Because domestic violence is a man’s problem

Anna Moore at the Guardian:

Patrick Stewart was five years old when his father returned from the second world war to wage his own war on his wife. On weekend nights, Stewart would lie in bed, alert, awaiting his father’s return from the pub, ready for his rage, braced to throw himself between his parents to protect his mother.

Two years ago, Luke and Ryan Hart’s father shot dead their mother, Claire, and their 19-year-old sister, Charlotte, before turning his gun on himself. This happened days after Charlotte and Claire had left the family home in Lincolnshire in a bid for freedom. Until then, Lance Hart had exercised total control over his family.

The three of them were on a panel organized by a domestic violence group called Refuge.

“Because domestic violence is a man’s problem,” Stewart tells me before the event. “We are the ones who are committing the offences, performing the cruel acts, controlling and denying. It’s the men.”

And yet – as always – the people listening are almost entirely women. Among the journalists, activists and supporters in the packed audience, I count five men.

And of the men who do attend, some are there to ask “what about the men??”

The US educator and speaker Jackson Katz has made this message* his life’s work. The author of The Macho Paradox, Katz teaches the “bystander approach”, in which communities are encouraged to take ownership of the problem of relationship abuse and men are encouraged to challenge sexist comments and unacceptable behaviour. His programme has been delivered in the military and at colleges, sports teams and businesses across the US.

*that men should not look away

Katz keeps wondering why more men don’t get involved.

One obstacle, Katz believes, is men’s fear of judgment from other men. “They worry that they’ll be seen as soft or insincere or ‘not a real man’.” Another is a lack of role models. “There haven’t been a whole lot of men in a public space who’ve spoken out,” he says.

If that first reason is true it’s pretty pathetic, and also telling. It’s pretty pathetic for men to fail to be in solidarity with women because other men might think they’re too gurrrrrly. It’s also telling that being thought too gurrrrrly is so aversive and so powerful.

This next bit is painful.

For the Harts, public speaking has been equally transformative. “For the first year after it happened, it was Groundhog Day,” says Ryan, an engineer who took a year off work after the murders. “Wake up, walk the dog, eat some food, go to bed. We were waiting for time to heal – and it doesn’t.

“Then Surrey police asked us to speak to them about coercive control. We were quite nervous, but found that speaking gave us a purpose. For our entire lives, Mum and Charlotte had been our purpose – freeing them from our father, moving them away and giving them a good life was all we wanted. When we lost them, each day became meaningless. Now we’re creating something in their name, living a life that would make them proud.”

Pause to pull ourselves together.

Before long, the brothers moved beyond recounting their personal experiences to addressing its causes. “To tackle domestic abuse, you need to look at masculinity,” says Luke. “Our father’s need for control came from his beliefs on what it means to be a man. I think most men – like me, before this happened – don’t realise how dangerous it is.”

This is where feminism can be so useful, provided it’s allowed to be feminism and not hijacked to be a cheering squad for Hannah Mounceys. Feminism can explain why setting up a polarity of powerful aggressive dominant people on the one hand and feeble submissive subordinate people on the other will of course foster violence in the doms toward the subs. It’s not just kink, it’s the whole damn social order.

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