by Robyn Banks
CW: Domestic violence
Like so many other politically engaged people I know, I follow the blog Another Angry Voice. A couple of days ago one of his articles appeared on my timeline, and it seemed to be about feminism. Yay, feminism, my favourite subject! I agree with about 90% of what is written on his blog, frequently share his infographics and articles and generally understand him to be a well meaning, intelligent and rational man who’s work I admire. Naïve, I clicked the article.
Over the next few days the article resurfaced on nearly every feminist group or page I follow, and I wish that was where I had first seen it because most of these groups use trigger warnings which could well have saved me from having to drive to work 20 minutes after reading, late, choking back angry tears and almost killing cyclists. But those tears will be useless if I don’t direct them in to something productive, so here is my open letter to Thomas G Clark, creator of Another Angry Voice.
First, I would like to provide a bit of information about this ‘infographic’ you happened to come across on the internet. It’s called the Duluth Wheel and was created in 1984 with the intention of specifically addressing male on female violence. In the 80s, it had a lot of merit as one of the first theories of a pattern of power and control, intimate partner violence backed up by male privilege and all the structures of society that put men in dominant roles and women in passive ones. To a certain extent, this holds true today, but more important is the fact that male on female domestic violence, the most common type both now and then, was little understood before the work of campaigners during that time. You simply cannot make the Duluth wheel gender neutral or swap the genders any more than you can any other description of systemic sexism.
but despite putting it next to a 1800 word rant still managed not to provide any actual information.
At this point, I could take a paragraph to explain the very different cultural environments men and women live in to this day, but I’m hoping that, as somebody who felt qualified to critique feminism, this is something you know well. Put simply, male domestic violence victims, people in same sex relationships and anyone who doesn’t fit in to this model needs a model of their own and help which is tailored to them, and the fact of this infographic existing does not deny them that. To suggest that feminists are the ones who see equality as a zero sum game seems somewhat off here. You state that your problem was not with the wheel itself, but with people sharing it without any accompanying information as to the origins or context of the wheel, so in response you decided to share the wheel even further, but despite putting it next to a 1800 word rant still managed not to provide any actual information.
The best and only reason to criticise this infographic is the response and the feelings of male domestic violence victims, because a tactic of many abusers is to suggest that the other partner is the abusive one. It doesn’t matter that you were hit first, you’re abusive if you hit back. It goes without saying the kind of mental scars this can inflict on a person, and seeing something like this without understanding what it is or where it comes from could definitely cut deep. But if you’re going to critique domestic violence campaigning it’s your responsibility, as a person with influence, to mitigate against that harm rather than participate in it by presenting misinformation.
Feminists are so often stereotyped as shrill and hysterical, fanatical or somehow fascistic in our rhetoric, which has deeper roots in the dismissing of women’s emotions and lived experiences.
The more enlightened male abuser will even bring up feminist rhetoric against ‘playing a victim’- women are no longer the weaker sex and are just as capable of hitting back, it doesn’t matter that nobody blinked an eye when he only put his own name down on the mortgage. I hope this piece of information also helps you to understand the visceral reaction your article got from so many women. Feminists are so often stereotyped as shrill and hysterical, fanatical or somehow fascistic in our rhetoric, which has deeper roots in the dismissing of women’s emotions and lived experiences. In several different ways after the article was posted, you seemed highly dismissive of what was, most likely, the pain of survivors of violence. I know that I felt pain on seeing yet another far-fetched criticism of those trying to tackle the unique problem of male on female violence, especially when, despite most people in theory being against domestic violence, the criticism flows far more freely than the support for both campaigners and survivors.
And at the end of the article, a paragraph so painfully cringe worthy I wondered if someone had in fact hacked your blog in order to discredit you. Some advice on how to make feminism more ‘successful’ from a man who clearly hadn’t done his homework. You only have to exist in the feminist community for a short time, or even just visit a few well known feminist websites, to know that this wasn’t going to go down well. Not only is this something woman feminists hear from men every other day (I wish I was exaggerating) but it totally ignores how successful feminism already is in favour of the idea that nothing done by women can be successful without the input of men, or without at least catering more to their needs and sensitivities than to women’s.
Thomas, I love your work and respect you highly, but in my humble opinion you’ve fallen in to a trap. If you wouldn’t publish an article on anything else without doing the necessary research, and I know that you don’t do that, then what makes you think feminism is any different? If you wouldn’t tell another movement, say #blacklivesmatter, that they need to appeal more to white folks to gain any momentum, conveniently ignoring their incredible traction and impact as a movement so far, why would you take that approach to feminism? Please, next time you write about women’s issues, just do the research. We need people like you on our side.