I’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.
I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.
What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.
I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.
There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?
There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.
It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.
Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?