25th October 2017
In the wake of #MeToo, a powerful reminder of just how dangerous, threatening and downright exhausting the world can be for women, I didn’t think I’d find myself writing a blog post in defence of men – and yet here we are.
This week the conversation around men working in the domestic abuse sector has come to the surface once again. I want to explain why I think that men have to be part of the solution, and therefore must be part of the sector.
Firstly, we must not forget that domestic abuse can affect all of us in many different ways, and we cannot always know what personal experiences our colleagues bring with them when they choose to work in this sector. No one should feel the need to disclose those experiences as a way of justifying their presence here – whatever their gender.
Frontline domestic abuse support is one thing. If you run a service that supports women who have experienced abuse from male partners, there are very valid reasons not to have men working in a support role. But what about at a research, campaigning and policy level?
If we exclude men from working alongside us, what message are we sending? That violence against women is a ‘women’s issue’ that we are supposed to solve by ourselves – rather than something which society as a whole has a responsibility to tackle. In my view, recognising the gendered nature of domestic abuse means recognising that men have to be part of the solution; men who abuse women will not stop just because women ask them to. If we’re going to change the conversation and stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ and start asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’ then we need campaigns and policy aimed at and co-created by men.
Then there is the fact that domestic abuse happens in every kind of relationship, and can happen to anyone. I’ve rolled my eyes countless times when a man asks ‘yes, but what about the men?’ when I’m discussing an issue affecting women. It is true that domestic abuse does disproportionately affect women, but it does also affect some men. Men in heterosexual relationships, men and women in LGBT relationships, in inter-family relationships, and as children growing up in homes where there is abuse. If we want to end it for one group, we have to want to end it for everyone. This isn’t to say that we should always give equal attention to men, or forget that the majority of perpetrators are men. But we do need to recognise that there is no ‘typical’ victim of domestic abuse.
In the last couple of weeks we’ve been reminded of the huge scale of the problem of male violence, on a spectrum that ranges from catcalling, to harassment at work, to groping, to abuse and murder. In the face of this, women are right to be angry. I am angry. But if that anger stops us from engaging with men, I believe we add years to the task of ending domestic abuse. And that’s years we simply can’t afford to lose. Women experiencing domestic abuse need us – all of us – to work together to make it stop.
I’ve been a feminist and around other feminists for long enough to know that the caricature of feminism as ‘man hating’ is inaccurate. It is misogynists who believe that men are inherently violent and dominant, that they ‘can’t help themselves’ and are incapable of taking on caring roles at home. Feminists know that men are capable of better; let’s give them a chance to be.