Quick hit: Men’s perceptions of violence against women

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the White Ribbon Campaign, which was created in response to an act of horrific violence against women in Canada. The White Ribbon Campaign, which engages men and boys in the prevention of violence against women, now operates in over thirty countries. Australia is one of them, and this week, on the occasion of White Ribbon Day 2011, journalist Marcus Campbell called on Australian men to commit themselves to ending violence against women. One of the reasons men still refuse to make this commitment, Campbell writes, is that they don’t believe that the problem is as severe as it is:

While men’s attitudes are difficult to gauge, The VicHealth National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence against Women 2009 found that 22% of men believed that rates of violence were equal between men and women and just under two-thirds of Australian men would describe violence against women as a “common” problem; alarming figures that hint at a wider scepticism about the clear contrasts between victimisation and perpetration rates in Australia.

Some simply do not trust the appalling national and state statistics that have either remained unchanged over the years or risen in some areas. Every time a journalist dares publish a figure that slightly widens the lens to better view the full horrifying scope of the issue, the internet comment backlash is merciless.

Some are still writing off instances of intimate partner homicide, rape and physical, psychological and sexual abuse as acts of individual irrationality or crimes of emotion or provocation. Men, along with wider society seem to shrug off the importance of the issue, like the way Facebook recently shrugged off calls to remove “rape joke” pages.

Some still do not believe the issue is as big as popular opinion would suggest, and that men are the “real” invisible victims of domestic violence. It is getting harder to avoid noticing some of the bizarre and often offensive claims in the numerous men’s rights websites out there.

Yes, some men honestly still believe that movements for nonviolence and women’s rights are part of a feminist project to undermine the rights of men.

Go read the whole thing. And if you’re a man and you haven’t already sworn the White Ribbon oath “to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women,” do it today.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

Read more about Chloe

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    “Do not trust any statistic that you did not falsify yourself.” That does not just apply to rape or abuse.

  • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

    Obviously (I hope) I’m 100% on board with men opposing domestic violence against women. I feel conflicted even commenting on this thread to say anything other than that, so I apologize if I am offending!

    But shouldn’t the oath be “never commit, excuse, or remain silent about domestic violence against women”? I feel like the current wording, covering as it does the cases in which our society generally considers violence to be justified – particularly, in self-defense or, to a lesser extent, in a legally sanctioned international conflict – implicitly paints a false and patriarchal picture that women can only be victims and are themselves incapable of violence. At the very least this seems disrespectful and condescending towards women in the military, saying that we men should not allow them to be potential targets of violence.

    Am I totally off-base? I would swear my amended version in a split second, any hour of night or day.

    • http://feministing.com/members/pictish/ Terry

      Sam, the problem with your wording (‘domestic’) is that it implies exclusion from the oath of violence committed against a stranger or any woman with whom the perpetrator is not involved in an intimate relationship. I think it’s reasonable and sensible that the oath cover as wide a prohibition on violence against women as possible.

      As to your objection regarding women soldiers, it depends on the context of the violence they experience, doesn’t it? Coming under enemy fire is violence they experience AS soldiers BECAUSE they are soldiers, whereas sexual assault is something they experience AS women BECAUSE they are women. In the context of war, honouring the oath would entail not raping your fellow soldiers and not raping enemy soldiers who are captured. From the tenor of your comment, I can’t imagine you would object to such an undertaking.

      • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

        I think it’s reasonable and sensible that the oath cover as wide a prohibition on violence against women as possible.

        Sure, agreed, but no wider than possible, right? I’m not sure that I could in good conscience swear the unmodified oath because I think there are circumstances in which violence is morally justified (necessary self defense, defense of another, or some few defensive wars).

        I don’t want to be the one muddying the waters and detracting from such an important issue! I was just uncomfortable because the oath seems to be itself muddying the waters between domestic violence, which is usually part of a pattern of long-running abuse and is more often aimed at women, and other kinds of violence, which have entirely different characters, very different victim demographics, and may demand a different kind of response.

        I wish you and I could just say “never commit, excuse, or remain silent about morally unjustified violence against women”, agreeing that only in the very few cases where violence against humans is morally justifiable is it justifiable against women in particular, but that’s a horribly, unacceptably worse wording because not only does it presume that other people will agree with us about when violence is justified, it’s thoroughly counterproductive in underlining those cases and giving men an out for making excuses!

        I’m not sure I fully understand your point about female soldiers, I apologize. Are you saying that committing violence against a woman would not be a violation of the oath if the violence is due to some other reason besides her gender? I’m not sure that really works either – then men could easily use that same principle to be their excuse in cases where that was the real reason, which sadly we see all the time in other contexts.

        Argh, this is just one big morass, and the oath seems to be acceptable for other, not as literally-analytic types. Maybe I should just sit quietly over here and keep my discomfort to myself!

  • http://feministing.com/members/csusmstudent/ Michaella

    Great article! I was not prior informed on the White Ribbon Campaign. It seems so great to involve men in this way to fight a social issue, as domestic violence against women is not solely a womanly issue, but should be placed on a larger scale. Your article has done a great job promoting social justice, just as our blog seeks to do. Please check us out at http://www.wtfcsusm.wordpress.com!


  • http://feministing.com/members/billywilliams/ billy williams

    Why is their pledge “I swear to never commit,excuse or remain silent about violence against women” –Why not a pledge against ALL violence,Not just VAW–Anyone care to comment on that?

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      Sure, because they’re trying to address a specific problem, gendered domestic violence, which really does have a disparate impact. Violence is a multifaceted problem with many different subcomponents, each of which we probably need to address in a commensurately different way. Domestic violence in particular is something like 80% suffered by women, whereas, say, reported assaults in general are significantly more suffered by men.

      In general, when there are big, seemingly insoluble problems, like violence, it can be efficacious to try to analyze them and dissect the general category into smaller, distinct, hopefully individually resolvable problems. I’m very willing to give the White Ribbon Campaign the benefit of the doubt that it is not trivializing men as disposable and domestic violence against us as an ignorable problem; it’s just trying to get something positive accomplished.

      • honeybee

        Where did you get the 80% stat? It’s my understanding that more detailed analysis has shown that men and women abuse each other in approximate equal numbers. Similarly, the highest rates of domestic violence are actually between same-sex couples (including 2 homosexual men). I would hate to leave them out.

        I get your point however, just want to get the facts straight since that can only benefit everyone.

        • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

          Great question! I wholeheartedly agree that getting facts straight is critical. My research was not as thorough as it could have been. On further inspection, it seems like an awful lot of initially good-looking sources tend to have an axe to grind or draw a lot of questionable conclusions.

          How about this:

          “Women experience more intimate partner violence than do men: 22.1 percent of surveyed women, compared with 7.4 percent of surveyed men, reported they were physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, or date in their lifetime.”

          -‘Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women’, US DOJ (http://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles1/nij/183781.txt)

          The obvious flaw would be if men experience more social pressure to ignore assault even on a self-report survey, but otherwise that would make the figure 75% (not my initially claimed 80%)

          The linked article also mentions that about 75% of people murdered by their spouse or domestic partner in Australia are female, and the same approximate ratio holds in the United States (http://www.cdc.gov/violencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/consequences.html).

          It does seem like you get very different answers when you ask the different questions “what fraction of acts of violence in relationships are inflicted on women”, “what fraction of serious injuries caused by domestic violence are inflicted on women”, and “what fraction of long-standing patterns of serious domestic abuse for control purposes are inflicted on women” and the answers are something like (no sources on this one, sorry, it’s a holistic impression from my source-checking, so please assign an according level of confidence) 50%, 65%, and 85%.

      • http://feministing.com/members/billywilliams/ billy williams

        While i see that they’re trying to address gender-based violence I don’t see the harm in including men in the pledge.What about gender based violence against men?-I don’t get why you should leave someone out just because they aren’t affected by it as much–It’s like if i were to thank all our troops for what they did but left out women–That would be offensive because there are some women who are soldiers,Just not as many,But that doesn’t mean we should leave out the female soldiers in thanking them–Same here:If women are affected more by violence that doesn’t mean we should be leaving out men in things working against violence(Like pledges of nonviolence here)-Plus,I worry it puts VAW on a different scale then violence in general or VAM-Thanks.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dantsen/ Daniel

    By the way the site, though you wouldn’t immediately notice it, is meant for Australians.

    If you’re not Australian, there are others for different countries, go look them up. Some of them really haven’t gotten far off the ground yet so give them a shout.