JD Salinger, the famous writer and recluse, and according to some of the women in his life, an unkind, abusive obnoxious crank, had one of his characters talk about Abraham Lincoln’s short, famous Gettysburg address, the one sketched on the back of an envelope as he journeyed to the battlefield that likely decided the Confederates’ eventual defeat. “I told him I’d said that 51,112 men were casualties at Gettysburg,” Salinger’s character intones, “and that if someone had to speak at the anniversary of the event, he should simply have come forward and shaken his fist at his audience and then walked off – that is, if the speaker was an absolutely honest man.”
Perhaps the same should have been said in reaction to the murder of Eurydice Dixon in a Melbourne park, the prime characters in this tragedy being a young woman perfectly undeserving of her fate and an unknown assailant who may yet be established, as initial reports suggest, to be suffering mental problems beyond some kind of malignant narcissistic psychopathy, which is, of course what everyone suspects, and, dare I say, hopes for. The autism of which the alleged killer is said to be afflicted is just so inconveniently biological. But male narcissism, on the other hand, is exquisitely suited to the diatribes about phallocentric patriarchy favoured by lefty feminists.
If honesty and a recognition of facts — so far as we know them before the courts decide — is to be sum of it, what more is there to say about this tragedy, other than to shake one’s fist at the night and go home?
Oh, but there was plenty for some to say! Prominent voices in the angry-women community immediately leapt to their keyboards, like Abe to the back of his envelope, launching a blather of opinion pieces, all writ large with broad and slashing strokes about misogyny and patriarchy. The only honest man in the whole business has been the poor policeman, Superintendent David Clayton, who urged women to be careful. His sound, sensible, real world advice was petrol on the writers’ fire to make something more of the tragedy than the happenstance of an innocent victim encountering an alleged attacker. This lonely, random murder in the dark became the perfect canvas for all the dumbed-down, angry-woman narratives that followed, plus a vehicle for some pusillanimous and frankly ridiculous men eager to showcase their heroic wokeness.
So what was the societal diagnosis? Why, what might be called “Male Spectrum Disorder”, of course. Quelle surprise!
Here’s Jane Caro, education commentator. She knows a thing or two about bad men — for one thing that they start out as lazy boys, coasting on their sensory processing problems, ADHD and male privilege:
“Boys do relatively poorly at school and university not because they are dumber than girls or because they find it harder to sit still (board tables, executive suites, parliamentary chambers and cabinet rooms seem untroubled by men unable to sit for long periods of time), but because they can.”
Then, in a special comment piece in The Guardian (where else) and appearing at a point in time between Eurydice Dixon’s murder and the candlelight vigil in her memory that followed, this gem:
“Most men do not rape and murder but as my sister said recently, men are like dogs, most of them are nice but some of them are vicious and you can’t tell which is which just by looking at them.”
Men are like dogs, eh? My sister recently observed that women are like bags of salt-and-vinegar chips. Most are nice, if a little tart, but some have been stepped on and are all broken and crumbly inside. You just can never tell from the packaging. See what I did there?
Ms Caro didn’t ask what the mothers of these bad men were up to, being entirely incurious about their role in domestic violence because that topic is strictly verboten. Here ares two little vignettes inspired by the dry prose of typical police reports, my extra details provided for fun:
She came at him: cigarette stained teeth, bourbon-and-coke breath, poking her chipped black-nail-polished talons into his chest, chasing him room to room, smashing at the door he closed to prevent a repeat of last night’s catastrophe. Then there are screams that she’s off to smash the TV. He comes out of the bedroom, grabs the bottle from her hands and slaps her. Spittle-flecks land on his cheeks as she screams that he’s a weak c##t for hitting a woman. ‘Go on, do it again,’ she screams. “Get back into your room,” she yells at her youngest son. I’m call the f##ken police.
Or the middle-class couple, each a functional alcoholic, both drunk again (but on ‘nice’ wine):
She’s at him again tonight about an affair he’s been denying for the last two years. Her instincts are correct of course. She’s taken three cards of her medication with the rest of the red wine. She’s now in the laundry, smashing all the bottles in the wine rack. Glass is all over the floor. The kids will see it in the morning. She’s screaming that she’ll kill herself. He pulls her by her hair, backwards, out of the room. She flails at him. He pushes her onto the floor. The eldest is still up, trying to study for her senior exams. She starts screaming. The neighbours have called the police. London to a brick their solicitors will appeal the AVOs once the couple have sobered up and tempers are cooler.
Reality check: the causes of family violence are complex. The causes of sex crimes are complex. The causes of homicide are complex. None lend themselves to blanket generalisations. For instance, there is evidence to suggest that lesbians are more likely to be the victims of intimate-partner violence than heterosexual women and gay men. Another inconvenient fact: about a quarter of the victims of intimate partner homicides are men. Women hit men at home, throw things at them, and are engaged in intimate partner violence at a level not too dissimilar from men in certain “lesser” categories of domestic assaults. Women are not far behind men in their commission of filicide (child murder) and account for about 50% of infanticides. Almost all neonaticides (babies killed in the first 24 hours of life) are committed by women. None of this is OK. None of this has anything to do with angry women raging about entitled little boys learning at the feet of their allegedly up-themselves sexist dads.
Next to step up, Kathleen Maltzahn, an inner-city Greens for Victoria’s state parliament, who really, really “gets” complexity. For her, Ms Dixon’s death was an opportunity to lecture on how the class war must be taken into account. See, depending on backgrounds, some men are unmitigated beasts, but for others special consideration should be weighed (emphasis added):
We must transform our approach to accountability and so to incarceration. It is counterproductive to now tell men they can’t be violent against women in their lives and then send some of them, disproportionately poor men, Indigenous men, other men of colour and men with disabilities, to violent jails where they will be brutalised. Currently, whether it is Turnbull overseeing brutal refugee camps or Daniel Andrews justifying locking children in solitary confinement, too often our leaders act like violent fathers, punishing and cruel. Prisons as they are now reinforce the dangerous attitudes of dominance that allow men’s violence to thrive.
The ever-reliable Clementine Ford, meanwhile, placed all the things she hates about maleness on her spectrum:
“Rape and murder might be the extreme end, but the spectrum they sit on stretches right back to ‘harmless’ casual sexism, the rape ‘jokes’ and threats that proliferate online and the attitude expressed towards women on a daily basis by groups of men who’ve been socialised to view themselves as superior. These toxic behaviours don’t manifest one day out of nowhere. They are cultivated.”
Yes, for sure. “Cultivated”, like a crop of Paterson’s Curse
These sleuths in pursuit of Male Spectrum Disorder are patient and particular in their interrogation of this cultivation phenomenon: sitting at the back of the classroom checking off every time a boy talks over a girl, sniffing the secret smelly objectifications of teenage boys’ bedrooms, fuming over the callow male arrogances, recording dumb sexist jokes and clumsy come-ons, tut-tutting at the boisterous, cocksure blokey-bantering of the office twentysomethings. One gathers they cannot ride a tram without fearing the male murderer amongst their fellow passengers might suddenly reveal himself in an outburst violence. If not on their tram, no doubt the next one.
In Angry Woman World all sisters are friendless, pregnant, penniless chattels, culturally imprisoned and perpetually terrorised by testicular legions of Mark “Chopper” Reads. What arrant nonsense! Who are these craven, frail, dependent women? What of their feminist mothers, their feminist school teachers, their feminist friends and family and the lessons and gains those feminist waves have accrued. Perhaps women need to do better too. But no, none of that. It’s all about the broken boys, they shriek. It’s developmental. It’s there at the start.
But not all women find themselves caught-up in domestic violence. Perhaps there’s something about the early development of the female victims and perpetrators of family violence. Should we be looking at the wrist cutting, lunches vomited up in the toilets, melt-downs in the school counselor’s office — young girls trying to understand why girls are so emotionally cruel to each other. We don’t hear anything about “toxic femininity”, nor are we bombarded with demands for a whole rethink about how we bring up the girls, some of whom can’t stay away from stupid, cowardly men, look after their kids or organise the most basic safety for themselves.
It’s not straightforward, this family violence blame-game, despite what your cultural Marxists, with nothing else apparent to their blinkered, sub-par intellectual gaze but group oppression, would have us believe. Yet we have to listen to these wretched women, using the body of this poor creature from the comedy club to grind their axes about toxic masculinity.
I’d like to see a posse of hectoring harpies head to the local forensic psychiatric hospital and run the revolutionary ruler over the schizophrenic murderers, or apply their post-modern diagnostic sieve to the violent offenders in the local jail. Perhaps she could ask who it was that told these men they were superior. Or maybe she could ask about their mothers. That might be an interesting diversion.
It is hard to raise boys — girls, too, for that matter. There are whole communities of dedicated women and men in our schools, in suburban homes, football coaches and music teachers, all the volunteers and paid workers who keep clubs and societies going – all working hard trying to develop our fragile little boys into, ideally, not-quite-so fragile young men. Their efforts sometimes seem flimsy in the face of the more obvious evidence and unpredictable risks of alcohol and drug abuse, of mental illness and suicide, failures and setbacks in all the darker colours of the rainbow. And there is plain old dumb-luck with its capacity to shape and re-shape conduct, character and behaviour. But those on the side of the angels keep trying. And we have some wonderful boys and men, often as a result of their largely unsung efforts.
Keep these absurd women away from our fragile little boys, them and their “spectrums” and their “isms” and their womyns’ studies common room tommy-rot, their revolutions, their “men are like dogs” and their presumption that “boys will not grow up to be decent human beings” without their interventions and agendas. And keep them away from our girls, too. It’s hard enough bringing up safe secure young men and women without their screaming choir making it so much worse more difficult.
Mark David Chapman, the insane man who murdered John Lennon outside the Dakota building in 1980, had a copy of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in his hand. As part of his statement to the court court he read out one of the book’s most famous passages:
“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around–nobody big, I mean–except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
Chapman was crazy. Violence is crazy, and crazy-complex. If we can keep angry gender warriors from sticking their noses into the lives of our children, particularly our little boys, then that will be one less craziness we have to worry about.
Dr Murray Walters is a Brisbane psychiatrist