The Left have turned domestic violence into a culture war

by on 16 January, 2016

Tim O’Hare

We ended 2013 with new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledging to end domestic violence. Noble goal. Now fresh Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is indicating that he will also be a leader in combating it.

They are not alone. The first-term member for Gellibrand, Tim Watts has made it one of his signature issues, with former Governor-General Quentin Bryce chairing the ‘Not Now: Not Ever’ council and acclaimed journalist Sarah Ferguson presenting the documentary ‘Hitting Home.’

On a surface level this appears to be a positive step, with the issue of domestic violence achieving bipartisan support. Yet the question must be asked,“what outcome can this campaign really achieve?”

Domestic violence is an issue that affects depraved individuals across class, ethnicity, religion or gender. One would be reasonable to say that, no matter how many ad campaigns and airy speeches about it, wiping out domestic violence is as utopian as wiping out theft, rape or murder. These horrible realities will never truly go away, though they may be reduced over time through increased education, mental wellbeing and standard of living, as well as deterrents such as greater penalties for offenders and protection for victims.

All of these would be acceptable methods for our political leaders to advocate and, to their credit, many have. However that hasn’t stopped many from yielding to the temptation of turning domestic violence into a culture war which calls into question what we watch, say, think, feel and value along with our upbringing and how we interact as adults.

Yes there are undoubtedly some cultural factors when it comes to domestic violence, but how culture interrelates with values, mental health, relationships and other variables is complicated, suffice to say that no politician without qualification as a psychology professional can be sure which is the most prevalent.

However anti-domestic violence campaigners continue in the belief that that it is culture that is the problem and that politicians can positively influence culture. Combating the ‘culture’ around domestic violence through national political action is symptomatic of the Left’s inherent faith in government and its scope to solve issues in any sphere. In the words of feminist Carol Hanisch, ‘The personal is political’ or, as Mussolini put it, ‘Everything inside the state, nothing outside the state.’ It is simply politically incorrect in today’s emotive discourse to even argue that domestic violence can be addressed through practical changes in law enforcement and counselling for victims, rather than Federal political posturing.

Yet that hasn’t stopped both sides of politics from weighing in. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said “All disrespect for women does not end up with violence against women, but let’s be clear, all violence against women begins with disrespecting women”. It is worth noting that Malcolm Turnbull is not a qualified health professional or Sociologist and such far-reaching statements to ascribe the basis of all domestic violence to be related to sexism are without academic corroboration.

American Psychiatric Nurse and family counsellor Michael Samsel has said ‘One position is that sexism causes domestic violence. In this view, men are encouraged and taught to abuse women, and think of them as acceptable targets. Since however, only a minority of men (probably under ten percent) act as primary aggressors, it seems necessary to assume an additional factor or factors that are specifically determining.’

The feminist belief that domestic violence comes from a sense of patriarchal domination over the woman is being called into question with research by Pam Elliot and Patrick Letellier on domestic violence amongst same sex couples. A 2014 study by North Western University in Illinois found that, while one quarter of women in heterosexual relationships experience domestic violence, that rate is between 25 and 75% for gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. This deviation in statistical data is attributed by lead research Dr. Richard Carroll as being due to the stigma around being a sexual minority.

Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped anti-sexism campaigners from using the issue of domestic violence in your stock-standard sexism debate. Such was the case that The Drum’s John Barron criticised a cricket ad calling for attractive bartenders questioning whether that was appropriate during domestic violence week. Meanwhile, the more extreme, Australian Greens have attacked children’s toys such as barbies and trucks as promoting traditional gender roles which leads to an unsubstantiated link to domestic violence.

In a more extreme case in 2014, we saw feminists take to Twitter to rant against the patriarchy after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people, four men and two women, after expressing contempt at women for refusing to go out with him.

It was certainly clear that Elliot Rodger had a pent up hostility to women but so too was it that Mr. Rodger was a deeply disturbed individual with psychotic tendencies, such as the use of violence as a form of revenge and a lack of empathy.

But this level of nuance is beyond the narrative polemicists seek to perpetuate. There are tens of thousands of men in the world with outdated attitudes to women, a minority of them actually commit violence.

However those who argue that there are degrees to sexism and that it doesn’t all follow a slippery slope into violence are routinely criticised for not taking this problem seriously.

Yet with each bit of so called dialogue in our ‘national conversation’ on domestic violence the actual instances of violence are made peripheral to a larger culture war. Proponents would say that they are arguing for combating sexism in any form, which would seem benevolent enough. But the problem is coming to an agreed upon understanding of what constitutes sexism.

In recent times it seems there is a disconnect between the opinion of our political class and the broader public about what is sexism, with cricketer Chris Gayle being fined $10,000 for making an unwanted pass at a journalist.

Greens Deputy Leader Larissa Waters made headlines in 2014 calling for a boycott of barbie dolls saying that gendered toys ‘“Out-dated stereotypes about girls and boys and men and women, perpetuate gender inequality, which feeds into very serious problems such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap.”

Once again, neither of these claims have any grounding in academic literature. No psychologist would attribute the emotionally and demographically complex problem of domestic violence to the toys people played with as children and it has been illegal since The Equal Pay Case, 1969 (Cth) for an employer to pay a woman less for the same amount of work.

Yet that didn’t stop Larissa Waters from making that point and she faced no rebuke from her leader Richard Di Natale or reasonable scrutiny over the veracity of her claims from the media. The more our politicians and media presenters talk about the need to have a ‘conversation’ about sexism and domestic violence the less focused the direction of it seems to be.

And like with all public campaigns, from road safety to obesity, it’s very rare that these campaigns don’t result in more government intervention. Such intervention may be good if it meant heightened police presence and counselling for victims of domestic violence. But we already know that it’s not going to be that limited.

Once you start a ‘national conversation’, from ads in busways to an annual week each year with ABC specials every night then the temptation amongst every stakeholder with an axe to grind is to link their pet issue with domestic violence. From pornography to rap music to the gender pay-gap, issues of grievance are aired and the government is given a free kick to intervene more while tenuously connecting it to domestic violence.

What’s worse is that its so much harder to oppose government intervention tenuously connected to domestic violence, for fear of appearing non-empathetic.

When Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer made a legitimate point that Labor’s plan for compulsory work-place leave for victims of domestic violence may result in a reduction in jobs, she was criticised for being heartless by Labor and the left-wing media.

This exposes a sick contradiction in our political discourse. Politicians like Larissa Waters, can conveniently exploit domestic violence to peddle their agenda yet those who question it are the sick ones?

Once Pandora’s Box is opened, there’s very little chance of these government interventions being wound up. Should there be no change for example in rates of domestic violence as a result of barbie dolls being banned, anti-domestic violence crusaders will use this as justification that we are not doing enough and advocate further intervention. Meanwhile, sober-minded politicians will be unwilling to attempt to unwind this increased regulation for fear of being labelled acquiescent to the perpetual problem of domestic violence.

Australia does have a domestic violence problem. But the more our leaders give rise to airy rhetoric advocating large-scale cultural overhaul rather than practical solutions the more the real instances of domestic violence remain unaddressed

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