equalism – for a fairer world

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More on feminism, patriarchy and family conflict

news_02 This longer article is for those who need or want more of the complicated jig-saw to be explained and evidenced. If you have come straight to this article, it would be wise to read the Feminism, patriarchy and family conflict post first. That post contains stuff that this one assumes you’ve read. If you feel you have got the point well enough there – that there are good and bad in people of both genders, that individuals and systems (small and large) play varying parts in the good and bad, that things are often complicated to explain and sort out  – there is really no need to read all this one. 


Headings are:   The categorical errors, Changes in dominant discourses, The world is patriarchal, Why strong views grow, Other patterns that polarise, More patterns that polarise, Cooler overviews of the gender debate, Ideologies crossover in courts, Rescuing anti-patriarchy from itself, More effective ways to challenge patriarchy, How polarisation escalates, Defining fair play by equalist principles, How equalism helps, More practical tips for equalising, Glossary of gender terms, Concluding, Summary

The categorical errors

The key is to be able to distinguish, on the one hand, what is true in general – i.e. statistically – from what, on the other hand, is appropriate in specific discussion and situations. In other words we need to avoid a categorical error. For example, just because some or even most men are terrible abusers doesn’t mean that all men in all situations can be assumed to be. There are other categorical errors that we will come to. To say that something is an important factor or is mostly true does not allow us to assume that it is always important or true.

There are highly developed legal, humane, human rights, anti-discriminatory, professional and ethical values and measures in place that require that individuals of all kinds in specific situations must be heard and the overall situation be considered and assessed in its own right. Assumptions – absolute beliefs even – may be noted and borne in mind, but they must not be imposed in action from the outset if you are wanting to engage in discussion or seriously help clients or advise or persuade others. Even when someone has behaved badly, it is best for them and the rest of us to find ways to engage with them – they cannot be evaporated, they will still be part of society and of other people’s lives, they will need to be clients of some agency or other.

Legal and civilised ways of behaving are required in public services and in private settings too, even when a person is virtually certain they’re dealing with a perpetrator. For example, for a detective interviewing a suspect while holding compelling evidence of their guilt, even there the law requires that the guilty are treated with a presumption of innocence until a court decides the matter. Courts may well need their patriarchal claws to be clipped, but equalism in courts would remain the principle aim.

Other categorical errors are to assume that what is true for a selected group (eg only female victims, or only male victims, of domestic abuse) is true for all or explains all domestic abuse. Because the coercive control by abusive men over women victims looks like the broader patterns of society’s patriarchal control, does not mean that the findings should be generalised to all society. Even if they should be – which equalists would agree they should (but not because that is the main or only way to stop domestic abuse) – the way such a change can be achieved requires a very different approach than a vociferous crusade.

Another example of categorical error is to confuse what is a human rights issue, or a matter of improved laws to protect everyone, as solely a gendered or patriarchy issue. The “liberty crime” of domestic abuse is a good name for it. Feminists can take the lion’s share of the credit for bringing it to light and for sustained campaigning to get the laws changed. But severe loss of liberty happens in variously gendered family situations. And the laws – whether they were patriarchy supportive or not – that help prevent domestic abuse were in the end just laws needing to be improved – once it was clear what domestic abuse actually looks like and what the law needed to do. The law is to prevent any and all abuse and “liberty crimes”, not just those affecting women. No laws change fast. It is arguable how much these frontline changes have been held back – or indeed can be credited to – anything particularly patriarchal in the personnel and social structures that have now made the changes. Most men and women are very keen to prevent abuse once they realise what it’s like. And feminism is to be thanked for showing us the way.

Changes in dominant discourses

State services, indeed all services now, are encouraged and required to develop equal opportunity services to all client groups. This is equalism. If we find services that (without good reason) systematically exclude client groups because of eg disability, or race, or gender, this should now be a matter for serious or legal action because it is not equalist. Yet we know that some agencies almost proudly exclude all men from their services, treating them as somehow risky or culpable or never needing help, even when the men excluded are nowhere near a category of “having done something” to earn that description. For example, antenatal classes have often entirely excluded men, but when they are offered to men, they are very popular. If men have done something culpable and risky, they may be still involved and anyway do need to be someone’s client. Read Nick Smithers “Dangerous, feckless and disinterested” on Inside Man for a social worker / fathers’ worker inside account of this dominant helping profession’s culture.

We can see that what was indeed once a dominant patriarchal discourse throughout society, and remains a dominant discourse still in society in general, has been reversed in some sectors now – sectors like academic, government and helping professions and services. That is, the dominant discourse in those sectors may now be so under feminist and anti-patriarchy influence that there men are systematically dismissed from thinking or involvement, just as once women were dismissed. This is not equalist, not legal, and (by its usual equalist definition) not feminist even. In academic rational thinking and discussion, there are mainly informal rather than legally backed rules.

But the academic ship has been similarly scuppered when powerful absolutes block thinking and talking. You may have valid absolute beliefs or knowledge, but no wider good can come of requiring others to agree with those beliefs before you talk or work with them. Some ways to hold onto equalist principles and rescue equalist practice are given below.  Stephen Pinker on “”Taboos, Political Correctness and Dissent” covers several overlapping themes, including how tribal thinking if not terrible sanctions can build crusades of collective delusion and eliminate and prevent individuals from saying that the emperor has not clothes. Prof. Christina Hoff Sommers has discussed more directly gender-related issues within a call for more intelligently robust thinking.  Prof Jacqueline Campbell has shown how grossly fabricated facts have been deeply woven into the fabric of supporting one view of domestic violence. More generally there is lots of evidence now for how human beings – in contrast to our fond belief in our reliable and rational thinking capacities – cannot avoid using all kinds of bias  and therefore making mistakes (like confirmation bias, belief bias etc) in our decision making as a result of the dual-process or thinking fast and slow functions underlying all our decisions.  See More on equalism in general for more.

The world is patriarchal

So, coming to gender – for sure, across the world at all levels men do (generally) continue to have more of certain kinds of power, position, privilege, strength and authority than women do (in general). And most societies are generally patriarchal. But there are those who argue that patriarchy is far far worse in past eras and in some countries rather than others. And that the privileges men get from patriarchy have not been just a simple power kick – that they contribute in a number of ways to earn that privilege. Here’s a female writer’s sympathetic view of how men maybe DO earn their privileges through their hard and sometimes crappy work (and how women do too in their hard and sometimes tedious roles and work) … Janet Bloomfield’s blog (with evidence) about the jobs that are done by men and on which we all depend – feminists included. Here she talks it through on youtube.

The equalism question arises: What if women were expecting / expected / made to do 50% of all these supposedly envied power-supporting men’s jobs – would they want the jobs really? Some women campaign for such equality of opportunity, but would they actually want to do them if they were free or required to do them? How often might women go on strike if they did do them? If the answer is yes women would do men’s jobs, then the fair question naturally continues to be: Would the employers / men / unions allow women in to do them, and would society change to support this – e.g. by state provision, or by men choosing or being required to do women’s work in the home etc? It seems that where most gender equality is found e.g. Norway, men’s and women’s natural and free choice there tend to follow the usual (socially and/or biologically shaped) aptitudes of their sex.

Those who study gender’s effects on relational power and constraints can show that, though based on biological difference between sexes, gender is very largely socially constructed. This view is confirmed by the fact that some people have differently-matched bodies and sexual identities and orientations (than the majority of us). Somewhere along the line, you can have a male body but feel and be female in yourself (and vice versa, and more complex variations too).  But, as Virginia Goldner says:  “The complex construction of gender does not mean that it is artificial; quite the opposite is true. Genders are lived by people throughout the world.”    Studies of school children show they already hold patriarchal attitudes to gender and violence. There seems little doubt that more (at least more damaging) domestic abuse is perpetrated by men on women and children than is done by women. And the proportion of patterns of alienating children in separated families is arguably mostly of one gendered pattern – not surprising given the dominant pattern of children staying mostly with their mothers. That also contributes to the high rates of mothers abusing children.

These general gendered patterns merit a range of analytic frames, including a gendered analysis. The mirroring of society’s patriarchal patterns in the extreme version of coercive control in domestic abuse is worth careful study but does not mean it is the main or only factor. Lots of people drink alcohol but that doesn’t make us all alcoholics or drunk drivers. However, whether or not it is a key cause of domestic abuse, equalism leads us down the same tracks of working on patriarchy, since equalism seeks general gender equality too. Some cultural examples show how patriarchy is alive and kicking.

The internet has been credited with a “fourth wave” of feminism, a much more complicated mixture of often blunt and abusive views.   Here is Hadley Freeman’s lively (as usual) critique of women who boast that appearing naked on magazines is ’empowering themselves’. Well the rich and famous may not really need this, but if your sexual appearance seems like the only power you’ve got going for you, understandably you may use it whether it is feminist or not.   Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls is a thorough challenge to this view of female empowerment – go down to Damaskcat’s review on that page for a good summary.   A mother describes the challenges in raising her big gentle son – he is told there are no rap songs without violence to women in them.  Modern bullying, including gender bullying, takes place on the internet’s new playground of anti-social media. The “trolling” on the internet seems mainly aimed at females. The distance and anonymity bring out the worst in some of us it seems, but online abuse of women is apparently done by males and females. Awful enough in itself, the gratuitous anonymous misogynistic  abusive messages against a woman (Prof Mary Beard) were a response to her simply making a fair point in public. How much worse abuse must be further down the scale (than distant internet words). The victim chose to publicise the abuse  rather than ignore it as most would. She set about challenging the abusers themselves in an effective and equalist way they didn’t deserve – but in this she probably did more to make a difference than others achieve in decades of less direct methods (listen to this BBC Woman’s Hour excerpt).

Casual ‘playground’ bullying and vandalism (if that is what this is equivalent to) can often be more to do with boosting your image and position with your (male or female) peer group than the experience of the victim who serves an incidental part. Abuse of all kinds has been seen to be more self-serving than anything else. Domestic abuse and stranger rape too, like anonymous internet abuse but much worse, is done as privately as possible. But here too there is evidence that men do it to boost a fragile sense of masculinity, a kind of proof that they are some sort of real man not a wimp or worse.

Here is an interesting contrast from 100 years ago of women and men actively promoting patriarchy – and women promoting violence in nonviolent men too. The BBC Radio series, Home Front, dramatised how the White Feather movement worked. Local women were encouraged to join in the shaming of non-combatant men by going up to them and handing them a white feather. Here is a brief clip from the fuller programme. So then and still we can see one aspect of inequality between men and women – large numbers of women do not bravely demand to take an equal responsibility for frontline fighting of wars, whatever other jobs they rightly demand to have an equal chance to do. Furthermore, in 1914 at least, we see men who reject violence being shamed and belittled by women into readiness to being the violent gender. So the history of patriarchy shows both genders playing out an argument about the gendered role expectation for violence by men – albeit for the ‘worthy cause’ of winning a war. Now, of course, equalism moves us away from patriarchy and from violence by either gender.

Why such strong views grow

Other factors contribute to the strength of gendered views in domestic abuse and family conflict. Each of us can hold overpoweringly strong views as a result of personal experience, research or persuasion. Most people would not have been so composed as Prof Mary Beard was. It is no surprise that if you have been attacked by a dog, you may forever be nervous and suspicious of all dogs. If you are abused, whatever class of person did it, you personally are likely to have strong and lasting feelings if not post-traumatic syndromes against all members of that class of people. Even if you only hear of the dreadful terror and consequences of that abuse from the victims, then the generalisation will spread to you as well. If the majority of abuse is by one class – men, as we know – then it is understandable that there will be a combined wall of hurt and anger collected together, and the demand from women and children for all men to change because of the generalisation. Though it confuses the extreme gendered position, note that victimised children are both genders, boys and girls.

Upbringing is a factor in adult gendered patterns. Your upbringing or education may shape your powerful views about feminism and patriarchy as well. Here is a positive example of upbringing influencing gender equalism. But more standard shaped families on their own may find they are no match for their children’s innate or learned identification with cultural and peer group pressures that shape their gender and behaviour. All of this is important and valid reason for feminism and anti-patriarchy to make their general cause. If you have worked for decades with female victims of rape and abuse, and have seen and been taught how male power, the blind eye of patriarchy, can shape and support those men to be abusive, you will not be open to other views and other experiences that show men who are not brought up to patriarchal or abusive to women, and of men who are victims of abuse too. The strength of feeling from the direct experience of victims of one gender also explains how it can sometimes seem as if the unstated aims are to take revenge on the other gender, to get rid of them entirely even.

Once you see domestic abuse through either the rose or the blue tinted spectacles, then even things that are gender neutral will look like they are gendered. One example is the very important clarification between domestic violence (serious instances of violence) and domestic abuse (sustained intimate terror or coercive control with no major violence to show for it). When the law only rates violent acts and not sustained abuse, then police and courts can only act against perpetrators of violence while intimate terrorists run free. Where the law and the awareness and inter-agency collaboration has been improved (as it has in Scotland now) the police can not only catch abusers, but they can almost be there before it happens.

The point here is that this change of law and practise is gender neutral whatever the proportions of men or women caught by it. The law and policing are drawn up in gender neutral language and will work for any and all victims. Those who make this the central gender-based lesson fail to see that the law before was just bad for all victims, even if it served patriarchal patterns; and now it is just better, whoever it catches and protects. However, there is no doubt that all the credit for discovering and pushing for these important non-gendered changes goes to decades of feminists working tirelessly in the women’s movement, supporting female victims of abuse. In that sense, these changes do arise from a gender-based approach, and we have all benefited from what they have made us see. Many world-changing movements begin with the amazing efforts of a few intrepid crusaders. While deconstructing their work, it is important to give full credit to those who did the hardest early work. It is infuriating for anyone if the hard-fought gains of their lifetime’s work are simultaneously accepted by the world as obvious but also critiqued or attacked where they may or may not be faulty, while there is no acknowledgement or thanks for those pioneers. Here equalists applaud these and all past and future pioneers of equalism. Without them, equalism would not happen.

Other patterns that polarise

The classic loaded question still rings true here:  Have you stopped beating your wife? The presumptions loaded onto the challenging tone mean that any answer condemns. The struggle to question the assumptions would seem embarrassing and suspicious too. However many actual wife- or husband- beaters there may be, no one who knows its terrors can support any kind of domestic or child abuse. We want to be able to look at all possible areas of abuse. So when a person or organisation adopts any certainty of tone about what they believe they know to be absolutely true about domestic abuse, it can be impossible to raise thoughtful questions without seeming to be churlish, to be an opponent of an obviously righteous cause, and even to raise the possibility that the doubter must be an abuser too. It is easier to agree than try to question the utter certainty … even though this silent capitulation only adds to the sense of absolute certainty of the crusader. On the other hand, escalating polarisation results if a number of people join together to raise the questions (see Arlo Guthrie below about how two or more saying the same thing helps invalidate the usual invalidations of one person’s view).

So that we can band together against all abuse and inequality, we need to find ways round these wasteful patterns of polarisation. Here are some actual examples of loaded positions – anyone may wish to test them by trying them out afresh. Take any extreme gendered crusader – most commonly, this is a feminist gender-based advocate. Usually experienced proudly and only with women victims and the discourse surrounding that – ask them to consider that men may suffer domestic abuse as well as women. They may say simply, and with not a qualm about the presumption of a man’s guilt, that they don’t work with perpetrators. (Note that there has been no such allegation at all raised in this scenario against the male client example, until this abstract presumption out of the blue.)  Loaded onto this response are criticism and rubbishing of the questioner for wrong thinking, assumptions that all men are liars and all men are abusers, even when they present themselves as victims in need of help. What would the feminist worker say and do, you ask then, if such a man were to be their client? The astonishing answer:  Suspect from the outset and check that he isn’t actually an abuser, and then explain how women suffer much worse.

Now, just to be clear, a proper approach to any client (woman or man) is to first listen openly to their story as true. And then to also reflect and collect – or at least respect that there is – a wider picture, especially when there are bad things and likely deception going on. To see just how thorough any proper objective assessment needs to be in high conflict situations, read Steven Miller’s chapter 2. on Clinical Reasoning and Decision Making in this recent (2103) American textbook. Here is a lesson for all of us in not jumping to conclusions before carefully assessing serious and complex family situations when risks, emotions, deception, contention and partial perspectives are likely on all sides.

More patterns that polarise

Organisationally, many countries have huge amounts of state and charitably funded women’s rights organisations and research and policy departments. Accepting (see above) that we all want all abuse to be tackled including that of men on women, who can question this investment and good cause? But in order to address other abuse, a mild mention of the almost nonexistent funding for those supporting and researching abuse of men can be jumped on and (wrongly) assumed to be evidence of a backlash against the extreme feminist analysis, a claim that men suffer as much and as badly as women, and a sign that the men’s organisation must be a front for right-wing fascist abuser men. To utterly squash even the possibility that men may be abused is a culpably unacceptable, inhumane, unscientific, unethical and unreasonable position for anyone to adopt in policy making or toward a client. Yet it is a position confidently held by many of our most intelligent academics, policy makers and professionals.  At the very least it looks like an unethical only partial interest in what we agree we should hold to be a shared fight against all abuse.

Of course the boot of absolute certainty can easily be on the other gender’s foot, and then we have both feet kicking in to escalate polarisation between people who all merely agree that domestic abuse is awful and should be tackled. Here’s a strange polarisation to add into the mix. There are changing trends in the expectations of roles that men and women play in family life (and work). These are slow trends to be sure, but slow is not surprising given the momentum of ages past patterns. These are still trends that should be welcomed by all feminists and equalists, even as we push for more change and faster. We know, for example, how (even more in Britain than elsewhere) women’s role has been at home and men work long hours away from their families. It still is rather like that. But in the UK there is now some progress from this old gender divide. Now we think about both women and men both caring and providing – even if there is a lot further to go in practice. Yet when it comes to separating, the old model still rules in our minds and in our systems. For separated families it continues to be all about dividing residence and access for the children between the parents.

The legal, and benefits / child support systems rather assume one parent only does the caring.  It used to be that 50% of fathers lost all touch with their children 2 years post-separation; now that is down to 20%. Feminists (and all the policies they have influenced) should welcome men sharing more. But typically, and perhaps naturally as they always have, they support the woman against the man. Does the pattern of blaming of men for the separation come from blaming them for all domestic abuse?!  This means the lone mother way is still embedded in the UK’s social structures, the thinking that presumes men provide and women care. Karen Woodall of the Centre for Separated Families proposes a “whole family” model instead. Her long struggle to balance policies and services to be gender inclusive and aware for men gives her blog an edge that offends feminists. But feminists and anti-patriarchists should be on the side of her “whole family” approach where, even when separated, both women and men share more of both the care and the providing. To have so strongly defended the feminist corner can now be seen to be directly counter-productive to the cause they wish to promote – that is, for more equalist roles in families. See below for the way this mixed ideology plays out in family courts.

Leading voices

Another pattern can be seen that perpetuates polarisation in the gender debate if not other inequalities. It’s like what happens in politics e.g. Prime Minister’s question Time, where the leader may be mainly performing to impress his or her back-benchers, or a preacher has to preach what the audience wants rather than a more nuanced position. So in the gender debate, leading voices on each side speak not only for their often very well reasoned positions, but naturally they speak for the traumatised clients and members of that group or movement and those clients’ closest supporters. The members of the women’s movement or the men’s movement look to their leaders for support and they cheer them on in the emotive crusade the leaders end up becoming the public face of. This is natural when, as we’ve just said, an exclusive life-long career has been devoted to a special clientele (abused women or on the other hand abused men) who suffer what are among the worst kinds of personal trauma there are.

Once this leading position has got established, the leader is really in no position to change their thinking or moderate the crusade. Collective homeostatic forces keep them and their views in place. Few are going to venture over to the other side to find out what makes them tick. To modify their arguments or terminology – eg to see diversity or commonality in the beloved or hated banner of ‘feminism’ – is not acceptable to their tribe or flock. In personal asides, such leaders will say that, when it comes down to it, they cannot let down those desperately needy followers who look to them to support and speak for them. This is then the understandable and worthy position of a shepherd of a flock, or indeed of a patriarch (or matriarch) of a tribe. Thus for example – and here this is a positive compliment not a criticism – Evan Stark serves as a patriarch of the women’s movement against domestic abuse, while Karen Woodall presents as the matriarch of the men’s movement against their exclusion from families. However genuinely knowledgeable a shepherd or patriarch is in serving their flock or tribe, there may be pressures that make it hard for them to see both sides when they are used to speaking strongly for one side. See an example of this bias and partial thinking further down after the Glossary.

Even when you are not a leader, it is really hard to think clearly in the gender debate about family abuse!   A good example (and resource) is Prof Janice Fiamengo holding to steady reasoning for free respectful speech during an hour of challenging (gender debate) context and audience at Queens University of Ottawa on the topic “What’s Equality Got to Do With It?” Her steady reasoning holds during the further hour of Q&A session. But she might have carried more of the audience if she had clarified from the start that her critique is aimed at a particular kind of ideological feminism (not all feminism). 

Her general concern – carried on the specific gender one – is about any ideology that results in a ‘totalitarian’ shutting down of discussion as had happened on that campus. She criticises the underlying content of some leaders of ideological feminism for their plainly anti-equalist sentiments, and she admits to being provocative to make her point. But she argues for free speech and discussion of all kinds, even if views may be faulty and offensive or upsetting. It is only in that process that faulty views and differences can be reasoned out. She makes it clear that the bottom line is the actual prevention of free expression of views. Sticking to being reasonable, as she admirably does, would have been even more effective if she had avoided some of the provocative simplification of terms. Some will also find her rational tone itself insensitive (e.g. to rape victims – as an audience member tells her at the end) – even though she is explicitly clear in her words that rape is entirely unacceptable.

The point in this part of our discussion is that there is a place for loud and powerful leaders to speak out and to risk or cause offence, protest and provocation. But there are also benefits from more moderation – e.g. if she had earlier clarified that it is ‘some / leading / ideological feminists’ that she is arguing against, not all ‘feminists’. A ‘punch-up’ between leading voices may be part of a process and very exciting. But if we genuinely seek respectful equalist discussion and values, we need to work harder to engage the more moderate majority on all sides rather than annoy them by attacking them in overinclusive extreme categories. See More on equalism in general (with a video discussion including Janice Fiamenco about free speech versus causing offence). We need all the help we can get to be equalist!

Eastern religions especially preach the wisdom of being able to let go of what we may be too attached to lest we trap ourselves like a monkey gripping a banana. We need to prize what is rational on all sides and not be scared of tackling the leaders.  They may not be able to be entirely rational and banners can get in the way of equalist thinking and more productive cross-group collaboration over common causes. These shared causes that could unite us are: gender equality and tackling all abuse. Feminism anyway by definition aspires to equality “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford Dictionaries). If patriarchy can be removed, something more equalist would presumably be expected to replace it. But what is to replace it is not explicit in anti-patriarchy writings. Anti-patriarchists presumably intend something more equalist to replace it, anyway not a matriarchy that merely repeats patriarchy’s mistakes with reversed genders.  Revenge may be sweet but two wrongs do not make it right.

Cooler overviews of the gender debate

Based on 20 domestic violence workers in the UK, Jane Lawrence (2014) confirmed the dominant influence of one perspective only. In Managing Dissonance: Implications for Therapeutic Practice With Partner Violence (Partner Abuse, Volume 5, Number 2, 2014) she found that:

… Those participants who took a gender perspective tended to scapegoat male “perpetrators” and excuse the behavior of female “victims,” whereas those who took a gender-inclusive approach were more likely to speak about the motivation of both partners and other contributory factors maintaining the problem. The findings sup- port the view that domestic violence services in the United Kingdom have been slow to respond to calls by researchers to bring more psychological theory and relational awareness to understandings of intimate partner violence (IPV) and its practices.

Zeev Winstok in 2013 wrote a more composed (than this blog) theoretical overview: What Can We Learn From the Controversy Over the Role of Gender in Partner Violence? in Partner Abuse, Volume 4, Number 3, 2013. His analysis shows how the controversy is set in terms that mean it cannot be resolved. The issue is referred to as whether there is or is not gender symmetry in partner violence. Winstok writes:

… The term “gender symmetry” is usually dichotomously perceived and discussed: Gender symmetry either does or does not exist; it is black or white, with no gray area, no flexibility, and worst of all, no clear criteria. … It is likely that this blurred conceptualization contributes, at least in part, to the persistence of the controversy: Gender symmetry is either supported or rejected with no middle-ground.

… Many gender researchers .. maintain that men’s motivation is clear — to dominate their female partners. …. First, the finding that men are violent against their female partners proves that they attempt to create and maintain domination of their wives. Second, they would argue that the finding that women hurt their partners proves that the men are attempting to dominate the women who object to these attempts. … This research line served mainly to preach to the converted and, accordingly, both sides in the controversy dug deeper into their trenches. ….

Winstok identifies 5 possible logical groupings, not just the warring two. He traces his personal journey across most of them, and concludes:

The answer is that each side in the controversy is dealing with a different reality. … When the two sides deal with different realities, any attempt to determine which one is genuine is doomed to failure. Ultimately, the proof of each paradigm is from within. Each paradigm must examine whether it indeed provides effective answers and promotes solutions to the problems in the reality it addresses and focuses on.

The chosen paradigm plainly shapes real action by victims, perpetrators and their families, and shape what services are provided. Equalism.org.uk here is driven by the needs in practical situations – scenarios where there is not so much time to have learned discussions for years, predicaments where individuals need safety, justice and (even in the worst cases) collaborative planning for children and families who will still have some relationships to work out. Long-lasting cold-war stand-offs in theory do not help much at sorting out what is needed at the immediate front line of practice. There, despite abuse and conflict, families still have predicaments and relationships to navigate, and workers are faced with helping them. Workers who have a single fixed assumption about what’s going on may feel more confident but have no reason to be. Here’s a practical situation that shows quite a mix-up when ideology comes to the front line:

Ideological crossovers in courts

Present court custom can set endless legal proceedings going about patterns of care and contact with parents and their children. A family court’s child welfare hearing is not a trial like other courts may be, and as would be more familiar to the adversarial legal profession. Though in conflict, both parents are presumed to be safe and responsible carers. But often a resident parent – mother or father – may come to court having unwittingly used their position and influence with the children to make rather unilateral decisions about contact patterns. The court then (correctly) accepts without question the resident parent’s motives, safety and good qualities but proceeds (incorrectly) to use them as grounds for treating the other parent differently, as if that parent does need that kind of questioning. In effect the hearing becomes a ‘trial’ of an implicitly ‘guilty’ non-resident parent who has to prove their innocence and worth in a covert unfair process that was never meant to be a trial or proof of anything.

This parody of a trial may only end its run when the child leaves childhood (Munby  [2004] EWHC 727 (Fam)). The court of the Red Queen and the tale of the Emperor’s Clothes come to mind. But those were fables. Family courts perform like this everywhere and repeatedly. Of course, real risks and serious allegations may be part of any high conflict separation. We need to take all allegations seriously to assess them reliably and promptly. But where those serious allegations are not made and do not need to be assessed, a simple change in court custom could make the process fair again – having the resident parent’s advocate lead their case for why they have unilaterally limited contact with the non-resident parent.

Here though it is interesting to examine this scenario in terms of the ideologies of feminism and patriarchy. The above account of the unfair ‘trial’ can be seen to be unfair whatever the genders might be. It happens to non-resident mothers as well as (more commonly of course) to non-resident fathers. And it may happen with same sex couples.  But often there are strongly gendered assumptions that surround this whole issue of high conflict separations. For the sake of exploring gender ideologies, let’s assume a gendered pattern, the commoner pattern of resident mothers and non-resident fathers. Now follow this reasoning through:

  • Ideologically, patriarchy backs up the male and supports his values. Traditionally patriarchy values women doing the housework and childcare. That allows the men to do their powerful jobs, earn lots of money, and then head for the pub and other recreations to spend it.
  • Ideologically, feminism campaigns for gender equality. In the home, this would mean men doing more housework and childcare. This is to free women for an equal opportunity in that power and privilege of the patriarchal male.
  • But in the typical family court situation, we have separated men who, in contrast to patriarchal values, plead to do more childcare. Resident mothers are – in that scenario – blocking the fathers doing that.
  • There may be implied questions about men’s suitability for this unfamiliar role, even though they are the fathers of the children concerned. But that doesn’t generally stop feminism wanting men to do more of the ‘woman’s job’ and to learn. The fathers in court are certainly wanting to do it.
  • The ‘trial’ set-up may imply something worse about tathers’ safety with children, and presumes unquestionable safety for children with mothers. These assumptions are often not made explicit, and if they were, they do not match the evidence. Leave them aside here. That is discussed elsewhere. Stick to ideology in courts.
  • The courts are generally presumed to be instruments of patriarchal power. But in the typical gendered ‘trial’, it is the resident mother who has the upper hand and typically wins. These women do not want these men doing more childcare with their children. The children naturally seem to agree. The court agrees.
  • So patriarchy is acting against its ideology in supporting females (and children) against males. But, at the same time, it supports its ideology of women doing the childcare.
  • Now feminists and women’s rights supporters support the women’s side in court even though the women don’t `(in this situation) support feminist values of sharing childcare more with men (or one particular man, the father, anyway).
  • So, when courts support the family pattern of children remaining resident with their mothers, both patriarchy and feminism (and the respective genders) are partly in line with their own ideologies, and partly they uphold the other ideology’s key values.
  • Patriarchy is not backing the men up but it is keeping women in (their own and) patriarchy’s preferred place.
  • And feminists end up supporting a patriarchal institution because it stands up for women against men, even though that means feminists are supporting women who do not want to do the feminist thing (more childcare by the men), and feminists are not supporting men who do want to do that feminist thing.
  • So, ideologically, there are some interesting crossovers happening in family courts – and if we forget about fairness!

Rescuing anti-patriarchy from itself

With that practical example of complexity on the ground, let’s summarise a complex position here. There are many reasons why a general social pattern (patriarchy) may be assumed to be a universal one. But if a general pattern is presumed to be always true in every single case and situation, then the whole series of logical, interpersonal, inhumane and illegal errors follow on (as we’ve seen). Within the general pattern, most men are not brought up to control and abuse women, while there are some women who do know how to control and abuse men in their different way. There are good and bad in both genders. A general pattern may look like the specific pattern in domestic abuse, but that does not mean that the general pattern is the main cause. A parallel might be how general availability of alcohol does not turn more than a few to alcoholism, crime and abuse.

To crusade against patriarchy is then the equivalent of a temperance crusade. There’s a kind of logic to it, but it won’t work. Even if patriarchy was the main cause of domestic abuse, changing the world’s general social pattern is an entirely different scale of intervention than taking steps to tackle domestic abuse. However, leaving aside the debate about changing patriarchy as the urgent key to stopping domestic abuse, equalists do anyway seek gender equalism and for that reason would work to replace patriarchy. … So this section is to follow that through on behalf of equalism, and to suggest a more effective way to change patriarchy for those who do believe in a crusading temperance gender-based approach to domestic abuse.

In academic and other discussion and in professional services, the term patriarchy has developed a special power of its own to stop thinking in its tracks. To demur in any way from being against patriarchy in some discussions can be taken to confirm your complicity with it. To be male on its own may disqualify your views outright. Perhaps this is where anti-patriarchalists feel an implied core belief in equalism is being threatened. To take part and be listened to, you have to submit totally to the basic assumption of being anti-patriarchy. This absolute position can have great power to silence any questioning because the only implied correct position is to be against patriarchy. Unlike feminism, anti-patriarchy does not propose what to replace it with. Sections of society, academia, and the helping professions have come to use the word patriarchy as an unquestionable presumptive truth in all situations. This use is not just as a valid general view of society, but even in specific serious practical personal predicaments. In particular actual situations it can be used to mean “In this as in any problematic relationship, one should presume from the outset that the man is culpable and the women and children are victims”.

For busy professionals with complex particular tasks – eg social workers assessing childcare and protection – it is very handy to have such a quick rule of thumb that all around are very keen to use. So the professional straight away assumes the woman and child are victims and the man is the perpetrator. To consider individual situations more carefully would take much much longer … even then it is often hard to reach clear conclusions. Even though patriarchy is generally true, in any particular situation good practice and equalism requires that assumptions are not made, that minds remain open, and that all views are sought and considered before drawing conclusions about who is doing what and why and what help and protection may be needed. It is particularly terrible when this patriarchal dominant narrative is applied to the point where the worker is blind to childcare and child protection needs. For example, a more risky mother may be preferred to a father who would be the safer carer. See this report for examples of dangerously bad practice in this respect that would fit an overriding belief in patriarchy applied in every situation. (20 min talk – or

More effective ways to challenge patriarchy

Most human troubles have multifactorial causes, not just the one. It is unlikely but assuming that patriarchy is the one big thing to tackle to make the world come right, this section will bring to bear more effective ways of researching and promoting such major social change. Lets start with some examples of the counter-productivity of those who crusade against patriarchy. A number of the case stories in these gender blogs show plainly good men and fathers doing things that anyone would celebrate who wants  less of a patriarchal world – fathers left holding the baby, out walking with their sons, wanting to care for and be more fully part of their children’s lives after separation, taking responsibility for the children’s safety and welfare. Yet we have seen how these stories of anti-patriarchal men can be, in ignorant counter-productivity, derailed by the active standing  presumption that men cannot be good or trustworthy, presumptions that are the direct outcome of the general crusade against patriarchy! More mundanely, men who push prams or take children to school or clean the toilets, in equalist terms, do not deserve any more praise than women who have traditionally done these things.

Feminists might rightly mock that these men get any special notice or praise. But big change happens in small steps. And noting small steps and praising them can be part of building a new less patriarchal normality.  If we really want less patriarchy, some ways work better than just shouting about it. Stephen Pinker on “”Taboos, Political Correctness and Dissent” suggests the fear behind extreme political correctness is that evident progress cannot be mentioned lest it causes complacency. He argues that celebrating change is a better way to encourage more of it. We can start by learning properly about patriarchy, its history and development across the world through the ages, and the various explanations and meanings given to it. We identify that a campaign against patriarchy (or anything) is seldom going to succeed unless there is a clear idea of what will replace it. It is good business and good politics to campaign FOR not against things. How about campaigning FOR ‘kyriarchy‘ as an equalist system, rather than primarily campaigning to replace patriarchy without any idea what it will be replaced with?

For those outside the feminist project, the terms used – feminism/s, patriarchy, gender-based – can be a rich  resource for all to learn about and use, expand and adapt, rather than the reason to give up talking from the outset. There are several kinds of feminism to get to know, various meanings of patriarchy (eg oppression of men by men as much as of women by men), and gender-based aspects apply to women abusers and male victims too. Mostly feminists now mount an imposing crusade  to abolish patriarchy that puts off as many as it persuades, recruits and engages. If there is a crusade to run, then the usual thing to do would be to establish a political party and work to recruit supporters and eventually influence or even power through the democratic processes of a democratic society. Put like that, some realism presents … however right it might be to change the dominant patriarchal society, democracy has an inevitable tendency to support the (patriarchal) dominant majority. Minority movements though (eg Green, Nationalist ones) can influence the big parties even though they may never actually expect to get into power. If we frame the anti-patriarchy project as a matter for research and thinking that engages wider groups in reasoned debate, it would be important simply to stop the crusading tone that muddies it all. See later for practical ways to keep a discussion going when it looks like being snuffed out.

Into that space opened up instead of the crusading, some respectful listening and (still robust) discussion and answering of questions would be welcoming to those who may be put off. Next a more measured consideration would help for what, for social matters especially, is a multi-factorial and complex matter. That means diverse evidence and views need to be allowed to be articulated with each other. Monolithic crusades do not allow this. Then it would be normal for acceptably objective research to be based on balanced investigation, in this case, of both men and women’s experiences. At present the field is full of workers who proudly declare their partial experience and position based on long experience, say, of working with women rape victims, or of marginalised men. These inevitably partial conclusions are then presented as valid for policy and practice for everyone. Much more impressive results would come from those who work with and research both men and women, both victims and perpetrators.

If changing patriarchy is seen as a project or business, then there would be several more effective strategies to follow than the crusade model. A positive plan would be created with a vision and goals on the way. Most important would be to seek and encourage any small signs of change in the right direction, to find groups and organisations that potentially share the same aspirations (eg for an equalist world) and to build collaborations with them. In contrast now there is a fairly explicit entry requirement of acceptance of the unifactorial feminist and gender-based view ‘at the door’ without which no further discussion or collaboration will be entertained. Clients are excluded from services just on the basis of their gender. There are lots of men and women and organisations who do not abuse their partners or children and who support a more gender equal world. How about finding them and celebrating their progress rather than shutting them out because they don’t fancy signing up to the crusading cause?

How polarisation escalates

Without these bridges for thoughtful discussion, escalating polarisation of views grows arms and legs. Where radical feminism and anti-patriarchy amounts to a universal vilification of men it has been dubbed the “bad men project” or BMP. (This name has also been used by a gender equalist man who wants a man to be able to be feminist without having to be “a good man”. Confusing isn’t it?!)  Just as those with special reason to vilify men take anti-patriarchy over the top, so do those who personally know of good men who have been victims of abuse and alienation react and rage at the “BMP”. To attack the BMP is a valid response given that it is, for them, unjust and simply not true to assume that all men are evil and all women (and children) are angelic. Decisions made in advance of proper assessments of particular situations may seem efficient, but are going to fail to solve a specific situation properly and also likely aggravate them. But to attack anti-patriarchy as faulty, as the anti-BMP voices do, is to trigger a further escalating angry defence validly based on the general and valid truth that society is still patriarchal (and despite the probably shared truth of equalism that implies). And so on.

A particularly interesting convolution of this escalation process is in Erin Pizzey‘s story and position – see her brief video in the Channel 4 “4thought” series on the law changing to include emotional abuse in the definition of domestic abuse. Erin can take a sadly gender equalist position on abuse because both her mother and her father beat her up when she was a child. Setting up the first women’s refuges supported her view that abuse knows no gender barriers. Now loudly anti-feminist, she is against bringing in emotional abuse and bullying into the laws about abuse. Why? Because she sees the BMP culture is so dominant in government, academic, legal and professional circles that she envisages the consequence in terms of only women having the power to call in the police if their man so much as raises his voice. Her BMP experience of feminists and anti-patriarchy leads her to a non-equalist but possibly correct view that men will be laughed out of court if they were to complain that their partner shouted at them or bullied them.

Defining fair play by equalist principles

Equalist principles help reduce this polarisation. Many sub-group-isms have moderate and radical wings, the latter doing more to escalate polarisation and thereby to give the whole group a more extreme name than some of the group deserve. Equalism is useful to separate out those who may share a sub-group-ism but don’t really share the implied equalism. Gender is the important example. Feminism is notably defined explicitly to be an equalist -ism. Feminism is a valid movement that supports women and fights to bring patriarchal men down a peg or three. Sometimes that fight looks and feels like it is aiming for more than an equalist outcome … more like it’s revenge, or punishment, or oppressing men under the heels of women, maybe even ridding the world of males altogether. We’ve just seen how this strength of feeling can arise. Radical feminists may argue that they are equalist but that there will always be patriarchy, and therefore always a fight to wage. Men in general, and especially those particular men who have good reason to know that they have been unequally treated and oppressed, will naturally want to fight back.

For more examples of these bits of the jigsaw views see Other thinking on equalism. But: The test here is not just by what the opposing men or non-feminists think about feminists. The test is in whether a feminist (female or male) really intends that the outcomes they want are those non-equalist outcomes – revenge, oppression, ridding – or not. If the answer is seriously that they do want that outcome, it is important that those feminists be seen to be pursuing a different kind of feminism, one that is not equalist, one that is defined differently than gender-equalist feminism usually is. Equalism asks us to tell the difference within the same sub-group-ism. And equalism provides the means and the measure to do so.

In addition to this general or ideological clarification of the moderate and the extremists in a particular sub-group-ist movement, equalism would also commend that the manner in which the pursuit of a cause is conducted matters in order to be classed as more or less equalist. So in personal discussions – face to face, correspondence, or social media on the internet – that respect for difference and engaged thinking-through, that is defined as part of equalism here, means that somewhere at the centre of the passionate and robust debates, there is respect and listening to each other’s different views and arguments. If the feelings run so high that people are fearful, or silenced, or hurt, then equalism is lessened. And it is also lessened if false declarations of offence (of the Steven Fry kind) block the talking and thinking. The ruling in the Redman-Bate appeal was clear and eloquent: “… Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. …”  So being offended is not, on its own, a valid response in an argument,  although it is usually best to find ways of talking that avoid being offensive if at all possible. 

How equalism helps

It is easier to know what you don’t like, what you are against – like Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers – than to know what you positively want instead and how to make it happen. Feminism has played a valid and continuing part in the critique and dismantling of what it doesn’t like: that is, male power and patriarchy. But  confusions were always going to happen when a very gendered name was chosen to promote an equalist aim. The Social GRACES united by equalism create a positive principle and aim for the sub-group-isms to use and work towards. In terms of keeping thinking going, a general and particular equalist approach would help at all times. Equalism would not assume that any generalisation of gender (or any other category) necessarily applied to any particular individual. The academic discussion would not polarise and block.

Meanwhile, while we can hope that the logic of equalism can get the show on the road again, we have to find some way to rescue equalism in highly charged specific situations.  Here are some ways to rescue thinking and equalism when it has been blocked. Consider these ideas and ways to respond:  “Let’s not make a categorical error” … “A general truth does not excuse individual prejudice” … “Patriarchy or not, individual men (and women) need to have their particular story heard and respected” … “Each problem relationship needs to be thought about carefully without any sweeping presumptions” … [An ironic response:] “If individual men can be assumed to be evil perpetrators without a hearing and all women and children angelic victims, then logically we should work to persuade governments to change laws, human rights, and professional services, procedures and codes of conduct and ethical standards to fast-track all males – including those who have not been found to have done anything wrong yet – straight to probation or prison in order to prevent problems and cut back on a lot of expense and trouble”.

More practical tips for equalising things

Continuing with these gendered discussions, situations where a respectful speaker is disqualified outright because they don’t seem to accept anti-patriarchy, or simply because of their male gender, a plainly non-equalist dynamic is in force. As women are still and have been silenced by men across the centuries and across the world, so it may be appropriate for a silenced man to accept this natural and minor bit of collective justice. If anything can be said, it needs to be calm and respectful and to go beyond the gendered impasse to deeper matters. If you cannot hold on to a calm and constructive engaging tone, then it is better to remain humbly quiet and take deep breaths. Reflect, take notes, and prepare better for another occasion or a different way to communicate.

Assuming you are a man, you could say: “I have sympathetic things to say here but do not feel I will be heard. Since women have been silenced by men for so long, silencing me now is understandable. But can I check out if, in the long run, people here sincerely believe that silencing any sub-group is right? If it was wrong for men to silence women, is it right for women to silence men (as a long-term aim)? And do you think, from your own experience of having been silenced, that men will be any more content to accept it than you were? What better ways might men have used (than they did) to work things out with women? Might those ways also be best now for anti-patriarchists to work something out with sympathetic equalist men? Whatever you feel just now, in the long-term, when patriarchy has been destroyed and feminism takes power, what principles and systems will they put in place? Will they be equalist ones or not? Do you or do you not accept the usual definition of feminism as a movement that aims for the equality of the sexes?” And so on.

To deal with the Steven Fry “I’m offended” way to block thinking, maybe the appropriate response is again to keep to a carefully engaged and respectful tone, apologise for causing offence, and to ask the person to say more .. both about what they have felt has been offensive to them, and also for more of their own views on the matter being discussed. The aim is so that those views can be better included and heard. If the “offended” person has been merely using the phrase because they don’t have a good argument, answer or view, but don’t want to admit it but were trying to find a winning position, then this kind of gentle further enquiry might reach a truer conclusion.

Strong anti-patriarchy is hard because it only carries a negative future proposal. Taking feminism on its own, it is easier to convert it to gender equalism because that is already feminism’s own definition and aim. In our culture many men now fully support gender equality – they have no wish to control women; they are not brought up to control them. They may call themselves male feminists. Since “male feminist” is not an easy label for a man to adopt, and “masculinism” is mostly used to mean promoting male power not gender equality, equalism is a more suitable term that is more attractive for men to adopt and shout about. Here is a different kind of example to end on – an article about Julia Gillard losing the leadership of the Australian Labour Party – showing how gender may play a significant, but not the only, part. Equalism allows us to track the various issues more calmly. And here is an example of being “feminist but …” that confirms the need for a less confused and confusing term like equalism. The terms can cause problems – even between allies! Those who work in equalities know this stuff and if anyone can provide a better resource than the next section, please let us know.

Glossary of Some Gender Terms

Gender neutral is a term that can cause trouble even if the use is well-intended. There are more accurate terms to use in most situations. Gender equality means equal opportunity with respect for difference. Equality and neutrality don’t mean genders are the same. But gender neutrality does carry an unhelpful sense of differences being downplayed, not recognised – that gender differences are “neutered”.
This is a better term than gender neutral for loose meanings like supporting the use of gender inclusive language. Thus we want to ensure that we constantly show an awareness that both women and men (and children) may be victims or perpetrators of abuse. And to indicate that we should include both / all genders in our talk and thinking and research and policies and services. This use may refer to the standard “PC” practice now to say eg “he or she” in order to avoid inequality presumptions. Gender inclusion implies a more egalitarian culture with more respect for gender differences (than gender neutral conveys). Governments and laws are bound by human rights laws to gender equality (of opportunity and rights) ie to being more gender egalitarian and inclusive. We all know that there are organisations and discourses that are unnecessarily gender exclusive in their thinking and ways. We wish to make these more gender inclusive.
Gender aware is a better term than gender neutral for including both genders in our talk and thinking, as well as a better term for adding an awareness that genders are different, that we are not all equal, not all the same. This is especially true when it comes to those who are victims of abuse, and in the provision of services that are gender aware.
Individuals and genders are generally different through nature, nurture and culture.  Sexuality (LGBT) adds further to the diversity of relationship patterns too. Victims (and perpetrators) of domestic abuse have unique experiences. Many aspects of that are not gendered, but many aspects will be gendered. If you are abused by the opposite gender, it is likely you will be fearful of all members of that gender. If the policeman is also ignorant toward a female rape victim, that gives her confirmation of her fears. If the policewoman just doesn’t believe a man (or a child) can be a victim of a woman, then the man has his fears confirmed.
So gender neutral does the opposite of conveying the need to be gender aware about differences and different needs. And gender aware thinking about services for domestic abuse victims (and perpetrators) may well lead to separate services for men and women, not just assume that one gender inclusive service can serve both clienteles together. This is what e.g. Women’s Aid have always held as a core principle – that women need their own exclusive service organisation. Of course that historically links closely to a strong feminist approach that is not fully gender inclusive or gender aware in its thinking.
Commonly used in the phrase: gender-based violence. Within domestic abuse circles, this phrase is exclusively claimed to refer to a strong feminist view that essentially holds that women are always victims, men are always perpetrators, and that patriarchal society is the main cause. Even when women perpetrate abuse or murder, this is seen as their only means of defence in an abusive relationship within a patriarchal society that supports male abuse.
Gender-based violence is also more broadly used than for domestic abuse (eg Scottish government) to include a wide range of criminal violence. The list is mostly violence by men on women (eg rape, sexual abuse, female genital multilation). The list may include a few instances of male victims too. Nobody could fail to support the fight against criminal assaults like these.
But however strong men purport themselves to be, male victims can (sometimes at least) suffer as badly as female victims. Leaving aside domestic abuse of men, there are situations that are just as gender-based for men – eg homophobic attacks, homphobic countries (death penalty included), male rape, macho gang street fights and attacks, etc
But the dominant concern of gender-based talk is for women victims. With criminal violence, even with some male victim categories, men are seen more as the perpetrators not the victims, and as less in need, or less deserving, of protection somehow. Men are tough, and big boys don’t cry. It is not easy to decide objectively, qualitatively and quantitatively, how much harder it is to be a man victim or a woman victim. But does that rather academic debate matter as much as an agreement that we want all abuse to stop?
When used in intimate partner or domestic situations – domestic abuse was previously called: domestic violence – it is now widely recognised that what matters more than violence is the sustained fear and coercive control (ie a liberty crime, Evan Stark, 2009). This is not usually nor necessarily so much to do with the actual degree of criminal harm caused by violent acts. So the correct phrase for domestic abuse might be: gender-based abuse (not violence).
Given the way gender colours any relationship – from the moment of birth … “Is it a boy or a girl?” – so gender shapes and colours domestic abuse. Perpetrators and victims will use anything that helps their cause, and that will often be a gender-based power or defence. In high conflict separated family court cases, for example, both men and women will use opportunities to win their argument – including the power of getting their children to say things that support their aims now that the children’s voice is listened to in courts. If you are the resident parent, you will have an advantage that may be considered a gender-based advantage, if the legal and social norms are that your gender equips you best to be the resident parent.
In conclusion, gender-based is a term that should be available to any gender-based approach. It includes a feminist approach, but should not exclude other gendered approaches. The strong feminist approach does powerfully exclude any other gender-based approaches. Gender-based violence may be the appropriate term for the wider field of criminal violence. Gender-based abuse would be more appropriate for domestic abuse.
IN Evan Stark’s book, Coercive Control, he explores the evidence for the prevalence of domestic abuse. He summarises (p 92) “However uncomfortable this may make feminist-oriented researchers, it is incontrovertible that large numbers of women use force in relationships, including the types of force classified as severe or abusive.”  And (p 85) he says: “”Population surveys identify large numbers of male victims and female perpetrators.” Then he says: “But studies conducted at service points show the population in need to be overwhelmingly female.”
It seems that he has no further thought here about a (non-feminist) gender-based analysis of why it might be that services are neither available nor receptive to an approach by abused men.  It seems that his feminist thesis continues on the interpretation of this service-need picture as showing that male victims (though they exist in large numbers) cannot be as needy or disturbed as female ones. Certainly he has case histories that show how bad the coercive control (and violence too) can be for women, and that it continues just as much after separation as before it. His implication seems to be that men don’t suffer like this. But the evidence about that hypothesis is not even thought to need to be looked for, it seems, because they don’t come to services for help. This is a good example of a major blind spot in gender awareness. It is essential to be fully gender aware in one’s fully gender-based thinking about domestic abuse.


Here we have not kept a focus on family conflict, separated family patterns, and domestic abuse. We have explored patriarchy because it so dominates people’s thinking. Even if it is unlikely to be the major factor in domestic abuse, equalists have an interest in what is a general pattern of inequality in the world and intimately does shape the family life that builds it too. For the sake of rescuing it, we have explored how a genuine reasonable attempt to change a patriarchal world might look, in contrast with the rather counterproductive crusading against it. It helps us all on all sides to remember that equalism happens when all sides work for fairness together, and that the reward of equalism is greater liberty.

Domestic abuse is a liberty crime, as Evan Stark has suggested in Coercive Control. Patterns of alienation can also be seen as liberty crimes although the coercion produces apparently enthusiastic submission – as may happen in cults. The aim of equalism is to remove unfair constraints, work out whatever is needed to support and celebrate greater liberty for all individuals in their fullest diversity. The French put this all together as: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn (p xv) proposed that “mature dependence” not autonomous independence is the best way to grow up. We end up with paradoxical conclusions. Just as we cannot not absorb cultural and family views and norms into the core of our being, so we absorb and follow values and rules about gender. There are social and statistical gendered patterns. And in any individual situation, the experience will be framed by gender.

Even as we aspire to gender equalism, diversity will enrich and complicate that. Yet we have seen how overloaded gendered assumptions can disrupt thinking and discussions, and cause mistakes and escalation for troubled families. Equalism helps by giving all sides a calmer grip on their shared values, and keeping the excesses of gendered argument in proportion. All equalists can agree that all abuse is terrible, whoever the victim and perpetrator may be. We can all share in the fight against all abuse. We do not need to spend so much of our time and energy in unproductive fights about which gender suffers more, or is to blame more. We can learn and accept the reasons and ideas from different gender sub-groups. Whatever we call the social patterns that we think should change, we can all benefit from a more gender equalist world.


This post gives a more detailed account of a long-standing and complicated struggle over gender equality and its champions. The diagnosis of these very influential troubles is that the general pattern cannot be assumed to apply in all particular cases (the categorical error), that there are many gender neutral ways to explain troubled patterns (of family conflict), that the original terminology “feminism” has confused the means (anti-patriarchy) and the ends (gender equality, prevention of abuse), and that it is important to identify different positions within feminism. The solution is to separate these confusions out with the aid of a more clearly named principle and aim. That principle is equalism. Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.

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This entry was posted on 26 June 2013 by in Gender, issues & 'ism's and tagged , , .


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