Having now published two articles on ABC’s The Drum on the topic of the Gillard government’s National Plan to prevent violence against women and their children, I’m convinced that there are an awful lot of people who believe that there’s only one kind of family violence worth talking about, and that’s male violence against women.
The number of times I’ve been attacked for “distracting attention” from this form of violence because I’m pointing out that there are also female perpetrators of family violence against women and children, and this should not be ignored by any National Plan. This gives a troubling insight into an established truth regime created and perpetuated by the Plan through its own definition of domestic and family violence.
“Truth regime” is a term coined by French thinker and philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault argued that we conduct our lives under the largely unacknowledged control of “truth regimes.” A truth regime is a construct of political and economic forces that command majority power in society, with which we are obliged to conform to varying degrees, if we want to be accepted and stay out of prison.
Among other things, truth regimes circulate statements that are prescriptions for what populations should consider to be the “natural” order of things. One of the ways this control is achieved is by ignoring and thus silencing any other perspective when designing and legislating public policy.
The National Plan is a brilliant example of a dominant ideology constructing a truth regime under which we must all labour, in this case, for the next 12 years. The truth they’ve consructed is: domestic and family violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men on women and “their” children. No matter how many voices are raised with stories of family abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of women, they don’t count. They’re invalid. They’re not in the Plan’s agenda.
Note the possessive, “their children.”According to the truth regime, children belong to women. Never mind that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are signatory, has set out a whole raft of children’s rights, including the right for children to have rights entirely separate from their parents. The National Plan says children belong to women.
Responses to my criticisms of the inadequacies of the Nation Plan, which are basically that it will achieve little until it addresses FAMILY violence and not just male violence in families, indicate that there are many subscribers to this truth regime who have a great deal invested in denying all other family violence. This is extraordinary when one considers how hard feminists and others have fought for decades to open the door on domestic violence and give victims a voice.
It seems that we are selective about which victims to whom we grant a voice. Victims of women are out of luck.
The reality is that we’ve been trying for forty years to address family violence from the position that it is all male perpetrated. We have achieved nothing in terms of preventing domestic violence, we’ve just become better at band-aiding the wounds. While one type of family violence never justifies another, it defies all logic that we focus our entire attention on one aspect of a complex situation and expect that we can change it.
Then there’s the common belief that if we acknowledge female family violence we’ll somehow detract from and minimize that perpetrated by men. Are we really so incapable of holding more than one form of violence in our consciousness at the same time? Are we obliged to live under a George Bush type ideology that states the truth as: women are always victims and men are always perpetrators?
The ideology on which the National Plan is based is silencing domestic violence victims and survivors who do not fit into it’s narrow definitions. The truth regime is firmly in place. There are sporadic protests against its dominance, and one can only hope that resistance to the ideology will increase over time, until a more realistic and holistic understanding of family violence takes its place.