Can we finally nail down those male victim statistics?

Dear Anna

I’m genuinely grateful for this post on your blog Economista Dentata which delves into the ONS statistics on domestic abuse. After the week I’ve had, I really hope this gives me the opportunity to establish some recognised consensus as to the best available knowledge on some controversial questions, and the fact that you identify the sources of your claims and ‘show your workings’ (forgive the cliché) gives me hope that this could be a really constructive exchange. I hope you would be willing to consider this an ongoing dialogue, so I will make no apologies for asking you some questions and I’ll very much look forward to your answers.

I will go through what I take to be your main points, if you think I have missed anything significant or misrepresented your points, please correct me, I assure you it will be inadvertent.

Before diving headlong into some data, let us clearly define our terms. In theONS definition, domestic violence has a narrower definition than domestic abuse….

The two terms are not interchangeable – domestic abuse covers the entire x- axis: domestic violence excludes non-physical abuse. As the title suggests, Mankind’s video focuses on the physical, but over and over, the statistics Ally cites refer to all abuse. The effect is to muddle the eye of the reader.

 

I willingly accept that the ONS draws a distinction between ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’ – the latter being a narrower category which excludes non-physical abuse. You make a valid criticism that I use the two terms interchangeably without clarification, which could cause confusion.

However as you know, I was addressing points made by Polly Neate from Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid, and indeed the Home Office, define domestic violence as:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

psychological

physical

sexual

financial

emotional

That was also the definition I was using (for the record, it is one I accept and agree with.) You will notice that this definition of domestic violence is wider than the ONS one, indeed it is pretty much identical to the ONS definition of domestic abuse.

So I hope you would agree that by the definition quoted above, the claim made by Mankind Initiative about the percentage of victims of domestic violence who are male is not categorically inaccurate.

Are we agreed so far?

That said, it is fair to point out that we now have two operating definitions of domestic violence, one which includes non-physical abuse, and one which doesn’t.

It is important to note that victims can experience more than one type of abuse. Unless I’m missing a trick, it is therefore impossible to know from the figures on your graph (and here) exactly how many men and women were subjected to domestic violence by the strict ONS definition.

Your graph is partnered by this ONS table (click to enlarge)

Table 4.11

There were 700,000 male victims of domestic abuse and 1.2 million female victims of domestic abuse last year. We do therefore know how many men and women were subjected to each of the subcategories of abuse.

If we’re to be exact with our sums, I make it 37% of victims of domestic abuse are men, not 40%. I’ll accept those corrections.

From Table 4.11 we can also say that:

Men make up only small percentages of sexual violence and stalking victims. No argument from me there, although they are much, much smaller groups than the non-sexual abuse category.

There were 392,000 male victims of non-physical (emotional and financial) abuse (56% of 700,000) and 612,000 women (51% of 1.2m). That means 39% of victims of this type of abuse were male.

We can repeat this calculation to find that 329,000 men and were subjected to threats or force compared to 588,000 women, so 36% of victims of this type of domestic abuse were male.

Within that category:

17% of those subjected to threats were male.

31% of those subjected to minor force (‘pushed you, held you down or slapped you’) were male.

41% of those subjected to severe force (‘kicked, hit, bitten, choked, strangled, threatened with a weapon, threats to kill, use of a weapon or some other kind of force’) were male.

Looking at those statistics, especially the last one, while we can probably agree that it is never possible to capture a complex phenomenon like intimate partner abuse in a single statistic, would you not agree it is reasonable for a campaigning charity like the Mankind Initiative to tell a general, public audience that 40% of victims of domestic violence are male?

If not, can I ask you directly, what do you think would be a reasonable calculation, from all available evidence, of the proportion of victims of domestic abuse / violence who are male?

 

–—————–

 

We might all want to take a breather here, before I move on to your next point!

 

–—————-

So, to the data: there are several sources for this, which rather unhelpfully from our viewpoint have different methodologies. This notwithstanding, the ONS is pellucidly clear in its Summary and throughout: “Women were more likely than men to have experienced intimate violence across all headline types of abuse asked about.” Note: they do not say the likelihoods are of a comparable magnitude.

Yet this is the argument, that over and over again, Ally, in his defence of Mankind Initiative’s video, tries with more or less subtlety, to push.

I have very little to say about this beyond the fact that it is not true. I’ve said (and continue to say) that men make up a significant minority of victims of abuse but nowhere, in my recent blog or anywhere else, have I ever said that men were equally likely to face abuse. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the Mankind Initiative. 40% versus 60% is not “comparable magnitude” of likelihood. I simply do not know where you have got that from and I would respectfully ask you to withdraw it, or at least explain what it is I’ve said to give you the wrong idea, so I can be careful not to say it again.

–———–

Ally says: “If you go to the Women’s Aid page of statistics, the very first fact stated there is that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic comes from the exact same ONS data set from where we get 40% of victims being male.” (Ally’s blog)

But, seeing as 40% of domestic violence victims in the UK are men…”(HuffPo)

Not only is that NOT the first fact stated on the Women’s Aid page

Whoops, my fault. It is the first statistic quoted on the domestic violence page of the Women’s Aid website. I hold my hand up and apologise for the error.

but he has compared a statistic about domestic violence to one about domestic abuse, in order, it seems, to minimise the violence women suffer and exaggerate that suffered by men.

See above. I maintain that according to the definition of domestic violence used by both the Home Office and Women’s Aid, it is not inaccurate to say that around 40% of domestic violence victims are male.

The time frames are also different: Ally cites Women’s Aid ‘in her lifetime’ – but the ONS data refers to reported incidents in the last year; the sample sizes are not the same: Women’s Aid’s statistic refers ALL women in the adult female population not the percentage of victims referred to by the ONS.

This is a fair point, in that I did switch between annual and lifetime figures, which is sloppy. However the Women’s Aid statistic of lifetime prevalence does indeed come from the BCS/CSEW – the exact same data that provide annual figures. To be accurate, the latest CSEW gives the figures of “30% of women and 16.3% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.9 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.7 million male victims” – which is slightly more than one in four women. But the key point is that this estimate refers to victims experiencing any one incident, not a repeated pattern.

As this page demonstrates, Women’s Aid themselves acknowledge that the “one in four women” figure (like the “one in six men” figure) is indeed based on single incidents, not repeated and prolonged patterns. So while I didn’t make my case very carefully in the original blog, the point very much still stands. Women’s Aid use single incident statistics when they want to demonstrate how commonplace domestic violence against women is, then discount single incident statistics when they want to claim domestic violence against men is rare.

–———-

Ally and Mankind also leave unaddressed that men will be perpetrators of violence against men in relationships, as well as being victims (it’s worth noting that of all incidents of all kinds of violence in society, the majority are committed by men); domestic violence and abuse against men will not take place solely in heterosexual relationships (the same caveat, of course, applies to women).

It is true that some partner violence against men can occur in same sex relationships, as of course can some partner violence against women.

Thankfully, the ONS have also considered this so we do have the data (albeit the most recent is from 2008/9) It is here, on Page 76. I appreciate the table is sideways on the pdf, so to save you some contortionism, the main points are that partner abuse victimisation among:

  • Heterosexual men = 4.1%
  • Heterosexual women = 5.9%
  • Gay/ bisexual men = 8.9%
  • Lesbian/bisexual women = 17.3%

I would advise not reading too much into the gay / lesbian / bi categories which can be complicated by all sorts of factors (not least margins of error with small groups). The key statistics are the first two. Among purely heterosexual populations, there are (very slightly more than) four male victims for every six female victims. Another way to put that is that about 40% of heterosexual victims of partner abuse are male. If we include same sex relationships in the analysis the proportion of victims who are male does not go up, it falls.

–———–

His attempt to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents a victim suffers is puzzling at best: to quote Mankind’s own slogan ‘ViolenceisViolence’ whether it’s once or a thousand times.

Forgive me if I’m being dense here, I don’t understand this point. I think you may be referring to my responses to Polly Neate’s attempts to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents. It was her doing that, not me. She appeared to be suggesting that domestic violence is only real domestic violence if it happens repeatedly, as a pattern.

If you’re puzzled by that, hey, join the club. I quite agree, #ViolenceIsViolence whether it happens once or a thousand times.

–—

In order to end male violence in society against women, we need to understand and name the problem.

 

I don’t disagree with that. At no point have I denied male violence, and I am on a lifelong mission to attempt to understand it. I’m also quite happy to name male violence as male violence.

However male violence is not the only type of violence in society and I have spent much of the last week fielding angry attacks from those who would appear to demand that I accept it is, against all evidence to the contrary.

 

Ally Fogg calls himself an ally to feminists.

 

Actually he doesn’t. I am sometimes called that by others, but believe me, I’m called a lot of worse things too.

 

 

Tackling the facts about the World Cup and domestic abuse

With the World Cup approaching, as predictable as a catastrophic metatarsal fracture or an unfathomable miss by Lampard, the police have issued warnings of a sudden spate of domestic violence incidents coinciding with every England game.

Equally predictably, voices from the manosphere shout “HOAX” and suggest that such claims are a fabricated, bogus defamation of men and their (ok, our) harmless hobbies. The rebuttals tend to recite the well-known case of the Superbowl domestic violence myth or, slightly more pertinently, an article by Christina Hoff-Sommers published at the time of the last World Cup.

As someone who loves drinking, loves football, and especially loves drinking my way through the World Cup, I would love to be able to reassure everyone that all these stories about drunken British football fans beating their wives (or, on occasion, their husbands) are an urban legend. Sadly they are, with a few caveats, very largely true.

Since Hoff-Sommers wrote her piece last time round, this research was published by Kirby et al which does demonstrate a large and significant effect. Yes, it is drawn from a localised sample, which can raise issues, but otherwise it seems sound and does address many of the problems which have cast doubt over previous claims in this area – for example controlling for seasonal variations in domestic violence rates.

A few years ago, a Scottish football supporters’ webzine investigated claims by Strathclyde police about a spike in violence on Old Firm match days (that’s the Glasgow Rangers-Celtic local derby, overseas guests). They requested the figures and, with great fanfare, proclaimed the police to be either mistaken or dishonest. There was no noticeable difference in DV incidents on Old Firm match days.

I submitted my own FOI request and got the raw data. At first glance, they appeared to be correct. There was no match day effect. However something peculiar happened – while there was not a significant rise in DV reports on match days, there was a very large rise the day after match days.

After a few phonecalls with a helpful Strathclyde Police data analyst up in Glasgow, we established that there was one data set drawn from the informal daily incident log, which ran with police shifts, ending at 5am. However the data released on request was the official recorded incident data, which ran midnight to midnight. A large proportion of the “match day” domestic violence incidents were happening between midnight and 5am, and were not showing up in the daily statistics. It was a salutary reminder that not only do we have to keep a close eye on those who release and act upon official statistics, we have to keep a similarly close eye on those who seek to debunk official statistics, even through such channels as the Freedom of Information Act.

As I mentioned however, there are caveats. We should bear in mind that there are more police on duty on match days. They may, therefore, be more likely to catch couples who are brawling / assaulting each other in public. These cases will show up in the statistics. It is also possible that the publicity and warnings surrounding domestic violence on match days is, to an extent, effective. It might encourage victims to call for help when otherwise they would not have done.

Most significantly, however, we should bear in mind that it is not only football matches that cause such spikes in domestic violence. The figures also rise a lot on bank holidays and (of course) occasions such as Christmas and New Year. Last month Manchester saw its worst weekend for domestic abuse this year, worse even than New Year. Why? Apparently for no other reason than the sun came out and people got thirsty. An exercise I have always wanted to undertake (remind me sometime) would be to access domestic violence data for occasions such as royal weddings or the Queen’s Jubilee, when a national holiday and street parties are actively encouraged. I strongly suspect we would see the same effect, although for some reason the media seems reluctant to highlight those risks.

There is one final point that must be made about this research. A couple of recent papers in medical journals by Zara Quigg and colleagues (here and here)  have examined emergency department injury data on World Cup match days. Once again, the effect is there – a significant rise in admissions should be expected. What is less often mentioned is that the great majority of injuries are to men, with young adult males (18 -34) alone representing more than half of all admissions. The gender difference in hospital admissions which exists every weekend does not narrow on big match days – it increases.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do not doubt that this is overwhelmingly men’s violence against men. From a male point of view, this is our problem. However there is a widespread assumption that such casualties are self-inflicted – lads going out, looking for a fight and coming off worse. That can happen, but research into street violence shows that a lot of incidents are unilateral or the result of several assailants attacking one victim. No level of violence is a tolerable level of violence.

I support and endorse campaigns which highlight the increased risks of partner abuse around football matches. The myths on this score are propagated not by police and charities, but by denialists. Having said that, I’d like to see a little more acknowledgement that the risks are not only faced by women.

On that note, I wish you an enjoyable, successful and above all, safe World Cup. It’s Samba Time!

The entirely Fact Free Friday open thread

So what’s on your mind folks?

If you’d like an oblique strategy starter, you could have a listen in to yesterday’s BBC Woman’s Hour, which was a special edition to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Joan Smith’s book, Misogynies. As a couple of you already noticed, it also includes a very brief cameo from me round about  the 40 minute mark.

Inevitably, as the last segment, our time was squeezed, and of the two or three key points I wanted to make, I actually made none. Still, as carnation has noted, I am (apparently) more Scottish than I look on the Radio.

A quick scan of the hashtags after revealed that I ruffled a few listeners’ feathers by having the audacity to offer some reasonably up to date and accurate statistics about violence against women.

On a similar note, I could only sigh and decline the argument on this rather strange response to my last blog. It left me thinking of only one thing:

homerfacts

[Read more...]

#ViolenceIsViolence: Watching the reactions

I am not a fan of advertisements or public service broadcasts which purport to be scientific experiments. I’m not convinced that 8/10 cats really do prefer your Kangachunks over other products, nor that some actress really does feel like the appearance of wrinkles has been reduced after six weeks of using inventyserum oxide. I’m particularly cynical about hidden camera exercises which catch the reactions of oblivious passers-by and which can only be produced by editing down endless miles of footage into a few seconds of final cut.

So while I’m a great admirer and supporter of the work of domestic violence charity the Mankind Initiative, my heart didn’t exactly leap when I first saw their new online ad to support a campaign they call #ViolenceIsViolence.

I will now hold up my hand and say I was wrong. The video has been viewed six million times in little over a week, sparked widespread debate across mainstream media in Britain and across the world. Many online discussions have focussed on double standards and asked readers to speculate on the question, what would you do? Almost instantly it has become one of the most effective pieces of campaigning for men’s issues I’ve ever seen.And the reactions have been telling. By that, I do not mean the reactions shown in the film, they speak for themselves. I mean the reactions from across the spectrum of gender politics and domestic violence campaigners.

First, the good news. I have seen many supportive comments from individual women and feminist groups, including local Women’s Aid charities, who have been happy to express unequivocal support for the message that #ViolenceIsViolence and violence is wrong.

I’m more baffled by the reaction of American blogger and manosphere-watcher David Futrelle, who picked up on a Spanish academic’s blog to ask the question: Is the Mankind Initiative’s #ViolenceIsViolence video a fraud?

Using the type of forensic analysis which in the good old days t’internet used to establish that the moon landings were fake or that Woody Woodpecker shot JFK, David demonstrates that the two minute campaigning video must have been (wait for it) EDITED! He then goes on to demand that the Mankind Initiative and the company who made the video release the original, raw footage so that he, or whoever, can go through analysing it frame by frame to verify its authenticity.

Why would anyone want to do this? Does David Futrelle or anyone else really deny that society generally reacts differently to female on male violence than to the reverse? Among my own original, ill-aimed gripes at the video, was a sense that the point it was making was so glaringly obvious it verged on the banal. Do you need to be convinced of how differently people consider female on male violence? Try reading a newspaper. Try reading social media whenever there is a factual or fictional case on the TV. The Mankind Initiative’s video provided a short, sharp, easily understood illustration of a long-established fact. Was the video a fraud? No David, it was an ad.

So far so silly. Far more troubling was the reaction of the leading national domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid and their chief executive.

Polly Neate initially published an article on the Daily Telegraph, then followed it up with an appearance on BBC Women’s Hour. Neate did make one good and important point, which is that intervening in public incidents of domestic violence can be dangerous and counter-productive for all involved, a point which I agree should have somehow been acknowledged in the video. The rest of the article was shocking, notably her implication that the success of this video might put women at risk. In particular, she took issue with the statistic which appears on the last frame of the film, that 40% of victims of domestic violence are men.

Mankind’s video ends by showing a statistic that 40 per cent of domestic violence is suffered by men. This figure, while it does come from the Office for National Statistics, can be misleading. It’s important to remember that domestic violence, the type of abuse where you are living in utter fear of your partner, isn’t a one-off incident: it’s about ongoing and repeated violence. Women make up 89 per cent of those who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence.

It’s also really important to recognise that in the remaining 11 per cent, men are more at risk when they are in same sex relationships. Quite simply, proportionately very few perpetrators of domestic violence where there is ongoing abuse are female. Despite this, female perpetrators are three times more likely to be arrested than men. As men commit 96 per cent of all violent crime, it is difficult to understand why these statistics are so hard to accept.

 

There are so many problems with this it would be tedious to list them all. Every single statistic above is questionable, dated or downright false, so I will restrict myself to one key point. If you go to the Women’s Aid page of statistics, the very first fact stated there is that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic comes from the exact same ONS data set from where we get 40% of victims being male. If by domestic violence we mean ‘ongoing and repeated violence… those who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence’ then more than two thirds of female victims of DV simply disappear – they don’t exist. The figure of 89% comes from Walby and Allen‘s analysis of the 2001 British Crime Survey. If we were to use the ‘four or more’ condition to define domestic violence, from that same study, only 32% of victimised women qualify, meaning that the number of women who are a victim suddenly drops from one in four to around one in 13. Women’s Aid cannot have it both ways.

In practice, Women’s Aid do not restrict their services to women who have been subject to acts of physical violence four or more times by the same perpetrator. On the ground, quite rightly and importantly, they help women (and in some cases men) who have been subjected to all kinds of physical, emotional and psychological abuse, including those who have been victims of a single incident. It is highly dishonest to pretend that the only victims worthy of consideration are those suffering repeated, severe violence.

Much worse is to come, however. Neate continues:

It is totally understandable that organisations want to highlight the issue they are campaigning on, to increase their profile and encourage people to support their cause, but campaigns such as these influence important decisions that affect survivors. We have been told by local Women’s Aid federation organisations that they are funded locally on the basis they have to provide services to male victims, and they are rarely used despite putting time and money into promoting this.

 

The first thing to note here is that there is not a shred of objective evidence that any women have suffered or been denied services because funding has been diverted to provide services for male victims. When challenged by Mankind Initiative’s Mark Brooks on Women’s Hour, Neate failed to provide any details, reverting to ‘well it’s what we’ve been told.’ Secondly, if it is true that some local Women’s Aid organisations are finding there is low take-up for services aimed at men, it could be because an organisation called ‘Women’s Aid’ with a history of denial with regard to male victims and some profoundly problematic attitudes going all the way to the very top might not be the most appropriate organisation to be providing services to men. Just a thought.

Most significantly, however, we must compare and contrast the attitudes of the two charities on this front. Every time I have heard Mark Brooks speak on the media or in public, he has gone to great pains to stress that he believes there should be more funding for female and male victims, and that it would be obscene to argue that women should be deprived of any services in order to provide them to men instead. He wants to join with all domestic violence charities and campaigns to demand more and better services for all victims, irrespective of gender. Women’s Aid will not return this courtesy.

I cannot conceive of any other charity that would actively attack the campaigning and fundraising work of another. We do not see lung cancer charities running attack pieces against effective breast cancer campaigns. We don’t see Water Aid asking people not to give to Aids charities.

Domestic violence services of all types have struggled against devastating funding cuts over the past four years. People in need have been deprived of interventions that could offer vital, even life-saving support. If that trend is to be reversed, it will only happen by everyone who cares about the issue joining as one and demanding help for those in need. It cannot help to have one charity turn on another in an ignominious display of one-downmanship.

Open thread: Would you like an open thread?

The other day HetPat regular Carnation left a comment suggesting that this blog (can I presume to call you all this community?) might benefit from a weekly open thread, and whenever conversations are running too far off topic, I (or others) could politely suggest the conversation is moved there.

Personally I have no strong opinions either way. If we were to do it, I would probably be even more hands-off with the moderation than I am on regular threads – I would continue to come down hard on overt bigotry – whether misogyny, misandry, homophobia, racism, transphobia etc – but if two commentators are viciously tearing strips off each other with equal culpability, I’d be tempted to leave them to it.

What do you think?

And while we’re about it, anything else on your mind? Whether relating to this blog, my moderation policy, suggestions for future topics etc, or just anything passing across your transam that may be of interest to others?

Spill yer branez below.

A quick defence of nuance

(Note: Glosswitch has made her blog private, at least for now. No reason to believe it had anything to do with this, but for the meantime the Google cache of the blog this responds to is here)

Dear Glosswitch

I’m a bit puzzled by the misrepresentation here. I normally let these things wash over me, but about six people have now tweeted me demanding that I go read you, and it seems to make more sense to spell out my position..

I wholeheartedly agree with the first half of your post. However you then go on to say:

Today has seen plenty of men desperate to claim that misogyny has nothing to do with misogyny because hey, that’s way too simple, ladies!

You then go on on to quote me, and no one else, so I presume it is me you are talking about. But anyone who reads my post will see that right at the top, after taking a moment to remember the victims the first point I make is this:

[Mental illness] 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.

Does that read like someone claiming that this was nothing to do with misogyny?

It might also have been slightly fairer to quote me at slightly greater length, because immediately after the paragraph quoted, I go on to say:

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.

In other words, the point about whether or not he is an MRA is not me trying to get them off the hook, but the exact opposite. Inaccurately calling Rodger an MRA simply allows actual MRAs to dissociate themselves from him, and lets them dodge their culpability in their shared misogyny. That was my whole bloody point there, and I don’t think I explained it too be clumsily to be understood.

The other point I was making, which may have been missed, is that while I wholeheartedly agree that misogyny and patriarchal entitlement were the driving forces here, there are millions of men with those traits who do not become mass murderers, and the temptation to write Rodger off as a simple and clear cut case of misogyny risks cutting off inquiry into other factors that may have been involved. I mentioned bullying, as one specific detail that seems to apply to every single school / spree shooter, but there may be others unique to Rodger.

In summary, I’ve found the arguments I’ve heard over the past 24 hours a little strange. Primarily, I have been criticised for asking for nuance. (One tweet directing me to this blog simply said “No need for nuance,”

I just can’t buy into that. There is always need for nuance. When Lee Rigby was murdered, I wrote a vaguely similar blog, which also called for nuance. Yes, Rigby was murdered by two Islamist terrorists, but does the story end there? No, it didn’t at the time and it still doesn’t today.

A lot of this reminds me of what John Major once said: “sometimes I think we need to understand a little less and condemn a little more.” I’ve never been able to buy into that. However much we condemn, we can always understand a little more.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me on any point, telling me I am wrong. But very few people have been doing that over the past 24 hours. They haven’t been telling me I am wrong, they’ve just been saying “how dare you say that?”

I find that quite a depressing reaction in any circumstance.

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)

A short list of shits I could not give

Pretty much every day I’ll be sent a message of some sort inviting me to show my support for some gender-based campaign, cause or petition. Often they are concerns that I share, and I will help as I can. Other times I will give the issue some thought and consideration and conclude hmm, nope, sorry, but I really don’t give much of a shit.

For the sake of discussion, let me offer a short, and by no means exhaustive list of shits I really could not give:

  • Books and merchandise declaring: Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them
  • Nipples on Page 3 of the Sun
  • Adverts portraying men as being useless in the kitchen or changing nappies
  • Men’s Health advocating an unattainable body beautiful for men
  • Lads mags in newsagents
  • Sexist T-shirts
  • Miley Cyrus videos
  • ‘All Men Are Bastards’ knifeblocks
  • Pink ladypens
  • The sexual politics of Grand Theft Auto
  • Builders stripping off in Diet Coke ads

The list could go on and on. I should explain that I don’t actually like any of the things above. On the contrary, I find them at best tacky and dispiriting, at worst hateful and depressing. In all cases the world would probably be a slightly better place if they did not exist. However every single one of them is less of a problem in its own right than a symptom of a deeper malaise. We live in a world in which the entire human experience is co-opted, synthesised, commodified and sold back to us in a never-ending cycle of demand.

I do not see how we can call upon the publishers of Men’s Health to tone down the chiselled abs in their photo spreads without acknowledging the niche it fills in a culture of narcissism and self-obsession, a spectrum that stretches from sculpted torsos (and airbrushed Vogue stars) to obesity and eating disorders. For too many people, the glossy fantasy fills a void, and the problem is not with the fantasy, but with the void.
In all these cases, the products themselves are not the problem, they are the representations, the totems, the Aunt Sallys which poke up from a swamp of cultural alienation, misogyny, misandry and gender construction. Knocking them down might make us feel better momentarily, but do nothing to purify the waters.

An argument I have often with feminists (and others) is whether so-called sexualisation or pornification of our culture is getting worse all the time. I would challenge anyone old enough to remember the 1970s, when I was a child. The janitor in my primary school had a nude calendar on the wall of his little store-room, which we would see every time we were sent to collect a bucket and mop after some little poppet vomited in class. When I went with my dad to any ironmonger shop, tyre repair place or garage there would be nudes all over the walls. Light family entertainment involved Benny Hill running around trying to molest nubile young nurses at double speed. Most of it is almost unimaginable now.

What happened? It had little to do with bans, prosecutions or petitions. Things got better because our culture slowly, gradually changed as a whole. What had looked funny began to look tacky. Awareness of sexism as an issue slowly spread. We grew up a bit.

Personally, I’m not so bothered about the kinds of cartoonish or extreme examples of sexism in the list above. Most of the time they jump up and down shouting “Look at me! Look at me! I’m a piece of ridiculous sexist trash!” and so can be easily ignored and dismissed. I’m much more bothered about low level, insidious, ubiquitous conditioning of restrictive gender roles, our personal interactions and (above all) our interactions with children.

It seems to me that most of the complaints about gender representations wilfully avoid context and ignore all counter-evidence. Here is a typical example:

We all know the stereotypes—the femme fatale, the supermom, the sex kitten, the nasty corporate climber. Whatever the role, television, film and popular magazines are full of images of women and girls who are typically white, desperately thin, and made up to the hilt—even after slaying a gang of vampires or dressing down a Greek phalanx.

I recognise these stereotypes, of course, but I’m also aware that when the TV is on in my house, it rarely shows anything like that. It shows Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Eastenders, with their arrays of strong, fully-rounded female characters driving the plot. Or if I have (rare) control of the remote, flashy trash like CSI or 24, with their full complement of women detectives, spies, scientists, pathologists and computer geeks.

Cultural misandry, of the type highlighted by Nathanson and Young in their series of tedious whingeing books, concerns me even less. Most of the time, our TV and other media present us with an endless parade of white, middle-aged, middle-class men being in charge. They’re in charge of the stuff going on on the news, they’re in charge of the murder investigations on the detective series, they’re in charge of the grand villainous plans in the movies, they’re in charge of the ball on the football pitch. They are saving the day, they are rescuing the heroine, basically if shit needs doing, we assume a man will be doing it. Anyone who denies this is true needs to log out of Reddit for five minutes and open their fucking eyes.

So when writers of sitcoms or 30-second commercials want a cheap laugh, what do they do? They play with and subvert our expectations, our deeply ingrained assumptions that men (and especially middle-aged white men like me) are in charge and in control. A middle aged white man? One of those people who is meant to be running the whole world and he can’t even work a washing machine! Hahahaha. Geddit? Am I amused? No, not really. Am I offended? Get a grip.

I’ve even seen it suggested that these types of representations of men prove there is no such thing as patriarchy or male privilege. This is, frankly, the dumbest argument this side of a UKIP conference. The truth is the exact opposite – the demeaning representation of men in popular culture is a corollary and a direct consequence of our privilege. If you want a world where middle-aged men aren’t brought down a peg or two, help to create a world where middle-aged men don’t need to be brought down a peg or two.

Having said all that, I wholeheartedly approve of efforts to monitor and critique the media we consume. Some representations are actively harmful – I would include within that, for example, portrayals of sexual violence as glamorous, sexy, or enjoyable to the victim, or portrayals of domestic violence as legitimate reactions or expressions of frustration (and I include the stereotypical soap opera wife throwing cups at her husband or hitting him with a frying pan.) Some media representations actively undermine efforts to improve our society and they must be subject to criticism.

So in a way I am kind of glad that someone out there is berating Rupert Murdoch for continuing to flog his tabloid bogroll via Barbara from Basildon’s bare boobs. I am kind of glad that someone is pointing out that actually most men are quite capable of working a washing machine. Just don’t take it personally if I fail to share your outrage.

Slap-happy columnists and the dangers of generalisation

I hate to say I told you so, but when I wrote last week that our culture has a problem conceptualising female violence, one or two of those commenting below seemed less than convinced. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself clearly, but with impeccable timing, up popped the Observer columnist Barbara Ellen to provide the perfect illustration.

In discussing the Jay-Z / Solange incident, she made several bizarre and troubling claims. It began with a now-familiar slice of victim-blaming,  pondering what Jay-Z must have done to ‘provoke’ Solange. It got worse when she elided group generalisations with the specifics of an individual incident: “The differences in physical size and/or strength between the sexes mean that most men are simply not physically scared of most women.” 

This is probably true, but has no bearing on whether any one man is physically scared (never mind physically hurt) by any one woman. Ellen’s entire column showed zero understanding of the real dynamics of interpersonal violence, and particularly the complexities of how men react to violence, and female violence in particular.  The real stunner, however, came in a paragraph that was so wrong as to verge on the downright wicked. I am utterly stunned that the editors allowed it through:

What’s more, women tend to be aware of this, if only subliminally. Some females might have periods in their life when they get “slap-happy”, primarily when socialising, maybe when attention seeking, usually when drunk (guilty!). When they stop this behaviour, it’s usually because they’re ashamed, embarrassed or have belatedly realised they’re disgusting dogs who can’t hold their drink. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely to have anything to do with men being frightened of them. On the contrary, it’s wired into the female DNA that in the main they’re under threat rather than the threat. 

When I wrote about our difficulties in conceptualising female violence, this is precisely what I was talking about. Ellen cannot conceive of female on male assaults as violent crime, just as embarrassing drunkenness. What do these women do when they are going through their “slap-happy” phase?

Consider Coral Millerchip, perhaps, who last summer attacked Jovinder Singh, a frail, 80-year-old man, dying with Alzheimers, knocking him to the ground and then spitting on him. He was so traumatised that he lived out his remaining few months of life in fear, unable to venture outside alone.

Or maybe she is imagining the high-jinks of the Hackney woman who last week greeted the gardener on her housing block by pouring sulphuric acid drain cleaner over his head. Or the Devon nightclubber who assaulted two men, one of whom she leaned in to whisper in his ear then sank her teeth into his cheek. Apparently she is ashamed and embarrassed now, which sounds familiar. Another woman who is ashamed, embarrassed and forgetful this week is the Ipswich woman who removed her shoe and used it to beat three men around the head.

These are just a few snapshots of the 75,000 women arrested for violent crimes in this country each year, picked out from the first few pages of Google News.  Their crimes are not a joke, a rarity or an irrelevance.

Notwithstanding the usual debates about rates of intimate partner violence, It is certainly true that for every woman committing a violent act, there will be several men. Male violence, in both prevalence and severity, remains the most pressing criminological trend in our society. To acknowledge that does not require us to simply ignore or dismiss female violence, whether targeted at men, women or children.

In one respect Barbara Ellen is correct. Context does matter to this debate. It is not necessarily ‘the same’ when a man hits a woman as when a woman hits a man. It is not the same when a large, physically fit music superstar is being attacked with a burly bodyguard to protect him as when a frail, disabled man like Eddie Kidd is being battered behind closed doors by the woman he loves.  It is not the same when Charles Saatchi grabs Nigella Lawson around the throat in a public restaurant as when a couple of destitute street-drinkers brawl over their last swigs of lager. The truth is that no two violent relationships are the same, no two violent incidents are the same, no two victims are the same, no two  perpetrators are the same. It is impossible to say sure how dangerous a person is based on their identity or gender, how scary, or indeed how scared such a person might be when placed in a violent situation.

Generalising about how someone might react to being violently attacked, generalising about someone else’s capacity for violence is a fool’s errand. If we are serious about reducing violence in society, we will not get there by starting with a position that some types of violence are somehow more acceptable than others.

 

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.