Men, Women, Violence, Ethics, And The Danger Of A Double Standard

As a child and a young man, I was a victim of violence. I was a clever kid with a funny accent, and in Far North Queensland that made me a fair target, apparently. It was bad enough when I reached high school that I had something of a breakdown (after three months of consistent death threats, ambushes and king-hits) and wound up going to a much smaller, experimental school.

Let me make it clear: this was violence by males, against a male. This is by far the most common gender equation when it comes to violence. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go and look it up for yourself. Check police and crime statistics. They’re readily available. There certainly is a good deal of violence from men towards women… but men are far more likely to be violent towards other men. We’ll save the psychology of it for another day, and simply observe this demonstrable fact, shall we?

My response — once I came back out of my shell, years later — was to take up martial arts. At first I believed that by acquiring combative skills I’d be able to defend myself against violence. Gradually, however, I learned a great deal more about the nature of violence and the purpose of martial arts. Now, as a teacher of a defence-oriented martial art I expect I could acquit myself quite comfortably against most of the aggression with which you’re familiar… except that now that I understand it better, I don’t have to. 

I learned to see violence. I learned to understand it. And I learned to avoid it fairly successfully.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped training and teaching. As a matter of fact, I teach very, very carefully. The martial techniques are the least part of how I teach people to deal with aggression and potential violence. They’re simply the most visible aspect, and because they add up to a complex physical skill-set, they require the most practice and training. But in each and every session, I make a point of grounding the material in real-world ideas. I take the students out to places, and we practice looking for exits, identifying possible aggressors, listening to conversations, planning escapes, spotting potential weapons, and so forth. We talk about our dress, our mannerisms, our chosen destinations, the people we’re likely to encounter, and anything else I can dream up or get the students to put forward. 

More: I sit down with the women (middle-aged, young, and sometimes even quite young) and we talk about violence and aggression. I do not send the men (and boys) out of these conversations, because I want them to hear, and learn. I point out the differences in a man-on-man fight versus a man-on-woman act of aggression. I try to ensure that we cover the causes of aggression and violence, the triggers, the purposes and the outcomes. And though it hurts me, I have to tell women that many of the softer, easier techniques we learn won’t be useful if they’re attacked by a man simply because many men hold a certain violence as part of their identity. Such men may be able to accept being physically outmanuevred by another male, but are likely to become more aggressive and violent if they are outmanuevred by a female.

The short story: if a woman takes down an aggressive man, for safety she has to take him down hard enough that he’s not going to get up quickly. I do not like this truth, but I don’t hide from it, or try to conceal it. I acknowledge it, and I try to teach my female students to deal with it — and my male students not to be it.

All of this is to say that I am well versed in violence and aggression. I have studied it in practice and in theory and in detail for many, many years. I continue to read, learn, and research so that I can do the best possible job in preparing my students for the reality of aggression and violence outside the dojo.

It is in part for these reasons that I am particularly offended by the idiotic, sexist, demeaning post doing the rounds of the ‘Net in the wake of the shootings by Eliot Rogers in California. The post in question — written by a foolish, thoughtless man but endlessly reposted by foolish, thoughtless and privileged women — compares men to a bowl of poisoned candy.

I do not object to the idea that the foolish man wants to convey: that women feel as though they are confronted by a stream of constant, potentially lethal encounters. 

I do not object to the recognition of violence by men against women.

I object to the language, the metaphor, the objectification, the disempowerment, and the absolute demeaning of the section of the population at which the rather stupid metaphor is directed. And I object very strongly to the fact that it is being promoted and promulgated by women who call themselves “Feminists”. 

First: that the statement is offensive is unquestionable. If you doubt this, try repeating the same “poisoned candy” description about homosexuals, muslims, blacks, or women. If you find yourself recoiling at the idea that we are justified in treating all Muslims as potentially poisoned candy because some Muslims are terrorists, then you must realise this argument is morally repugnant. If you find yourself repelled by the idea that all homosexuals are to be treated as poisoned candy because some homosexual men carry HIV, you must recognise that this argument is morally repugnant. 

(On the other hand, if you see no problem with either of those ideas I think you should go somewhere else. Now.)

Second: that the offensive statement is being repeated by women who call themselves Feminists is also unquestionable. I won’t name names, but all you have to do is wander around Facebook for a while. 

So where does this lead me?

It’s very simple. Feminism is supposed to be about equality. It is specifically supposed to NOT be about demonising one gender to exalt the victim status of the other. The language standards which Feminists demand be applied to women (and to other marginalised populations) must be applied to all, or the central arguments upon which Feminism rest become invalid. 

More clearly and bluntly: if you claim privilege to make sexist, baseless, thoughtless accusations against an entire sector of the population, you are becoming exactly the thing you claim to hate.

I don’t care at all if you want to discuss violence against women. I don’t care if you want to make the entirely valid point that the majority of violence against women comes from men. I don’t care if you want to make the entirely valid point that many women harbour a fear of men in public places. Please, by all means acknowledge these facts and bring them into public discourse.

But do it with respect. Not just respect for my gender, but respect for your own principles, and your own integrity. If you cannot make these points without resorting to empty, thoughtless, divisive, dismissive and disempowering arguments; arguments without references, without data; arguments which can be turned against you by the people you claim to oppose — if you can’t make your arguments without childish sexism, then you need to stay out of the debate until you have learned better.

I will make a suggestion, by the way. If you fear violence, don’t shy away from it. Study it. Learn about it. Become fluent in its language. You don’t need to be a martial arts instructor to learn how to steer clear of violence and aggression. Nor will you achieve your ends by decrying violence and demonising whole sectors of the populations. Violence and aggression are part of human psychology — both male and female (check the statistics on domestic violence sometime) and you will never be rid of them. 

You can choose to remain ignorant. You can choose to cry out and beg other people to save you from this evil. You can choose to cast yourself as a victim. Alternately, you can do what I, personally have done with regard to having been a victim of violence: you can learn to recognise it, understand it, and find ways of dealing effectively with it.

Whichever choice you make, please: when you enter this debate under the guise of Feminism, recognise that you are setting yourself as an arbiter of moral and ethical standards. If you cannot adhere to those standards in the course of debate, you run the risk of debasing the movement you claim to represent. 




  1. You think it’s bad on FB? You should try Twitter! I just involved myself in a conversation where a woman tried to defend a mother’s group not letting a stay-at-home dad join because the poor dears “felt threatened”. JFC! Talk about the absence of any sensible threat evaluation!

    Clearly they just want to have a women-only space, which is ok so long as they’re not demanding access to men’s only spaces…

    1. So far, I’ve yet to be shown a good reason to be involved with Twitter…

  2. Sharon B. · · Reply

    As a feminist, I am neither fond of nor offended by the the m&m analogy–it is merely reflective of the oversimplification of important issues that circulates on the web and in some sense displaces actual interaction between people–‘sharing’ or ‘liking’ substitutes for developing your own opinion.

    If the analogy has any value, however, I should think that it was–in terms of the shooting–the notion that it isn’t the black m&m or the brown one, or the Muslim one that you need be afraid of–sometimes it is the white middle-class m&m driving the BMW. I would have thought part of your conversation with your martial arts students is to look beyond the candy coating and observe people’s stance, the way they are behaving and be attentive to those signs, not just assume that because they are Aboriginal they are dangerous and because they are white they are safe.

    And the whole ‘Feminism is about equality’ thing is hopelessly dated; its been co-opted and corrupted by neo-liberalism into this idea everyone should get given the same when, of course, it was always about equalising opportunity–that to even things up when things start off uneven, some people need more and some less. Feminism recognised long ago that women make up half the population and presuming they all have the same aims and goals is–well as ridiculous as assuming all men are the same–we now think about Feminisms; and about gender roles and scripts as something that damages men and women.

    What I really dislike in the M&M analogy is the inherent warning to women that it is their responsibility to manage their bodies–that we are in some sense responsible for making sure we don’t get shot–which plays into the shooter’s own ‘they brought it on themselves’ rhetoric rather than a ‘you know what, when you’re out driving in your BMW, just don’t shoot people’ or ‘let’s take away the guns, then people won’t get shot’ message.

    1. I was hoping to hear from you! Thank you kindly.

      It’s interesting. I can almost agree with your first paragraph. I’d like to, but unfortunately I’m on the wrong end of the offensive post, and while I won’t say “check your privilege” to you in regard to your choice as to whether or not it is offensive, I will say that I am all too frequently aware of a kneejerk dismissal of male viewpoints and indeed, of masculinity, and I’m no longer comfortable in leaving that attitude unaddressed. Hence this post.

      The second paragraph is interesting too. You’re offering complexity to the metaphor which would be lovely if it had been there in the first place. In fact it was just a fairly rage-filled shot meant to embrace all men, of all types and colours, and the multiple reposting (which is what really offends me) strips the original quote of any and all context which might in some manner make it less offensive. But you’re absolutely right about the way I teach my students. In fact, I teach them that everyone is potentially dangerous, depending on the circumstances… and that it’s very, very important to observe the circumstances and the situation as carefully as you observe the potential aggressor.

      The third paragraph about equality — yes, I know it’s dated. But I needed a form of shorthand. I’m not particularly concerned with elucidating the current state and status of Feminist thought, but I think it’s reasonable to suggest that under Feminist philosophy, it’s not appropriate to use sexist, dismissive or otherwise disempowering language against any group. I didn’t get that wrong, did I?

      Interestingly, it’s at the final paragraph where – reluctantly – I think I need to step away a little. I would certainly prioritise the BMW/Guns messages (and many, many others!) over the message about responsibility for managing one’s body and safety… and yet as a martial arts instructor and a victim of violence, I have to acknowledge that the world is what it is. I’m working for change, yes. Very actively, thanks. But if I don’t teach my students about the world as it is; if I instead teach them about the world as it ought to be, then I am doing them a terrible disservice.

      We manage our own bodies with regard to diet and health and exercise. I manage my exposure to violence by choosing where I go and when, how I dress when I get there, and how I choose to act. I don’t walk into country pubs where Barnesy is playing on the jukebox and immediately ask to have it changed to a Village People number, for example. That would be stupid, no matter how much I might happen to like Village People or loathe Barnesy. (I don’t like Village People. But you don’t get a lot of Beethoven on country pub jukeboxes…)

      In other words, to a very real degree I already recognise and moderate my choices and behaviour to minimise the chance of violent outcomes. I recognise that the demands placed on women for this outcome are much, much higher — quite unreasonably so. But in the end, there will always be some demand for compromise of behaviour and dress, etc. Those are things which make up a society.

      I think it’s a question of degree. And changing that degree to offer a better situation for women is definitely part of my personal teaching programme, and my behaviour. But until the change is effected, the best advice I can give to women who want to avoid violence is: observe, and act with prudence. It isn’t fair or right, but until we can shift things to a better place — yes, you need to take more responsibility for your own safety than you really should.

      Just don’t call me a goddam piece of candy and tell me I’m indistinguishable from every other piece of candy in the bowl.

  3. I think why I liked Martin Wagner’s tweet posted on the 26 May was that it tried to explain to guys why the hashtag and concept of ’not all men’ might have been greeted with such opposition by women.

    I seemed to me it was a man trying to explain to some men that when women were talking about their experience of harassment, feeling threatened, creepy behaviour etc by a male they would often be met by the response from some men that “they never did that” or “that not all men were like that”. It became something of a meme with a tumbler and on tweeter to post with the hashtag ‘#Notallmen’. The hashtag #yesallwomen, where Mr Wagner’s tweet was tweeted was a response to this perception. Mr Wagner’s analogy I thought was quite a neat illustration, given the limits twitter ie 140 characters. A way of pointing out to men why replying to discussion by women about their experiences with the post of ‘not all men’ was greeted less than enthusiastically. In fact greeted with bowel twisting rage in some cases, which his tweet attempts to explain.

    When I read the tweet I liked it because it seemed to me a guy trying to put forward a model to explain to other guys why they shouldn’t raise the “not me”, or “not all men” argument in these circumstances because to some women this is like the eating the percentage of poisoned M&Ms. I don’t think he was suggesting this is what women thought, he didn’t even say this was an accurate statistical description – just a way of explaining to men why saying not all men might induce rage in some, not all, of the women discussing their experiences of harassment, rape, creepy behaviour and assault in our sexualised culture.

    1. Michael — I acknowledge his main point, and the ‘not all men’ fallacy without question. Always did. But we owe it to ourselves and to the idea that feminism is supposed to lead somewhere better, to do a better job in discourse. My major argument lay then, and now, with the people reposting and retweeting without care and attention to what they’re saying.

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