This is the text of my presentation at the Messages For Men conference to mark International Men’s Day 2019, with references. Alternatively you can listen to me reading it on my YouTube channel, here. (And now also a video).
Feminism is just about equality of the sexes.
Feminism really is just about equality – as long as you understand that the word “equality” no longer means what it used to mean.
To those not well versed in the manner in which policy narratives have changed in the last dozen years, prepare yourselves for the radical revision of the meaning of the word “equality” which is now politically and judicially established.
My first encounter with the brave new world of “equality” was in The Corston Report, Ref.1, on women in prison. I quote,
“Equality does not mean treating everyone the same”
I was rather shocked. Hopelessly unreconstructed antediluvian that I am, I do regard equality as meaning that one treats everyone the same. I have a suspicion that the overwhelming majority of the public would too. But not our political and judicial classes.
The Government’s Guide to the 2010 Equality Act, Ref.2, specifically cautions against treating everyone the same. The advice on the interpretation of the Act is, I quote,
“The Equality Duty does not require public bodies to treat everyone the same”
“Complying with the Equality Duty may involve treating some people better”
One inevitably wonders, “which people?”.
The Equal Treatment Bench Book is the formal advice given to judges by the Judicial College on how matters of equality are to be addressed in court. I quote, Ref.3,
“true equal treatment may not always mean treating everyone in the same way”
This begs an obvious question: just how differently must you treat two people in order for true equality to be achieved?
Because that question has no answer it gives those in authority the power to do whatever they wish and call it “true equality”. This is the trick that has been worked upon us.
Do not imagine that these are mere philosophical niceties without import in the real world. On the contrary, they have a profound impact on the lives of at least hundreds of thousands of people annually. For example, this corruption of the meaning of “equality” drives who is incarcerated in prison, and who is not, and who has access to their own children and who has not.
This distorted view of equality as preferencing is justified in the primary legislation by appeal to people with protected characteristics as being either (i) disproportionately under-represented in certain areas, or (ii) on the basis of differences in need. Both of these provisions present opportunities which can be, and are being, exploited by those who, in truth, are motivated by prejudice.
The appeal to disproportionate under-representation actually presumes that enforced equality of outcome is an indisputable good. I disagree. But even if one did agree, the operation of this provision in practice is profoundly prejudicial. It is disingenuous to pretend that this provision is really about imposing equality of outcome in everything. It merely allows those in power to do so in areas which align with their prejudice. For example, the government enacts policies to encourage or ensure an increasing proportion of women as MPs or in senior employment positions, but does nothing about sex inequalities in education as regards either teachers or student attainment.
If challenged, this skew in application of the “disproportion rule” can be bolstered by appeal to the second provision: need. But who is to judge the needs of one group over the needs of another? Those who control the narrative, of course. At this point the popular perception of history together with human social psychology have the dominant influence.
And this brings me to the two themes of my talk: the perception of history and the innate psychological bias in the perception of “needs”. I will address them in that order, in both cases by giving one example.
Do not doubt the significance of the perception of history. It provides an apparent moral legitimacy to the feminist outlook. I say “apparent” because it is false is two respects. Firstly it is morally illiterate to attempt to motivate present day advantage on the basis of disadvantage to someone else in history. This is an example of the moral corruption implicit in the identity group mindset, in this case even extending the identity group to those long dead.
Secondly, the feminist presentation of history as consisting predominantly of millennia of men oppressing women is a wild distortion. The gendered society imposed upon men and women different roles, responsibilities and expectations. By ignoring the advantages to one sex and the disadvantages to the other, a story of oppression can be spun out of straw.
Let me put this thought in your minds: if a far better sound-bite version of history is the few oppressing the many, and both the few and the many were of both sexes, then who exactly is it that stands to benefit by obscuring that fact with an alternative vision of the past? The answer is surely “the few” – the ruling or influential classes. And if the feminist version of history is doing the obscuring, with whom can you conclude the feminist axis is truly aligned? Feminism is a system of power, and vies with, or allies with, other systems of power, as they all do. Do not confuse it with being nice to women – or anyone else.
Universal suffrage provides an illustration of how the popular perception of history is distorted. But for the sake of variety, let me turn instead to that other favourite of the feminists: the law of coverture. Or, to be more precise, the social conditions which truly prevailed at the time that coverture was in place.
It is worth emphasising that, at the time in question, 95% of people were working class and most had little money to speak of. They existed from hand to mouth. If they were lucky and were in work, they had enough money to pay the rent and keep themselves fed until the next pay day, and nothing more. Since coverture mostly concerns financial matters, coverture would have been an irrelevance to the majority of people. It’s worth bearing that in mind, since it is rarely made clear in feminist accounts that it is predominantly the monied classes that were affected – yet another reminder of the middle class concerns of feminism. [The account which follows draws upon Refs.[4-8]).
Until around the mid-Victorian period, English Common Law had held that a married couple constituted a single legal entity. Under the system of coverture, the husband was the manifestation of that legal entity whilst the wife’s legal status became covert, i.e., hidden. Whilst an unmarried woman could own property and enter into legal contracts in her own right, this was (ostensibly) denied to a married woman under coverture because she was held to be legally tied to her husband who must act for them as a couple in legal matters. I am no apologist for the system of coverture, but some feminists are rather coy about the flip side of the arrangement.
Pause to consider for a moment the great boon that being legally non-existent might be to the unscrupulous or the criminal.
Since the man was the manifest legal entity he became responsible for crimes – or torts – committed by his wife. The most common example of this were the Victorian debtors’ prisons. Some 10,000 people, 98% of them men, were imprisoned yearly for debt in the Victorian era. But it is reasonable to suppose that women were responsible for incurring at least 50% of debts. Even if the debt were incurred by the wife it was the husband who went to prison. It doesn’t sound much like male privilege to me.
But it is in respect of a wife’s financial independence, or lack therefore, that coverture is usually discussed.
Under coverture the husband was obliged to provide financially for his wife. But the principle of “necessaries” under coverture meant that the wife could herself enter a ‘contract’ for goods, or purchase any goods, on credit if they were deemed to fall under the aegis of “necessaries”. This could be done unilaterally without the husband’s knowledge, though he would still be responsible for honouring the debt. This was, of course, a practical necessity because wives were usually charged with maintaining the household and hence spending the bulk of the domestic monies.
What constituted “necessaries” was highly class and social status dependent. Thus, for a woman of high social status such items as a carriage, expensive lace clothing and the hire of servants would be deemed “necessaries” because they were expected of a woman in her position. The law of “necessaries” effectively gave wives great powers of consumption without legal responsibility for the consequences. This is oppression, is it?
The beneficial aspects of coverture for wives did not apply only whilst the marriage lasted. The law of “necessaries” extended even to separated wives – and in some cases also to common law wives. An estranged wife could continue to run up debts with which to burden her husband. This was commonly used as a tactic to force the husband to agree to divorce terms favourable to the wife. Such estranged wives could, and did, push the strategy as far as having the husband imprisoned by running up unmanageable debts until he gave them what they wanted.
So, is the feminist portrayal of coverture as patriarchal oppression of women the complete and undistorted picture of historical reality? Clearly not.
The law of coverture effectively placed a legal obligation upon husbands to ensure their wives obeyed the law. A particularly egregious example of this is the Skimmington Ride. It is still the case today that society has a hard time accepting that some men may be the victims of partner abuse, rather than the perpetrator. In historical times things were no better. A man who allowed himself to be abused by his wife would be punished for it by his community. A husband was expected to control his wife. If she beat him, then this was regarded as a failing on his part. The punishment was the Skimmington Ride, in which the man was obliged to ride a donkey through the town facing backwards, and thus looking ridiculous, whilst the populace would bang pots and pans and jeer and mock him by calling out insults. The modern equivalent, I suppose, is the male victim of partner violence who phones the police only to find that he is the one they arrest.
And that brings me to the second of my themes: the role of “needs” in bending the Equality Act to feminists’ will. Women need protection, men do not. It’s a simple as that.
This is the ancient bias in human social psychology which is the true driver behind VAWG – the policies under Violence Against Women and Girls. Time is too short to lay out for you the relevance of VAWG in the Family Courts and hence upon fathers’ access to their own children. Please take that as understood.
VAWG too is given spurious legitimacy by appeal to a mythical version of history. The Istanbul Convention, Ref., which the UK has signed and is committed to ratifying as soon as possible, rationalises an explicitly sexist policy by (I quote)…
“Recognising that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men”
The same words are repeated in the Council of Europe’s current Gender Equality Strategy.
Consider also the draft European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance, Ref.. Should this proposed National Statute ever take off, one of its stated aims is to eliminate anti-feminism. Thankfully it is currently going nowhere under the leadership of Tony Blair. It states,
“The special protection afforded to members of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups may imply a preferential treatment. Strictly speaking, this preferential treatment goes beyond mere respect and acceptance lying at the root of tolerance. Still, the present provision is justified by the linkage between historical intolerance and vulnerability.”
You see why I so often focus on history. A mythological history is one of the foundations of the feminist mindset. But so too is female vulnerability, and hence neediness, a useful justification for preferential treatment, as explicitly sanctioned by the Equalities Act.
And what nasty swine is going to build a political platform on a policy of denying women protection? You see how moral blackmail coerces politicians of all persuasions to get on board with the VAWG agenda? Meanwhile, true equality – for those of us who remember what that means – is left for dead.
2019 has been another significant year in the progress of VAWG. In January the Government reported on the Consultation exercise on its proposed Domestic Abuse Bill (Ref.1), and in June the Bill’s Committee published their report. The following month the Government published their response to the Committee and also published a revised draft Bill. This was then subject to a second reading in the House of Commons in October. There are a number of radical changes proposed by the Bill, but the recommendations of the Committee were far more radical still. Let me try to pull out the salient features.
The Committee wanted a “gendered” definition of domestic abuse. The Government so far has resisted this. But, apparently in an attempt to appease the feminist lobby, the Government undertook to “recognise the gendered nature of abuse through statutory guidance” and hence have included guidance to that effect in the revised Bill.
But conceding the “gendered nature” of domestic abuse perpetuates the myth that domestic abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men upon women, that women perceive the harm of such abuse far more acutely than do men, and that domestic abuse is specifically a tool used by men to maintain patriarchal power and control over women.
All these claims are refuted by empirical evidence, e.g., Refs.3 and 4.
But you see how this is an appeal to the needs of women being so much greater than the needs of men, thus justifying an overtly sexist position via the Equality Act’s provision in relation to needs. You see how this trick is performed. You see how prejudice is repackaged as the New Equality.
As an indication of the misinformation swilling around Parliament when these matters are debated, this is what the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said during a debate on the Bill on the 16th July
“…of the 2 million victims, we estimate that around 1.3 million are female and around 695,000 are male, and within that 695,000 we believe – it is very difficult to identify this, and there are problems in doing so – that the majority of perpetrators are male.”
The statement is false. It has been known to be false for decades. It is doubly false, in fact because it is neither difficult nor problematic to confirm that it is false. The Minister has been notified of this fact. But I digress…
The Bill proposes to make national Government funding of refuge charities a statutory obligation. This is where the “gendered” perception of domestic abuse has bite: it results in funding being channelled disproportionately to women’s charities, thus perpetuating the prevailing gross imbalance in service provision by sex.
Mankind Initiative made a strong appeal in their Consultation submission, Ref.15, that Parental Alienation be recognised within the Bill as a form of domestic abuse. But neither the draft Bill nor the Committee report make any mention of recognising this form of serious abuse.
In the family courts, many fathers are obliged to represent themselves as Litigants In Person. In half of child contact cases these men face domestic abuse allegations. This has led to men having to question their accuser themselves on some occasions. The Bill will prohibit this practice. To be precise, the prohibition will apply if the accused has been charged with, convicted of, or accepted a caution for, domestic abuse, or if there is a protection order against him.
But even if these requirements are not met, there is provision in the Bill giving the court discretion to prohibit cross-examination by litigants-in-person in cases (quote) “where they consider that the victim would suffer significant distress, or the quality of their evidence would be diminished”. That the “victim”, by which they mean the alleged victim, is most likely to be distressed if she is, in fact, lying seems to escape them. The Government has stated in their response to the Committee that “our expectation is that this discretion will be widely used, and that every victim of domestic abuse, however it is evidenced, should benefit from the provisions”.
The Bill would create a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The Commissioner designate has already been announced: Nicole Jacobs. Working 2 or 3 days per week she will earn up to £140,000.
The proposed powers of this Commissioner are breath-taking. I quote, “The Commissioner may do anything which the Commissioner considers will facilitate, or is incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of the Commissioner’s functions.” And “the Commissioner may request a specified public authority to co-operate with the Commissioner in any way that the Commissioner considers necessary for the purposes of the Commissioner’s functions”.
Under pressure from the Committee, the draft Bill was amended to include what I think I can call supra-Governmental powers. The Commissioner’s strategic plan need not now be approved by the Secretary of State. Moreover, not only local authorities but also all Government departments – and that means Ministers – will be obligated to confirm the action taken to address the Commissioner’s recommendations or to explain why action has failed to be taken.
Direct accountability to Parliament will provide the Commissioner with a degree of independence from Government, as well as being able to exercise leverage over Ministers. The VAWG lobby, long since disproportionately powerful, is now to attain influence not within, but over, Government departments.
The Bill will further strengthen existing powers to constrain, restraint and criminalise those accused of domestic abuse. The escalating sequence of protection notices, protection orders and non-molestation orders can see a man ejected from his home with immediate effect and kept out of it without limit. The new Bill will make breaching the terms of a protection notice or protection order a criminal offence. These arrangements mean that a man may be formally branded a criminal, with a criminal record, and imprisoned, without ever facing trial or any other meaningful test of the accusations against him.
Raising a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice requires only the opinion of a police officer. The terms will invariably prohibit any form of contact with the alleged victim. A common scenario is this: the alleged victim ‘phones the alleged perpetrator. He picks up. He has now breached the terms of his Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and is liable to arrest without further investigation or warrant. When the magistrate subsequently considers the application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order, the police officer reports that the man has already breached the terms of his Protection Notice and the magistrate is then strongly inclined to grant the Protection Order. This is how the system works. The end result is frequently that the man in question, whose alleged offence typically is never meaningfully investigated in any way, is estranged from his own children, possibly forever.
This is lamentably by no means the only reason to be concerned that long-cherished principles of justice are now being overturned. But that’s another story and I’m out of time.
- Baroness Jean Corston, “A Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System – The Corston Report”, https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130206102659/http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-report-march-2007.pdf
- UK Government Equalities Office, “Equality Act 2010: Public Sector Equality Duty What Do I Need To Know Quick Start Guide for Public Sector Organisations”, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/85041/equality-duty.pdf
- Judicial College, “Equal Treatment Bench Book”, February 2018, https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february2018-v5-02mar18.pdf
- Margot Finn, Women, consumption and coverture in England, c. 1760–1860, The Historical Journal, 39, pp 703-722 doi:10.1017/S0018246X0002450X. Available here.
- Joanne Bailey, Favoured or oppressed? Married women, property and ‘coverture’ in England, 1660–1800, Continuity and Change 17 (3), 2002, 351–372. Cambridge University Press DOI: 10.1017/S0268416002004253. Available here.
- Stephen J. Ware, A 20th Century Debate About Imprisonment for Debt, available here
- Malcolm J George, Riding the Donkey Backwards: Men as the Unacceptable Victims of Marital Violence, The Journal of Men’s Studies, Volume 3, Number 2, November 1994, p. 137-159. Available here
- Allison Anna Tait, The Beginning of the End of Coverture: A Reappraisal of the Married Woman’s Separate Estate, Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, vol.26,Issue 2, 2014, https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlf/vol26/iss2/2
- “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, (Istanbul Convention), https://www.coe.int/fr/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/090000168008482e see also https://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/home
- European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance, drafted by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2009_2014/documents/libe/dv/11_revframework_statute_/11_revframework_statute_en.pdf
- Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtddab/2075/2075.pdf
- Written Evidence submitted to the Committee by Dr Elizabeth Bates CPsychol CSci AFBPsS SFHEA, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Cumbria (DAB0400). http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Draft%20Domestic%20Abuse%20Bill/Draft%20Domestic%20Abuse%20Bill/Written/100852.html
- The Illustrated Empathy Gap, UK PV Perpetrator Programmes – Part 2, http://empathygap.uk/?p=1870
- Mankind Initiative, New Parliamentary Report on the Domestic Abuse Bill will have the effect of treating male victims of domestic abuse (and their children) as second class, https://www.mankind.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2-Domestic-Abuse-Bill-Parliamentary-Report-will-have-the-effect-of-treating-male-victims-and-their-children-of-domestic-abuse-as-second-class-1.pdf
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An excellent speech and a clear analysis. Having worked in public services for over 30 years I must emphasise the importance of “Guidance”, “Strategy” and such like documents. In a very real sense it these that drive things rather than laws themselves. Indeed sometimes provisions in such Guidances are proven unlawful if a case goes to court. After all we have many laws that are rarely or never enforced. In public services of all sorts close attention is paid to such things as Guidances, not least because laws are very difficult things to read or follow. Ig us these sorts of things that are the battleground.
The other important point is the one about same treatment, equity. I think you are spot on with the belief that this is the common perception. Most of my career has been in social care and health services. The former in particular awash with an ideologies of “equality” . But even here though people follow guidance, in general their default understanding is same treatment.
I do think this is particularly important given the social/biological drivers to value females more than males. As you say there is no more effective appeal to get men to favour females than the idea those females are damsels in distress. And one sees this in the Daily Mail comment streams as much as the queue of MPs anxious to be seen to support the Bill you refer to .
However very different comments appear where women have “got off” with a light sentence for a crime, or makes a demand for more than equal pay, or the whinging about raising women’s retirement age or even mothers seizing children, suicide and less health support for men of even boys “failing” at school.
On many of these issues even my colleagues presume far more fair,same,treatment than is actually the case. I do think focussing on instances of unfair treatment is the way to go campaigning wise.