February 25, 2015
The debate about domestic violence has descended morality play in which roles are assigned according to gender, writes Bill O'Chee.
While the increased awareness of domestic violence issues is to be welcomed, its manipulation by those with other agendas is an entirely different matter.
Monday night's Q&A programme on the ABC was a case in point. Not only did it work hard on perpetuating stereotypes about domestic violence, but the producers also refused to accept a potential panelist because she was a woman.
I have seen emails which show the producers had originally invited on the panel a man from 1in3, a group working to raise the profile of male victims of domestic violence. He was unable to go on, but well known psychologist and author on men's health, Dr Elizabeth Celi, was suggested instead. The producers rejected her because she was a woman.
More precisely, they rejected her because she was an eloquent and insightful woman who wanted to speak up for men and children who were the victims of domestic violence. You see, the problem was she didn't fit the stereotype.
Yet there was a place on the panel for my old chum, Natasha Stott Despoja, the Ambassador for Women and Girls. That's because her perspective on domestic violence is finely attuned to exactly those stereotypes.
The sad fact is that much of the "debate" about domestic violence is not a debate at all. It has descended into a 21st century morality play in which roles are assigned according to gender. Men can have only two roles in this play: they are either the brutish perpetrators of domestic violence, or the courageous men who care for women.
The voices that are drowned out are the men who are the victims of domestic violence - about one in three of all cases - and the children. Australian Institute of Criminology Statistics show that 45 per cent of children murdered by a parent are murdered by the mother, making this kind of domestic violence an equal opportunity killer.
While domestic violence by men against women features large, not once has Ms Stott Despoja mentioned violence against children by women. Why is that? Because it would require admitting women are just as capable of acts of violence as men.
And while one woman dies on average each week as a result of domestic violence, men are not far behind; for them it is one on average every ten days.
As for Monday night's Q&A programme, it was a highly scripted version of the domestic violence morality play. Every questioner and every question was chosen in the advance by the producers. The message the producers wanted to give was that domestic violence is all about violence by men against women and little else, a message both simple and incorrect in equal measures.
It was only at the close of the programme that a man was allowed to ask a question about the domestic violence he had suffered at the hands of his wife, and then it was quickly dismissed.
The humiliation of the victim was completed by Natasha Stott Despoja talking about violence against men in heterosexual relationships and proclaiming domestic violence was still "a gender issue".
It was sad the Q&A producers stooped to this.
Since I last wrote on this subject, I have heard from many women who support male victims of domestic violence. They have seen in their sons, brothers and partners that victims of domestic violence suffer equally, irrespective of gender.
The discussion about domestic violence should and must be conditioned by love and compassion for the victims, not politics and prejudice.
400 years ago, Shakespeare wrote of another form of prejudice in The Merchant of Venice: "If you prick us, do we not bleed?… If you poison us, do we not die?"
Surely this should guide our concern for all victims of domestic violence, not just some.