had they not been caught, it is reasonable to presume they might have victimised real children instead. That makes them dangerous offenders and they deserve no pity or mercy.

In contrast, the man convicted in Middlesbrough appears to have had tastes and interests that were entirely restricted to line-drawn cartoons. While this should not necessarily be a defence, it is important to note also that the type of hentai anime he collected is freely available on virtually every mainstream pornography website and widely and openly shared on social networks like Tumblr. Whether or not we share the judge’s view that such images are “repulsive” it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which anyone, anywhere could be harmed by this man’s behaviour.

Of all this week’s news, perhaps the most disturbing is the revelation that the authorities are so overwhelmed by the extent of online offences involving the exploitation and abuse of children that they will not be able to prosecute all offenders. Perhaps one small first step might be to avoid wasting time and resources on protecting imaginary victims.

Chris Grayling can ignore prison rape. Hundreds of victims have no such luxury

 

Today the Howard League published their long-awaited briefing on coercive sex in prisons, despite the best efforts of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to block their work.

It’s an important document which covers well the difficulties of research in this area, noting the difficulties in gathering reliable data at the best of times, but especially under a political regime which is brutally uncooperative. It does not shy away from the difficulties in categorising and defining coercive and abusive sexual activities, noting that as well as violent assaults, prisons are rife with subtle coercion, including prisoners choosing or being obliged to perform sexual acts to pay off debts, for protection or in exchange for tobacco.

Another important (and sadly very topical) point noted is that MoJ statistics do not record any data on sexual assaults or abusive acts committed against prisoners by staff, despite evidence from the US to suggest that this can be relatively commonplace and despite gutwrenching testimony of appalling sexual abuse by staff at young offenders institutions in particular.  [Read more…]

Sket-list scaremongering and scepticism

I wrote recently about my concerns over the way the media handle the issue of girls, gangs and sexual violence. In a nutshell, it seems to me this coverage is generally needlessly titillating, exploitative and salacious, painfully simplistic about the social dynamics of gang violence and it often actively, if inadvertently, dances to the melodies of racist agendas.

On Sunday the Observer ran a news piece which could have been an object lesson in the above. Within 48 hours it had been picked up and republished, almost word for word, by sleazy tabloids like the Star and right wing rags like the Daily Mail. Among the people sharing and eagerly discussing the original on Sunday were the official Twitter account of the British National Party and countless other racists and fascists.

The article made a series of extravagant claims. It alleged that:

London gangs are drawing up and disseminating lists of teenage girls whom they consider to be legitimate rape targets, as sexual violence is increasingly used to spread fear and antagonise rival groups.

The so-called sket lists (sket is street slang for “sluts”) have, according to youth workers, prompted attacks so brazen that girls have been dragged from school buses and sexually assaulted. Police and charities say they have recorded an increase in the use of sexual violence by gangs, including incidents of revenge rape, where the sisters and girlfriends of rival gang members are targeted.

[Read more…]

Making sense of a senseless horror

Local newspaper reports in London this week recounted bare details of a horrific court case relating to the manslaughter of a four-month old baby. The 19-year old mother pleaded guilty to starving the baby to death as well as separate charges of child cruelty to two other children. She was given an 18 month suspended sentence and various restrictions that included a ban on looking after any children for the next two years.

I picked up the story from a tweet linking to the Men’s Rights sub on Reddit. The OP invited comparison to another case where a man was sentenced to eight years in prison for shaking his baby to death in a rage because she was crying while he wanted to play a video game.

On the face of it, the suspended sentence on this woman was remarkable. The posters on Reddit/MensRights claim that this is a typical case of ‘pussy pass’ where women can literally kill and walk away from court with not so much as a slap on the wrist. Several comments were along the lines of “anyone who does this should be strung up by their toes and flayed alive.” Others attributed the verdict to the fact that there are, apparently, ‘many rad fems in the British government.’

Anyone who follows British law and child protection issues would realise that this sentence is far from typical. It’s generally true that mothers tend to receive slightly shorter sentences than fathers in cases like this but the difference is not that profound. This is so far off the scale of normal that I wondered if it might be some bizarre reporting mistake. This was underlined by the strange absence of outrage or even raised eyebrows in national and regional media. [Read more…]

It’s time to stop defaming our boys

The most remarkable news report appeared on Salon and a few other outlets this week. Reporting research by the school of public health at Columbia University, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, the coverage recounted findings that were so shocking as to take the breath away.

Dr David Bell and colleagues had conducted qualitative research interviews into teenage boys aged 14-16 and found that… brace yourself… they’re actually kinda sweet. The sample of 33 boys came from an economically deprived, primarily African-American community, where there were known to be high STI transmission rates (in other words, this was a group of boys who would traditionally be expected to have some of the most problematic attitudes from a public health perspective). Among the findings were that the boys described a high degree of ‘relationally-oriented beliefs and behaviours’ such as a desire for intimacy and trust in relationships, as against pursuing sex as an end in itself or a status symbol. There was little in the way of sexual objectification, homophobia was rare.

Both sexually inexperienced and sexually experienced participants sought meaningful relationships with nice-looking romantic partners with “good personalities,” a sense of humour, and future goals. Respect was an important characteristic. They reported that in their experience it had usually been the girls, not themselves, who had initiated both romantic and sexual engagements. They described their own vulnerability – emotionally and with regard to their sexual inexperience. [Read more…]

No excuses: Yewtree, the stars and the victim-blaming

 

content note: brief details of sexual assaults are relayed later in this piece

 

Unlike Neil Lyndon, I was too young to experience the legendary decadence of the 1970s. I did, however, party my way through the chemical kaleidoscope of the late 80s and 90s, a time which bore many similarities. Hedonism was at a premium, good judgement and self-restraint were in scarce supply and, as one of Lyndon’s friends recalled of the previous era, at times it almost seemed like everybody was fucking everybody.

Except not quite. I remember once my (three male) housemates and I stumbled out of a club, pie-eyed, in the small hours. As we waited for the all-night bus we got chatting to some similarly mashed girls. They asked us if we had any weed and pretty much invited themselves back to our place. At some point a kind of collective ripple of realisation ran among me and my mates that these really were girls, not women. When someone asked how old they were they just giggled and said something vaguely flirtatious. We let them toke on a couple of spliffs to help them land gently from whatever they’d taken earlier then sent them grumbling back to their mums and dads. I never did find out their ages but a few days later they turned up at our door in their school uniforms at lunchtime. I was out, but my horrified housemate reported that tin the cold light of day they looked about 15 at most.

I recount this very mundane story to make a very mundane point. Not screwing children really isn’t that difficult, if you are any kind of decent human being. Even when they are dolled up in party gear and make-up, you can tell. Even when you’re shitfaced on the finest pharmaceuticals Hulme has to offer, you can still tell. Had any one of us grown men taken one of those girls to our bedrooms – even with her apparent consent – we would have known exactly what we were doing. I simply refuse to believe that teenagers in the 1970s were so very different that one couldn’t tell.

So I have little sympathy if Neil Lyndon or any of his friends from the time are waking up with the cold sweats expecting a knock on the door from Operation Yewtree. Just because they thought they could get away with it at the time, doesn’t mean it was right at the time. Justice delayed is still justice.

However there is another point on which Lyndon’s piece is deeply, grotesquely ill-conceived. I have not seen a single shred of evidence that any of the known victims of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and others were enthusiastic groupies who threw themselves at their heroes in pursuit of an intimate connection. Of course in the 1970s, just like today, there were hormone-crazed teenage girls, either side of the age of consent, who actively pursued sexual contact with adult crushes – whether pop stars, DJs or their teachers. While it is absolutely 100% the responsibility of the adult to ensure they do not abuse children, this is irrelevant in the cases under discussion. These victims were not carefree libertines inspired by Erica Jong’s notion of the zipless fuck. They were vulnerable victims of abuse, assault and rape.

There must be thousands of women, now in their 50s and 60s, who had teenage encounters with pop stars and celebrities through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I do not doubt that many were under the age of legal consent at the time. I have known personally several women who would willingly own up to those kinds of experiences without any apparent regret. I am not excusing the men who took advantage of them when I note that these women are NOT now phoning up the police to report themselves as victims of historic sex crimes.

Neil Lyndon, and all those making similar points, should go back and read again the testimony of the victims in the trials of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, or the inquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Savile. Read the stomach-turning testimony of the shy young girl who had never had a boyfriend, whom Savile met in hospital. He befriended her family, offered to take her out to buy chips, then raped her in his camper van outside the chip shop.

Lyndon should read again the account of Stuart Hall’s victim, who was only nine years old and in her own bed when the TV presenter crept into her room and molested her.

Lyndon should think on the evidence of the victim of Rolf Harris who was just 13 when she was first molested as she climbed out of the shower while on holiday.

I could continue but I hope the point is made. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of stories like these. Not a single witness in any of the trials has remotely matched the image conjured by Lyndon of lascivious, enthusiastic teenage sexpots entrapping poor, helpless male celebrities.

What we have in Lyndon’s piece is an extended exercise in the most extreme, literal form of victim blaming. By conflating the very real and all too human victims of serial sexual predators with enthusiastic participants in a carnival of orgiastic sex, he is saying that the victims of these criminals were actively complicit in their own abuse. This is a gross slander on the victims themselves, and an appalling misrepresentation of history.

Madman or MRA? Looking beyond easy answers to the Santa Barbara massacre

Note: I’m already concerned by the cult of personality growing around Elliot Rodger. While acknowledging that all discussions, including this one, risk adding to that, I’ve opted not to link to any of his YouTube videos, comments or his manifesto. I do not doubt you can find them yourself if you must. 

—————–

Katherine Cooper, aged 22, and 19-year-old Veronica Weiss were shot dead while standing outside a university sorority. Christopher Michael-Ross, 20, died while shopping in a deli. As I write, the names of three other victims of the murder spree in Santa Barbara, California remain unknown. [See note below] As so often with these cases, it is sickening but unavoidable that while the details of those squandered lives will soon be forgotten by most, the name of Elliot Rodger will forever lurk somewhere in the depths of our memories.

There is so much to this tragedy that we do not yet know, but conversely we already seem to know so much. It is never wise to leap to assumptions about the motivations of violent individuals. In the case of Rodger, this is proving almost impossible. Rarely has a crime of this nature appeared to have such an open and shut motivation.

In the first reports, he was described by witnesses on the scene as ‘a madman’ or ‘crazy.’ This was underlined soon after when it emerged that he had been under some form of psychiatric treatment. This was never an adequate explanation. Mental illness alone very, very rarely drives people to kill. Hate, bitterness and rage, on the other hand, does so daily. Rodger may or may not have been ill, he may or may not had diagnostic label on his personality or neurological function, we do not know. What we do know, without question, is that he was spitting with misogyny.

Shortly before the killings began, Rodger uploaded a series of increasingly horrific YouTube rants, in which he explained that he was going to kill women – specifically blonde, sorority girls – as revenge for their refusal to have sex with him. He had left hints of his plans, alongside overt race hate, on several other forums, under his own name. He had uploaded a 140-page justification for his crime to the internet, providing the world not only what mental health professionals call a ‘complete history’ but also detailed, gruesome details of his planned massacre, giving it the title ‘My Twisted World’. In keeping with the cliches of a cheap movie script, Rodger turned out to be the son of a successful Hollywood director. He was a good-looking, rich kid who drove a BMW and attended film premieres. And from his own words, he was a bitter, angry, hate-filled virgin.

It also emerged that he was an active member of a notoriously misogynistic internet forum for men called ‘PUA Hate.’ Several bloggers and online news sites immediately began describing him as the ‘MRA shooter.’ Strictly speaking, this is probably inaccurate. There is a corner of the internet known disparagingly as ‘the manosphere’ which has several distinct compass points, united only by their shared misogyny. While people and ideas certainly seep between them, in practice they have very distinct interests, and often spend almost as much energy hating each other as they do hating feminists. Among several other manosphere communities, there are men’s rights activists, (MRAs) who mostly deal in political issues and gender relations, and there are pick-up artists (PUAs), who strictly concern themselves with sex, specifically how to manipulate women into bed.

Beyond those groups however, there are strange fringes such as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and those who describe themselves as ‘Incels’ meaning ‘involuntary celibates.’ These are men who are not just angry because women won’t have sex with them, they’re even angry with the PUAs who suggest that women might have sex with them. It was in this last group that Rodgers appeared to have found a community.

In Rodger’s manifesto there is no sign of even a slight interest in gender politics. He does not use the vocabulary or logic of MRAs, there is no ranting at ‘feminazis’ or other tell-tale signs of MRA ideology. Indeed, it is striking that the manifesto, unlike that of Anders Breivik, reveals no kind of political consciousness at all. For Rodgers, this all appears to have been entirely personal.

Was Rodger radicalised by what he read online? It is likely that while his anger and hatred were consuming him, he sought out those he considered like minds, rather than vice versa. We may never know. He says in his manifesto that the PUA Hate site confirmed his thinking:

The Spring of 2013 was also the time when I came across the website PUAHate.com. It is a forum full of men who are starved of sex, just like me. Many of them have their own theories of what women are attracted to, and many of them share my hatred of women, though unlike me they would be too cowardly to act on it. Reading the posts on that website only confirmed many of the theories I had about how wicked and degenerate women really are. Most of the people on that website have extremely stupid opinions that I found very frustrating, but I found a few to be quite insightful.

I sense an inevitability to the debate that will unfold in coming days. Feminists and their allies are already spinning this as the work of an MRA and a consequence of men’s rights ideology. MRAs, I do not doubt, will become defensive and probably find some way to blame feminism – some PUAs are already going down that route. I don’t think any of that is meaningful or helpful, and may provide a convenient moral escape route for some people who should really be looking to their own hearts and consciences.

Rodger does not appear to have identified as an MRA, and a debate as to whether or not he should be so described will be a pedantic distraction. The ugly truth is that, across much of the manosphere, his rantings are not especially unusual. Somewhere on the internet right this very moment – whether on an Insel site or an MRA site or an MGTOW site or Twitter or Facebook or an atheist forum, it really doesn’t matter – an angry young man will be spitting out his hatred of bitches, whores and sluts. Could Rodger have been dissuaded had he been challenged, rather than indulged in his rants? Frankly I doubt it, he would merely have dismissed his detractors as yet more weak cowards, but can we be sure? I would challenge those who laugh along with violent misogynistic fantasies online to imagine looking in the eyes of the families and friends of Rodgers’ victims and declaring their consciences to be clear.

There is another sense in which the easy explanatory narrative may be dangerous and misleading. To blame either mental illness or online misogyny for these crimes is to dodge the question of where those deranged beliefs, the anger, the nihilism, the hatred originated. Spree killers, as Michael Kimmel recently pointed out in Angry White Men, are invariably racked by aggrieved entitlement – they believe they have an inalienable right to status, to success and to sex. When those natural rights fail to materialise, they become angry and violent. But there is another aspect to the profile of a spree killer, which Rodger also describes in detail in his manifesto. Like pretty much all known spree killers, Elliot Rodger was systematically and severely bullied by his peers. The boys beat him while the girls looked on and laughed. When a rampant narcissistic entitlement meets the social humiliation and mockery of the bullying victim, the results can occasionally be deadly.

I say this cautiously as an outside observer, but it seems to me that whenever tragedies like this occur in the USA, the media and political discourses hone in on gun ownership (entirely reasonably, I stress) and on teen culture – whether rock music, video games or violent movies. In this case we can probably add online men’s forums. I”ve yet to see serious attention be devoted to the culture of bullying that would appear to continue unabated, even actively encouraged as hazing rituals, within American schools.

Nothing can be done to bring back the victims of Elliot Rodger, or undo his evil. The best we can do as a society (including the international online community) is to ask ourselves what we might do to prevent another such incident occurring. Answering that question demands that we look far beyond the quick and easy solutions, however tempting they might be. 

 

NOTE: The names of Rodger’s murdered room mates have now also been released. Please spare a thought for the friends and families of Weihan Wang (22), Chen Yuang Hong (20) and George Chen (19)

Solange, Jay-Z and our problem with female violence

So much needs to be said about the assault on Jay-Z by his sister-in-law, Solange Knowles, and the subsequent media reaction. A lot of it is should be so self-evident it barely needs spelling out. Yes, if the roles were reversed the reaction would be very different. No, headline writers of the world, this was not a “fight” – that word would imply mutual participation, this was a unilateral assault. No, social media users of the world, an incident of family violence is not the most hilarious topic for your jokes and memes. Yes, corporate PR executives who hijack jokey hashtags about violent crimes to share advertising slogans, you do have an extra warm and spiky corner of Hell awaiting you. And no, concerned observers and commentators of the world, you may not speculate on what Jay-Z might have said or done to provoke or deserve it. Physical assault is never justified by the victim’s behaviour. Do I really need to point out to where that kind of thinking leads?

Buried within all this, the affair shows up a peculiar problem our society seems to have in conceptualising women’s violence. Had the wobbly security camera footage shown a man assaulting a woman, we would have had a full range of explanations and an accompanying vocabulary immediately to hand. He’s a batterer, a bully, an abuser. Had it been one man attacking another man, he would be a thug, a lout, a hooligan. A violent woman, by comparison, does not compute, we do not even have the words to describe her. This may well explain the initial instinct either to laugh or to blame the victim, the latter leading to an equally contemptible urge to applaud or even celebrate the assault, despite a complete lack of any background information.

We may not have the language to describe them, but violent women are far from rare. In England and Wales alone, around 75,000 women were arrested for violence against the person last year, accounting for more than a fifth of all such arrests. Far more women were arrested for violence than for shoplifting. It is often assumed that any violence women instigate is relatively harmless, but the evidence suggests otherwise. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, women are around 50% more likely to be victims of any kind of partner abuse, but when restricted to ‘severe force’ that difference almost vanishes, with 1.1% of men and 1.3% of women being victims in the past year.

Where does this reluctance to acknowledge women’s capacity for violence originate? It would appear to be the offspring of a bizarre marriage of convenience between traditional, patriarchal social conservatism and a rather blinkered and idealistic textbook feminism. Compare and contrast the patriarchal view of women as nurturing, maternal, gentle and submissive with those of influential feminist pioneer Kate Millett, which I have quoted before but are worth recalling: “Force itself is restricted to the male who alone is psychologically and technically equipped to perpetrate physical violence. Where differences in physical strength have become immaterial through the use of arms, the female is rendered innocuous by her socialization.” I think it is safe to say she never went to any pubs round my neck of the woods.

Many of us have lived a reality that belies the wishful thinking of patriarchs and feminists alike Violence can explode as a reaction to anger, frustration, disrespect or – above all – a threat or history of violence. Scientists are now beginning to piece together the neurological mechanisms by which a person who is exposed to violence will develop an increased capacity to inflict it upon others in turn, and that is not restricted by gender.

If we wish to live in a society with less violence of any kind, we do not get to pick and choose which violent episodes we find tolerable. The society which is laughing and cheering when a woman kicks and punches her brother-in-law in an elevator is a society where children are growing to learn that violence is an acceptable response to insult or frustration. That is a society where violence against our partners, families or strangers can be justified and excused, and thereafter a society where we are bidding farewell to our sisters, daughters, brothers and sons in an ambulance or a hearse.