One of the questions that floated across the bottom of the screen during Q&A’s recent show devoted to the discussion of domestic violence asked, ‘What are we doing to our young men that they are now so violent to women?’
Domestic violence — DV for short — is said to be an ‘epidemic’. Figures for Victoria alone, for example, point to nearly 70,000 incidents in one year alone, with as many as 50,000 further cases said to have gone unreported. Further, and quite suddenly if one is to go by the rash of headlines, inquiries and pronouncements by public figures, this epidemic is being perpetrated overwhelmingly by men.
Gone from view in an instant, that Q&A question is worth some deeper consideration, presuming as it does that ‘we’ are doing something that is changing formerly devoted husbands and fathers into rage-filled monsters. As there are few reliable records regarding DV prior to 1970, there is no way to prove that we do, in fact, have an epidemic – a word whose very definition demands an eruptive increase. Perhaps DV was always present in society, but somehow hidden and tolerated. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle.
That Q&A question also assumes that today’s women, the victims of DV, are very much the same as those of previous generations. Yet this is clearly not the case. Young women of the late twentieth century demanded marriages quite different to those of their grandmothers — marriages they could end at any time without the crushing disadvantage of losing their children or home, as they are able to look to the state for financial support. Society no longer looks askance at single motherhood, nor does it judge harshly a lifestyle of serial monogamy with another lover, another husband, another ‘father’ following in their turn the ones who have before. Simply put, this generation of women is empowered, entitled and privileged like no other in human history.
Young men of the generations that have produced the epidemic present a different picture. Many are the products of wht once were called ‘broken homes’ and they have been denied contact with, and experience of, traditional fatherhood. With first-hand experience of the collateral damage of divorce and family disintegration, many have had their perceptions of family life poisoned long before they reached puberty. They have seen fathers banished from the family home and their own contact with them greatly reduced. Many saw their fathers’ despair and, too young to understand, often were left confused and psychologically tortured by the shattering of homes and their sense of security. The massive changes in roles and rules during the latter part of the twentieth century failed to take their interests into consideration.
As part of these new gender laws, marriage has become a very bad deal for men. According to prevailing thinking in feminist circles, the classic definition of violence – ie., physical contact and brutality — no longer goes far enough. Now, or so we are told, violence can occur when a voice is raised or a spouse is denied money and the right to spend it as she sees fit. Indeed, even an angry silence of the sort all couples know from time to time is said to be a manifestation of masculine aggression. This new and ever-expanding definition makes it quite difficult for any man to refute the accusation of ‘violence’, let alone avoid it.
None of this is to deny that here are also men who are physically violent, who become physically violent. Alcohol and drugs often speed these men into a nether world in which they grant themselves the freedom to speak with their fists, to strike out against the woman they once loved. They may even convince themselves that they still love her even as their blows srike home.
Step back, frame DV in a different perspective, and it becomes apparent that while men are more often DV’s instigators, the real problem is that the traditional family is breaking down, its disintegration accelerated by the state’s influence and intervention.
From a modern male’s point of view, marriage is a bad deal. Sex is, after all, readily available in this so-called liberated age, so why sign up with a single partner and vow to remain constant for the remainder of one’s life? More than that, marriage failure for a man means losing the role of day-to-day fatherhood, his home and a big part of his income as mandated by the divorce settlement and enforced by the courts. For women, modern marriage failure does not present such threats. The injustice is both palpable and bound to make an impression on men who have witnessed in childhood the disintegration of their own parents’ unions.
In this light, the much talked about growth in the incidence of DV can be seen to stem from more, much more, than the allegedly black and violent recesses of the typical male heart so often cited by feminists. Rather, it is but one aspect of the demise of the traditional family – a unit of society on which, to follow the feminist example of definitions expanded to meet a philosophy’s purposes, much violence has been inflicted over recent decades.