Flat White

Clementine Ford’s guilt by association

9 April 2017

10:04 AM

9 April 2017

10:04 AM

Clementine Ford – bedlamite, feminist provocateur and keyboard warrior extraordinaire – penned a column the other day calling for the abolition of the myth that ‘99 per cent of men are good blokes’.

According to Ford, the idea that discussions about violence against women should be accompanied by any form of disclaimer that not all men beat their wives and girlfriends ignores the many ways that men, as a whole shield, and protect abusers that stand among them – even if they aren’t the one throwing the punch.

In Ford’s world, these so-called ‘good blokes’ are complicit in the crimes of their brethren because they fail to institute lifelong career and social sanctions against perpetrators of domestic violence, while at the same time normalising these crimes through sexist jokes and other blokey behaviours.

Ford proffers a selection of hand-picked, high profile perpetrators like Chris Brown, Johnny Depp and footballer Nick Stevens as evidence that ‘sacred spaces of male bonding’ ring-fence men from the consequences of their violent actions.

Sorry Clem, but the idea that most men lend tacit their approval to abusing women is plain guff. Over the course of 12 years of school and five years at university, I have only ever heard of one of my peers being violent towards a partner. That was more than three years ago and to this day, he is still very much persona non grata among most of his former friends and broader network.

When one of my friend’s girlfriends fell from her bicycle and suffered visible bruising on her arms, and shoulders, he was taken aside by peers and friends on no less than four occasions and asked whether he played any part.

For the majority of people who base their ideas of human behaviour on what they see and observe in daily life, not what they read on online echo chambers fomenting anti-male grievance, I’d be surprised if this doesn’t sound intuitively true. Just picture the reaction if a man decided to hit his partner at a football match, pub or shopping centre. You can bet the blowback from passers-by would be far swifter than if it were simply two blokes throwing punches.

Indeed, I’d venture that even if we lowered ourselves to the crudest levels of ribald, male humour, hitting women would remain as one of perhaps two truly no-go topics, the other being paedophilia. I have friends who are tradies, doctors, musicians and bartenders. And I cannot think of one time where laying a finger on a woman has been countenanced by anyone I know as being remotely acceptable.

It could be that I live in a bubble, unwittingly surrounded by roaming hordes of backward-minded male barbarians. But whereas Ford offers not one jot of hard evidence that ‘good blokes’ normalise domestic violence, there’s tonnes of data showing that Australians view violence against women as one of the most irksome social ills.

According to a recent National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey, nine in ten people agree domestic violence and harassment against women should not be dealt with by police and the courts, not sorted out privately. Eight in ten agree they would intervene if they witnessed or knew of an incident of domestic violence.

But what about Clem’s central point that we lend cultural cover to ‘powerful men’ who commit crimes against women?

Chris Brown has been denied entry to Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom because of his domestic violence record. Brown’s abuse saw him lose a slew of lucrative sponsorship deals including Wrigley’s gum and ditched by Sesame Street and the NBA while scores of radio stations vowed to discontinue playing his tunes. When one of Canada’s biggest telcos found out Brown was scheduled to perform at a music festival it had sponsored for seven years, it dropped the deal immediately. Three further sponsors appalled by Brown quickly followed suit, throwing the festival into chaos.

I remember a Chris Brown song being played at a university party five years after his violent assault of Rihanna came to light. The track lasted 30 seconds before a barrage of complaints saw the DJ cut it short and issue a hurried apology.

Do people who commit domestic violence manage to continue having a successful career at some point down the track? Clearly. Is there a case that the public acrimony known abusers suffer is still not proportionate to the travesty of their crimes? Quite possibly.

But does the fact their careers suffer sizable setbacks instead of total annihilation demonstrate ordinary men condone or accept this type of thing? Clearly not.

Ford’s claim about how the privileged treatment of these powerful men underscores a cultural divide between women – the victims of domestic violence, and men – the perpetrators, aiders and abettors, is no doubt great fodder for her preferred narrative that a cultural rot lies at the root of violence against women. Unfortunately, at least for the victims, it’s a worldview that glibly ignores factors far more directly linked with domestic violence than the PR fallout when a deadbeat rapper beats up their partner.

There is strong data indicating that unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, poverty and social disadvantage correlate very closely with spousal abuse. That is not to say that any one of these of problems should wear the blame for violence against women. The fault for that still falls at the feet of feckless perpetrators. But it does suggest there may be more helpful things to talk about than how most men should be held vicariously liable for turning a blind eye towards domestic violence when there is barely a speck of evidence to that effect.

The reassuring truth is we live in a country that is more tolerant, peaceful and liberal-minded than you’re likely to find in any other corner of the earth. To be sure, domestic violence remains a problem. Virtually everyone – 98 per cent, according to the surveys – views it as a crime we ought to take very seriously.

But if we actually want to stop it, there are better things to do than beating up on most men.

Illustration: Twitter.

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