Reposted with permission from Anthony Wills, former CEO of Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.
After many years working to deliver effective domestic violence partnerships, it is only relatively recently that I have come to the gender equality issue. This is very late but perhaps not too late?
My views are that men should take more responsibility for the abuse that women and children suffer at the hands of men. And that there is a patriarchy men benefit from it and are resistant to changing the status quo. These views have developed slowly but become more strident when politicians such as Philip Davies MP start pontificating. It is men who are abusing children, raping women and beating up their partners. It is absolutely clear to me that men deserve no defending against this multiplicity of charges. This MPs interventions and those of other males like him slows the progress of men taking responsibility for their actions and I want to describe a different context.
First a caveat. I have long resisted self-proclaiming as a feminist because women should not have their space invaded yet again by men. And, probably more importantly, I do not have the lived experience of being a woman. So whilst I am a pro-feminist I know that my perspective is very different to women and my clarity of thinking may suffer because of that fact. It is with some glee however that I see the unlikable Davies relishing his title as an anti-feminist. He makes the case for a more equal world just by his very existence. He decries the need to strive for gender equality and he even suggests that men suffer as much as, and in the same way as women.
Well frankly this is utter, complete and irrational tosh. Over the last twenty years as a senior police officer and the CEO of a domestic violence charity I have spoken to thousands of front-line specialists, victims and relatives of victims. What I had explained to me when I was a complete novice in this sector has proven to be true time, and time, and time again. Men who choose to rape and abuse women and children seek to exert their power, sometimes subtly but always damagingly. They are manipulative, deceitful and controlling. The damage they cause lasts a lifetime and the vast majority of their victims are women.
I enjoyed the benefits of being a man without having any idea those benefits existed.
My journey to this conclusion has been hampered by being male. I enjoyed the benefits of being a man without having any idea those benefits existed. It was OK for me, as a male and a police officer to treat women poorly in any number of ways. Most obviously in my personal relations with them, I was demanding in ways about which I feel so much shame I can barely think about my past. My relationship with my life partner was based on me being the dominant individual and I was quick to resort to anger. Once I deliberately smashed my hand so hard following a failed plumbing exercise I had to go to hospital. Driven there by my wife of course who was expected to be solicitous, rather than sensibly critical of her violent husband.
Professionally I did some good work with women that I remain quite proud of but I was also dismissive of their struggles with a male hierarchy and failed to recognise the evident inequalities of the system. Female victims of crime were often regarded as an irritant and a waste of resources. I came to learn that the wellbeing of society actually depends on women, as individuals, mothers and producers of economic benefits. To treat them less well, simply on the basis of their gender and the prevailing culture is so ill-thought through it genuinely defies description.
I was provided with an invisible cloak that allowed me to be domineering towards women and I have had to consciously work to take off that cloak…
So what is my point? I am not a bad bloke. I have done things that I wish I hadn’t but generally I believe in fairness and can be kind, generous and warm. But there was (is?) a part of me that is definably male. This “gift” was provided to me by a society that does not see the inequality, the dominant role of men and the terrible nature of the abuse perpetrated by men against women. I was provided with an invisible cloak that allowed me to be domineering towards women and I have had to consciously work to take off that cloak and be exposed as a less than perfect individual.
All men are offered this gift. Some much more impressive individuals than I never accept it. Some dispense with it much more quickly than others. Many never recognise that they have been provided with a place in the world that they do not deserve, simply by the fact of their gender. It is largely amongst this huge cohort that you will find the abusers, and it is certainly here that change is both necessary and most difficult to achieve. That difficulty is exacerbated by a false focus on gender-neutral approaches. At every speech I give, at every strategy day I lead, at every domestic homicide I review someone will say “what about the men?” My polite answer is that they will be OK. They, even when they are victims, will generally suffer less often and less seriously and recover more quickly. It is a different context. Do something by all means but recognise the mountain and the molehill.
For those men who want to do more to deliver a more equal society the solution is simple. Recognise the problem, challenge inequality and speak out.
The unpalatable dilemma is that unreconstructed men like Philip Davies, MP have a voice, and some influence, especially if, in his case, he makes it on to the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. That voice should be seen for what it will become; a fading whisper amongst the growing clamour, led by women, for gender equality. Men everywhere must recognise their privileged position; give up some power and their effortless domination.
For those men who want to do more to deliver a more equal society the solution is simple. Recognise the problem, challenge inequality and speak out. But please remember the space you are seeking to occupy is full of women who have more experience of the problems and will probably be clearer about solutions. This will not be the time to impose yourself and maintain a dominance that we should be seeking to erode.
Anthony Wills is former Chief Executive of Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, and was Chief Superintendent at the Metropolitan Police for 30 years.
You can view his original post on LinkedIn.