How to suppress feminist voices on domestic violence

With apologies to Joanna Russ.  Content note: domestic violence, sexism.

Domestic violence isn’t gendered. Shut up.

Domestic violence is gendered, but it’s biology – men are naturally stronger, bigger, and angrier, and women are naturally more attracted to violent men. It’s your fault.

Men aren’t more violent, but they have to act that way to attract women. It’s your fault.

Women are just as violent as men. Maybe she started it. It’s your fault.

 If she didn’t start it, she also didn’t leave before he got too violent. It’s your fault.

He got too violent, but couldn’t help it because feminists always blame men, so he had no other options. It’s your fault.

Domestic violence is gendered, and it’s feminists’ fault. Shut up.

Tony Veitch isn’t repentant, he’s making it worse

[Content note: discuss of intimate partner violence and apologism]

Tony Veitch, noted violent unremorseful dude, had a piece on his unremorse published in the Herald on Mother’s Day, for editorial reasons I cannot fathom. I haven’t read the piece. The reactions I saw online told me everything I needed to know and I wasn’t going to subject my brain to it, nor reward the Herald with a pageview.

There is only one thing I ever need to hear from Tony Veitch. It’s a simple enough thing: an acknowledgement of what he did, and a commitment to change. This piece doesn’t do that. It makes it worse.

https://twitter.com/Don_Rowe/status/729152333792223232

When Tony Veitch “acknowledges what he’s done” but only to make it all about HIS suffering and HIS experience, he makes it worse.

When he pretends it was “just one time”, he makes it worse.

When he keeps demanding a second chance or a fair go but NEVER shows genuine, unqualified remorse for his abusiveness, he makes it worse.

When Tony Veitch as a famous dude in sports entertainment does NOTHING to educate men or challenge our culture of violence, HE MAKES IT WORSE.

There are things men can do to really challenge family violence in New Zealand. Tony Veitch has done none of these things. Because every single time, it’s all about Tony Veitch.

The reality is this: Tony Veitch was, and remains, a danger to women.

~

Steve Dunne, the father of Kristin Dunne-Powell, has also commented on the Herald piece.

If you have used violence and want to change, there’s a list of agencies who can help on the It’s Not OK website. There’s also ideas about how to work to stop violence in sports communities.

If you’re in Wellington and have engaged in sexually harmful behaviour and want to change, talk to WellStop.

When the creeper is your mate

Alex Casey and Duncan Greive at The Spinoff have written a phenomenal article about sexual creepiness and exploitation of young women, specifically by Andrew Tidball of Cheese on Toast and bFM. (Trigger warnings apply. This is a difficult read.)

It’s led to another discussion about predatory/abusive men in different cultural niches, and the responsibility particularly on other men to identify and call up their comrades on this stuff. To believe women rather than immediately assuming they’re liars. (As I said on Twitter, you’re not neutral if you refuse to believe women; quite the opposite.)

Every time we have this conversation, a little progress happens. I remember where conversations about rape culture were five years ago; we’re still fighting the fight, but it is getting easier. When it comes to calling out missing stairs (trigger warning: sexual violence) and identifying the bad apples in our various fandoms, we’re making headway.

But one difficulty I’ve noted in a thousand little ways around sexism and progressive politics in general: when you know your’re One Of The Good Guys, it can be difficult to see abuse happening right in front of you.

In the gaming crowds where I spent much of my lecture-skipping university days, some dudes were well-known as bad dudes. Creepers who literally everyone recognised as such. And other men would step in – no, you shouldn’t get a lift home with that guy; make sure we don’t leave the new girl alone with him; definitely don’t assign him a romantic role with her at the next LARP. It made me feel safe, and that’s a rare experience in nerdy circles.

Those guys looked out for you and knew who the predators were and, if they didn’t go so far as to kick the missing stairs out of the club, they didn’t excuse the creepiness or tell you it was all in your head or make you feel like they wouldn’t believe you if you had a problem with someone.

Until it was one of their mates. Because it’s really easy to say “that guy’s a predator” when he’s someone you already didn’t like. When he’s also obnoxious, dishonest or outright violent to men as well as women, it’s easy to believe the ones who say “he’s a real creep” or “I don’t feel safe around him”.

But when it was their friend who sexually coerced a woman with implied threats of violence, well. He was having a really rough time. He’s not dangerous. When it was a member of their D&D game regularly intruding on your physical space? Look, he just got mixed signals. The group clown keeps plying younger women with drinks and touching them without consent? Oh, it’s so funny, he’s just trying to flirt.

When you know in your heart you’re A Good Dude, you can be oblivious to your friends’ creeping. You tell yourself you’ve called out Bad Guys on their creepiness, you look out for your women friends – therefore the way your mates behave isn’t the same. Because they’re your mates.

This is the danger. The creepy dudes who you think are charming and affable are using your status As A Good Dude to harass and abuse other women. You’re their meat shield. They’re your mate, so they must be safe, because you wouldn’t stand for creepiness.

Believing women can’t just be about believing them when their experience aligns with yours. It has to mean reflecting, checking your instinct to say “but he’s my mate”, when the creep in question is your good friend.

And this isn’t just about geek circles and creepy dudes. We all have to be aware that our self-image, our conviction that we’re on the side of the angels, doesn’t make us immune from thinking and saying and justifying horrible oppressive or abusive stuff. When we’re against slut-shaming but say Kim Kardashian should cover up; when we’re against government policing poor people’s choices but think a sugar tax will force them to “make better choices”; when we’re totally pro-choice but think three abortions is way too many. It’s too easy to undermine our hard work trying to change the world by replicating the very awfulness we struggle against.

Being a good progressive person isn’t a one-off achievement. It’s a never-ending personal struggle. It means not just taking the easy road of criticising the despised. We have to be open to criticising ourselves – and our friends.

On John Key’s “fetish”

In the case of the Prime Minister and his habit of sexually harassing a young woman at her workplace, far too many people have instantly jumped on the “he has a ponytail fetish! LOL!” bandwagon (and even a few on the “I bet he’s a child abuser!” bandwagon).

This is simply inappropriate – and harmful. For a start, none of us know John Key well enough to say what floats his boat; for another, it’s a totally inaccurate definition of what a fetish is. Someone with a fetish is quite as capable as anyone else of understanding consent and the word “no”.

But the kicker for me is how this response casually erases the commonplace, everyday nature of sexual harassment.

When we see an unmistakable case of a man harassing a woman in her place of work, manipulating the power difference between them, it is far too easy to say “oh, he’s a deviant. He’s not normal. Normal people don’t do that.”

It’s a very common reaction. It leads to a huge number of rape myths – all rapists are scary scruffy thugs, not that nice young man, that doctor, that priest. It leads to the downplaying of violence when we refer to certain abusers and murderers as “pillars of the community”. It leads to the immediate cries of “Aspergers!” or “Insane!” when nice young white men from Good Families murder dozens of people.

We want to separate the world into group A: Those Terrible Freaks Who Abuse People and group B: Normal People Who Don’t Do Bad Things. We categorise some crimes as “not that big a deal” when the person doing it can be slotted into group B; we categorise people as group A when their offending is unquestionably over the line.

And so we end up making armchair diagnoses of John Key’s sexual predilections and even accusing him of horrific acts of sexual violence rather than owning the truth. Men sexually harass women all the time. Customers objectify wait staff all the time. Sexism is all around us. It is not the province of “freaks” and “deviants” and “those kinds of people”.

Perfectly ordinary men can be abusers. Perfectly chummy politicians can be harassers. Perfectly nice young men from good white families can commit terrible acts of violence. And plenty of women who have worked in hospitality can share identical stories of customers who thought it was hilarious to harass them.

I don’t know what turns John Key on. I don’t want to know. But the fact is that he has sexually harassed at least one woman in her workplace and showed absolutely zero genuine remorse for it. He’s still making excuses even as he “apologises”. And he’s not the first sexual harasser to do it. Not even the first senior New Zealand public servant to do it.

This is a story – at the moment – about one woman’s repeated experiences of harassment. A story which highlights our terrible attitudes around consent and power and gender and privilege.

Of course it’s much easier to make this about undermining John Key’s masculinity by implying he’s sexually dysfunctional. It’s far easier to slot him into group A and hurl accusations of even darker deeds than address the widespread, ever-present misogyny of our society.

But we should resist the impulse, and we can. Just like John Key should, and could, have kept his hands to himself instead of being a perfectly ordinary, abusive creep.

(It should go without saying but I will not publish any comments along the lines of “but he totally DOES have a fetish though!!!”)