It’s always best not to feed the trolls, but occasionally the trolls provide an insight beyond angry minds and empty hearts.
A couple of days Mark Latham offered the AFR’s few remaining weekend readers the benefit of his views on domestic violence, or more particularly Labor’s current campaign against it. It would be fair to say Latham isn’t in favour of that campaign, and singled out Victorian MP Tim Watts, who has worked assiduously to raise attention to the issue, for criticism. Watts was “symptomatic of the decline in Labor’s thinking”, Latham averred (and most of us thought making Latham leader had been the dead giveaway when it came to such a decline). “Watts has fallen for the feminist line on domestic violence” and fallen (again) under the spell of former Victorian premier Joan Kirner.
What was Latham’s view on domestic violence? It seems the campaign against it is the preserve of “privileged feminists” who believe that men are “inherently bad”. “There are two classes from which men are likely to abuse women,” Latham insisted, “the political class and the underclass. In the latter, the frustration of intergenerational unemployment often vents itself in wife bashing.”
Admittedly we can defer to Latham, notorious for breaking a cabbie’s arm, on the predisposition of politicians to violence. As for the “underclass” being the only other group likely to abuse women, let’s check the data. Some groups are of course more at risk from domestic violence than others. Indigenous women and disabled women, neither of whom Latham mentions, are at particular risk of both domestic and sexual violence. But “domestic violence cuts across social and economic boundaries and the data on the effect of education, employment status and income are mixed. The [International Violence Against Women Survey] found that experience of current intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months varied little according to education, labour force status or household income…” concluded a 2011 parliamentary paper. Examples of wealthy sports stars, celebrities and prominent business figures (Charles Saatchi, anyone?) who engage in domestic violence can readily be found.
But Latham insists that domestic violence is purely related to unemployment and income. “The best way of minimising domestic violence is to minimise poverty,” he says. Not for Latham the complications or reporting rates or risk factors. It’s his way or the highway. In saying that, Latham presumably wants to mark himself off as a hard-headed analyst prepared to look at the fundamental cause of domestic violence, unlike “identity urgers” like Watts and “privileged feminists” who simply hate men. But his simplistic analysis was shown up by the participants in the debate on domestic violence initiated in March by Bill Shorten. “Fundamentally, we must also recognise that no discussion of family violence is free from the discussion of gender equality, economic empowerment, seeing women have financial control over their own lives,” Shorten himself said. “We have to make sure that our young people learn that we must have equality of status, empowerment in terms of job prospects and managerial positions, and economic independence between men and women,” said the Coalition’s Sharman Stone.
That is, while Latham quaintly thinks giving male breadwinners higher incomes is the key to stopping domestic violence, politicians have moved on to understanding the issue as about economic empowerment and independence of women.
But one gets the sense Latham isn’t especially interested in the nuance of domestic violence causes. His real target is “privileged feminists”, rather than ineffective measures to counteract the problem. For what presumably is the same personal sense of truculence that motivated him to use his AFR column to abuse Fairfax columnist Lisa Pryor — an attack that is now the subject of litigation — Latham wants to use domestic violence as part of his ongoing campaign against “privileged feminists”. In shoehorning domestic violence into his own preferred narrative of middle-class feminists attacking Aussie blokes, Latham is no different to News Corp’s far-right blogger Miranda “mutant feminists are raping reality” Devine, who portrayed the “domestic violence bandwagon” as a kind of feminist plot, especially because, apparently, female victims of violence have a choice about whether to be abused.
Devine and Latham would be mortified to be compared with each other, but they’re very similar — outrage trolls who will shoehorn any issue they can into their own personal agenda. It’s a lot like the way the right views climate change not as a specific policy issue that has significant real world effects and can be addressed with sensible policy responses, but as something that must be denied purely because to acknowledge it would be to hand a victory in the eternal culture war against the Left. For Latham, domestic violence isn’t an issue that should be considered on its merits, but just another battleground for his own little theatre of culture war, against the middle-class feminists he sees as wielding an absurd and wholly fictional control of the levers of power.
Whether from the left or the right, ignoring the reality of domestic violence and treating it as a vehicle for other vendettas isn’t going to help anyone.