...free to think freely


5th January 2024

Digging deep, but not deeply enough

Yesterday’s episode of Fixing Britain on Radio Four left me somewhere between distressed and annoyed. The subject was “Violence against Women”. In it, Louise Casey examined the phenomenon of abuse in all its forms, ranging from indecent exposure, through coercive control and rape, all the way to murder. However, she did so on the basis that this is perpetrated by men against women and that men therefore needed fixing. She was certainly right to highlight how behaviour can escalate from mild forms of abuse to more major ones and that attitudes are the problem, but it was all about cultural influences on men which cause some of us to become disrespectful of women.

The problem was, being part of the establishment formed by the Civil Service, where she worked most of her life, and the BBC, for whom she made this programme, she thought too much in category terms, which was why she upset a man who has thrice been the victim of abuse and violence by women, and once sought in vain help from the Men’s Advice Line run (in my experience somewhat ineffectively) by the charity Respect.

I cannot judge from my own perspective whether abuse is most frequently male on female, female against male, male against male, or female against female. I cannot experience two of those. However, I can tell from my experience and that of others it is far too common. Most people I have spoken to have some personal knowledge of it. The idea perpetrators and victims might be particular kinds of people might or might not be borne out by statistics, but then again, the basis of those statistics needs careful control. My experience with the MAL leads me to suspect male victims are under-reported or under-recorded.

It is true Social Media algorithms drive contact into a like-for-like mode, separating people on the basis of interests or issues, so people who rely largely on it for their world-view will tend to lose the breadth of understanding we need to judge accurately or impartially. It is also true those algorithms will drive on-line experience toward extremes because the sensational attracts attention and that means pornography gets evermore shocking and evermore perverse, normalising vicious behaviour and associated attitudes for those who are served it by the algorithm. Generally, this limiting of knowledge and breakdown in the cohesion of society will lead to disrespect of others and abuse and is a serious concern, but blaming the other is just part of that same disrespectful cycle.

We need to understand the real causes of bad behaviour are multiple and complex, varying from antisocial or selfish people to those with personality disorders, those with serious mental illness, and those influenced by cultures which fuel prejudice and poor attitudes to others, such as our current divisive identity-based viewpoints. Violence is a serious crime, whoever the victim is, and we need to lower the temperature on blaming and shaming groups and raise general empathy between people irrespective of differences. For the differences between people are far less than the humanity which unites us, and we lose sight of that at our peril.