Rendering women abusive and dangerous
Men’s groups have deployed the equivalence argument to render men, and fathers in particular, safe or no more dangerous than women. But they also seek to show the converse: that women are as dangerous, or can be more dangerous, than men. Men’s Aid stresses the need ‘to appreciate that being female does not lessen the seriousness of their domestic abuse perpetration, and being male does not reduce the seriousness of the abuse that is suffered’. And it is not only men who are victimised, it is children too. Men’s Aid, for example, states that it is seeking to alleviate the plight of ‘men, who have so far been left, with their children.. . to suffer often chronic domestic violence at the hands of their partners and ex-partners’.
The aim of Men’s Aid and similar organisations appears to be to show that mothers cannot always be trusted to protect their children or to safeguard their best interests. More specifically, their aim is to discredit mothers who oppose contact. In order to achieve this, men’s groups have sought to construct new categories of harm. Denial of contact is in itself classified as harmful; mothers who resist contact are defined as perpetrators of ‘child abuse’ and of ‘domestic violence’, terms which condemn them out of hand. Fathers and children are portrayed as victims, their suffering at the hands of the same oppressor uniting them on the same side in the contact battle.
Families Need Fathers, for example, maintain that the ‘most common form of domestic violence amongst separating couples may be the deliberate thwarting of contact by the controlling parent’ and say that mothers who engage in such behaviour are emotionally abusive. Men’s Aid too refers to abuse and domestic violence: ‘One in six men are victims of domestic violence and many more men are abused through being unreasonably refused child contact, itself an act of domestic violence.’
This use of language seeks to expand the definition of domestic violence beyond its currently accepted usage. However, Men’s Aid has attempted to bring it within the parameters of established usage. The somewhat disingenuous explanation entails subverting the notion of the ‘constellation of abuse’, which includes social isolation as an element of abusive behaviour, in order to support the contact argument:
We. . . accept the national definition of domestic violence which states that being prevented access to ‘your family and friends’ is an act of domestic violence and, therefore, being refused reasonable contact with your child after separation and divorce is an act of domestic violence.
Denial of contact is also designated as child abuse. According to Justice for Fathers UK, for instance, women emotionally abuse their children ‘by using them as pawns’. In addition, mothers are dangerous because they physically abuse their children or expose them to abuse from their new sexual partners.
Women in general are considered to be irresponsible and out of control.
The Mankind Initiative, for example, complains that: ‘Women are searching for the perfect man who does not exist – a man who will permit them to indulge in excessive behaviour or enable them to change the rules as and when it suits.’ This irresponsibility, combined with uncontrolled sexuality, presents a major risk to children, a risk that can only be countered by the presence of the father:
The children’s likelihood of being abused by their ‘single’ mothers, already the most likely person to abuse the children, is increased, and the woman’s probability of meeting strangers is increased which in turn further increases the woman’s and child’s likelihood of being abused, particularly true as the main protector of the family is absent.
Indeed, many allegations of domestic violence are falsely made, it is said, in order to eject the ‘true victim’ from the home and to allow the ‘true perpetrator’ to move in with a new partner, so perpetuating the cycle of abuse. And the greatest danger to children is presented by the mothers’ new partners. Some men, it seems, are violent but these are sexual men, not family men and ‘natural’ fathers.
Even in the absence of a new partner, women cannot be trusted. Families Need Fathers points out that ‘NSPCC research.. . showed that the people most likely to be violent to children are their mothers’. This can be explained, they say, by the fact that mothers ‘have most involvement with children and therefore more stress’. Lone mothers may be unable to cope and so abuse their children:
A lot of. . . abuse is when the children and the abusing parent are on their own and without support. There is no-one to stop them hurting their children and help them control themselves . . . Shared parenting can reduce this stress by sharing the work and the tensions.
The involvement of ‘natural parents’, namely fathers, prevents ill treatment of children.
Fathers, then, are cast as the protectors of children against the violence of mothers. In this way, men are rendered safe. They are also the victims, along with their children, of dangerous women. Men, and fathers in particular, are distanced from violence in the vast majority of cases. Moreover, where they are violent, this is often understandable and the fault of the women concerned and of an unfair legal system.
Excusing and explaining men’s violence
If men are violent, this is because they are hard done by; they are provoked:
The immediate aftermath of parental separation seems to be a flash point for violence. A possible factor in this is that the mother so often seizes the children and the father risks, or feels he risks, loss not only of the central adult relationship of his life but the children and much else.
The solution, therefore, is to ensure that there is a ‘clear understanding’ that the relationships between both parents and their children will be preserved. Even when domestic violence occurs during contact, this is the result of provocation. Men who were not previously abusive ‘suddenly find that their children’s mothers can continue to control them through dictating child contact’. There should therefore be ‘equal contact, except in cases where criminal evidence shows that a parent is violent and a clear and present danger of causing harm to the children’. Otherwise women will continue to ‘control and abuse’ men.
The notion of provocation and the shifting of blame are discernible also in the assertion that perpetrator programmes should be ‘less focused on blame and undermining the position of the perpetrators. . . but focus more on appreciated, appropriate behaviour and how to respond appropriately to inappropriate beha – viour’. ‘Therefore it should be emphasised that using violence as a reaction to domestic violence is not appropriate and constitutes a criminal offence. . . This would require that the police actually do their job properly and arrest perpetrators of domestic violence, even if they are women.’