Central to the strategy of rendering men safe and essential to the proper functioning of the family is the equivalence argument. It is also crucial to the re-assertion of equality and the move to introduce gender-neutral terminology into the debate. In addition, it is used to excuse and explain men’s violence.
Equivalence, equality and gender neutrality
The 1996 British Crime Survey statistics feature prominently on some of the websites, and all put forward the equivalence argument. Families Need Fathers is the only organisation to concede that there are differences in the severity of violence; the British Crime Survey, it says, ‘suggests that men and women report broadly similar levels of domestic violence overall, though the majority of serious injuries are sustained by women’. Nevertheless, it still invokes the notion of equivalence: ‘There are perpetrators of violence of both sexes, but the propaganda is only about men.’ The statistics, it is alleged, are misleading, as men find it difficult to report because they are not taken seriously or they are treated as perpetrators. There are few services to which they can turn: ‘These feelings of course affect the statistics, making female on male accusations a self-filling prophecy (sic).’ In reality, it is suggested, domestic violence is frequently characterised by mutual combat: confrontations are ‘instigated by [the] mother or father or, as we suspect is commonly the case, by both’.
Men’s groups accordingly promote gender-neutral understandings of domestic violence. The ‘it does happen network’ proclaims that: ‘It’s not a Gender issue, it’s a human issue!’ Families Need Fathers asserts that ‘the gender assumptions in the proposals [relating to contact between children and violent parents] are both ill-founded and offensive’. Similarly, The Mankind Initiative argues that the definition of abuse needs to be free of references to gender and ‘free of gender politics’. The language of equality is pressed into service to prove that women and men hold power in equal measure and that women must surely abuse it in the
Domestic abuse is no longer about the subjugation of women by men; … it is time the government recognised that women are not inferior and have the same capacity for creation and destruction as men.
This insistence on equality and gender neutrality is designed to shift the focus away from men’s dangerousness.
Rendering men safe
One strategy aimed at downplaying the threat that some men present is to suggest that the problem of violence, and male violence in particular, is being exaggerated. Fathers4Justice, for example, suggest that domestic violence may be being used as a ‘bogus argument and smokescreen to remove fathers from their children’. Families Need Fathers, in turn, warns that children’s relationships with their fathers ‘should not be imperilled by excessive reactions to other problems’. The numbers involved are not as great as they seem: ‘The behaviour of a minority in each sex is generalised to other members of that sex.’ And in any event, violence, as long as it is not severe, is normal and is something that women engage in as well as men: ‘Domestic violence is, if some definitions are used, common but gender neutral, or, if other definitions are used, male on female but affecting a small minority.’ The incidence of domestic murders, perpetrated predominantly by men, does not ‘indicate any need for concerns about violence to be the drive contact arrangements (sic) in the hundreds of thousands of families who divide each year without violence’. So, extreme violence is sufficiently rare to be discounted in formulating policy, and less extreme violence is common and gender neutral, and, therefore, presumably of little import. On the contrary, the state is ‘over-protective’: ‘In the past the shortfall in the concern about domestic violence put people at risk. There is now a risk of damage to adults and children because of an overshoot.’
Another approach is to maintain that much of men’s violence is apparent rather than real; women make false allegations. Mothers engaged in residence or contact disputes are particularly prone to lie. According to Men’s Aid:
In assisting victims of domestic violence and their families we have become aware that false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse are common practices by the abusers in order to gain a better standing, greater support and sympathy and inevitably residence of any children – a position from which they can continue to abuse and control the victim.