Over the years, I have maintained a commitment to political activism in relation to men’s sexism and violence against women. A significant moment occurred in 2015 when I was waiting to speak on a panel at a Violence Against Women conference in Sydney on the topic of ‘Rethinking Violence Against Women Prevention Policies’. As I listened to other papers presented at the conference during the previous day and a half, I was frustrated by the level of analysis and the conduct of the discussion at the conference. I suspect that my frustration had something to do with the fact that it was 40 years since I went to my first conference on violence against women, and what I had been hearing over the course of the previous two days left me feeling that it was almost as if the last 40 years had not happened. I was left wondering what we had learnt since the 1970s. What impact have we had on the problem of men’s violence against women? Why is the language we use so depoliticised after 40 years of second-wave feminism?
In articulating the problem of men’s violence against women to the wider community, feminist activists and researchers have faced problems about the language they use to name the issue. At times, they have had to locate themselves in the dominant discourse to enable them to gain some traction on women’s victimisation.This means that they have been forced to soften their analysis or omit some aspects of their understanding of the problem.
In the context of a backlash against feminism, liberal feminist ideas have gained dominance. Social movement politics against men’s violence informed by radical, socialist and multiracial feminisms have been supplanted by liberal feminist, public health and professionalised approaches to violence prevention. Consequently, we have witnessed a deradicalisation of feminism and gender analyses, strategies for engaging men that overemphasise reconstructing masculinity rather than challenging patriarchy, a ‘not all men’ refrain from so-called ‘good men’, and a greater acceptance of anti-feminist backlash politics within the mainstream.
The impetus to write the book has come out of a series of concerns with these developments, which have not only occurred within government, but have also influenced community-based responses to violence against women. It seems to me that new and conservative orthodoxies are being established. When we allow one paradigm to dominate the discourse about violence against women, a regime of truth is established, and other theoretical approaches are marginalised and excluded to the point of ignoring their existence.
One of the main arguments in Facing Patriarchy is that gender analyses of violence against women have been depoliticised and accommodated to neoliberal government policy discourses. While the concept of gender is sometimes used in policies of government, many of the references to gender in relation to violence against women refer to sex differences and individualised conceptions of gender roles. This book locates men’s violence against women within the structures and processes of patriarchy. The book also explores links between men’s violence against women and other forms of violence by men, in relation to boys and other men and men’s involvement in military conflict, wars and terrorism, as well as environmental violence and ‘man-made’ global warming.
I argue that we cannot understand men’s violence against women outside an understanding of patriarchy, and consequently that we need to bring back the language of patriarchy as the basis for a nuanced conceptual framework for addressing men’s violence against women. A nuanced conceptualisation of patriarchy accounts for men’s structural power over women and the intersections of gender power and other forms of structural inequality, patriarchal ideologies, men’s patriarchal peer relations, the exercise of coercive control in family life and the patriarchal subjectivities of individual men. These different levels, or what I call the ‘pillars of patriarchy’, provide the basis for a feminist conceptual framework to understand and address men’s violence against women.
The analysis of patriarchy and the links to men’s violence against women in this book are most relevant to contemporary Western societies. Although the analysis may well apply to countries in the Global South, I make no assumptions about the transferability of the theorising. Patriarchy takes on different forms in different social and political contexts, and I do not address the nuances and variations in other male-dominated societies outside the West. Although I use the language of patriarchy in the singular, it will be evident that I do not frame it as a monolithic, fixed, ahistorical and universal structure, but rather to refer to historically and culturally specific structures in the plural, with changing dynamics and intersections with transnational processes and other structures of inequality.
While the analysis of this book may inform women’s practices in opposing patriarchy, the main focus is on how men can understand and resist patriarchy from their own structural location within it. I am thus primarily writing for a male audience, although women may well find the book useful in understanding men’s capacity for, and resistance to, change. In addressing the dynamics of patriarchy primarily through the experiences of men, I do not suggest that I bring any specifically unique knowledge as a man to this project. In fact, the analysis I develop has drawn extensively upon feminist writers, as well as critical masculinity theorists. However, the strategies to understand patriarchy and to overcome it are from the standpoint of my position within it. This may well create some blind spots, and no doubt there will be some scepticism about a class-privileged white man writing about challenging patriarchy from within.
Of course, there is also a danger that I am again foregrounding a male voice and centring men’s experiences at the expense of women. As men, we must be aware of our privileged speaking and writing positions. What does it mean when profeminist men who challenge patriarchy and men’s violence are listened to more than feminist women who are involved in the same work? It has been argued that this is a way of using privilege to challenge privilege. Men are perceived by some men as more credible, and thus they will be listened to more. However, such men can carve out an area of expertise for their advantage and this can reinforce barriers that prevent women from having their own voices heard. I am aware of these dangers; however, I hope that my insider positioning as a man has something to offer in challenging patriarchy from within.
My work on men and masculinity has been informed by my engagement with a number of feminisms, including various versions of radical feminism, especially those that acknowledge the importance of class, race and other forms of intersectionality. In taking up some feminist positions instead of others, I am not suggesting some feminists are not doing feminism ‘the right way’. Some will argue that men should not express particular views at all about particular feminist perspectives, as it could be read as them having input into what feminists should be prioritising. I do not claim any special moral authority in advocating particular positions, and I am aware of the importance of doing justice to those feminist perspectives that I do not agree with.
Much of the writing about patriarchy seems to be premised upon biologically distinct men and women who constitute a gender binary. We now know that this distinction does not work for many people. What does current work on dismantling the binary and acknowledging transgender and intersexualities mean for the analysis developed here? As will be evident in Chapter 12, I favour ultimately moving away from the gender binary, but my focus in the meantime is on cisgendered men and their practices in patriarchy because they are the perpetrators and perpetuators of most of the violence. I acknowledge the vulnerability of transgender people to the violences of these men, but I do not address the politics of transgender issues or questions about how such politics sits in relation to the analysis and strategies advocated.
Invariably, the question will arise, ‘What about women’s violence?’ It will be clear to the reader that I do not believe the minority of violence perpetrated by women should be avoided, and throughout the book I make reference to women’s violence in the home, women’s involvement in the military and terrorist organisations, and women’s broader complicity with patriarchal gender relations. I do not believe that an acknowledgement of this violence is inconsistent with a feminist analysis. In fact, there is a strong case for a feminist theory of women’s violence (Enander 2011; Carrington 2015; Lynch 2015; Abrams 2016). While I do not undertake that analysis fully here, the implications of the move away from a purely structuralist account of patriarchy opens up ways of understanding women’s use and abuse of power within patriarchal gender orders.