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Culture

Apr 7, 2016

Barbie dolls don't cause domestic violence

The idea that cultural difference can be regulated to create peace is, quite simply, bullshit.

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As we know, the Senate Inquiry into Food Certification Schemes was every bit as useful to national security as a heat-seeking fly swat. Senator Cory Bernardi, whose ardent beliefs fuelled the inquiry, seemed indefensibly sure throughout about a clear relationship of cause and terrible effect.

No matter the expertise offered to counter the fetish that Halal foods fund terrorism, he held as fast to it as he appears to remain on the matter of Safe Schools. Which itself seems to be, in Berardi’s view, a means to fund unwholesome and dangerous practice.

Not an inquiry, not a previous investigation by the Australian Crime Commission, not a basic grasp of accounting could disrupt the view. There are those who are just certain they know what provokes violent evil in this world. It’s simple! We can feel it! We will continue to feel it, even when our baby soft feelings are gainsaid by hard adult evidence.

Perhaps it’s time for a Senate inquiry into Senate inquiries. They are, in my view, especially galling when founded, as was the case with food certification, on the idea that the commercial expression of cultural difference is measurably dangerous.

It’s a bit like, say, the proposal, in this case by the Greens, that the matter of the sale of “gendered” toys contributes to domestic violence. In a speech delivered for the optimistically named No Gender December, the party’s co-deputy leader Larissa Waters named toys among the influences that created “very serious problems such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap”. Consequently, actual adult humans are actually now discussing the actual role of dolls in actual assault.

Clearly, federal review of a minor threat to national wellbeing, such as terrorism, or a major one, such as domestic violence, is welcome. What’s not so peachy, though, is that such important review can be limited in scope by the belief that the expression of an existing cultural difference must be regulated.

Australian Muslims and non-Muslims are, broadly speaking, a little culturally different from each other. So — again, speaking broadly — are Australian men and women. If the policy class wishes to ensure that these cultural differences do not also express themselves as socio-economic differences, that’s super fine with me. If they feel that they have an entitlement to change those cultural differences, that’s a stupidity not too far south of totalitarian.

And, the regulation of cultural difference is Waters’ aim. It’s as unambiguous in her presentations as it was in Bernardi’s.

The present inquiry into domestic violence and gender inequality is, of course, a jolly good idea. That it is generally led by an uncritical belief in the Duluth model of domestic violence — that which attributes all domestic violence to the cultural differences between men and women — is an unfortunate waste of resources. That it has actually paused to investigate the influence of Baby Cack-her-Pants, or whatever plastic little girls are breaking into pieces these days, does a disservice to the victims of domestic violence.

Bernardi, of course, was quick to criticise Waters. When Waters started campaigning for an end to the fairly transcendent cultural difference of gender, Bernardi said that she’d been drinking too much “Christmas eggnog”. Goodness knows what he’d been imbibing when he attempted to quash, just as Waters is now doing, the expression of cultural difference in stores.

That the source of our social problems is on supermarket shelves is an old and recurrent conceit.

These days, Bernardi believes that Islam and its assorted snacks create terrorism. In 1889, customs minister James Brown Patterson believed that French novels would corrupt the Colony of Victoria. In 2008, then South Australian attorney-general Michael Atkinson blocked national legislation that would allow the sale of certain video games, which he believed caused biffo. Which was a little disappointing for a Labor man of the modern era — you’d hope he’d be more concerned with the influence of high unemployment in his state as the catalyst for harm. But, then again, even a former executive director of progressive think tank The Australia Institute charged department stores last decade with “corporate paedophilia” and did so largely, in my view, on the basis of strong feelings.

All of these folks have meant very well and their hope to diminish violence is something few among us would say we dislike. Even if there are plenty among us who do dislike pornography, first-person shooter games or Islam, we may still find ourselves unable to share a Bernardi-level conviction that these things produce violence.

Violence, which I believe precedes the dawn of mass culture by a bloody century or 10, is a good thing to seek to end. The end of porn, on the other hand, would just be a terrible inconvenience. First, this would cause a great surge of unemployment in former Soviet states. Second, what do you expect me to do with my nights? Third, there is no more compelling evidence that the consumption of pornographic material produces sexual violence than there is, say, that skinny models produce anorexia. Actually, in that last case, there’s a good deal of evidence to the contrary.

You don’t have to like or approve of a cultural expression to see that claims of its negative influence are not only overblown, but themselves a dangerously stupid influence on policy settings. And, even if you do believe that cultural difference is the source of social violence and not just its alibi, you do need to think if you want senators attempting to regulate it.

Personally, I’m not very ladylike. My failure to express myself culturally as a woman continues to be a great pain in my arse and other parts. While I’d like to see this yoke of cultural difference loosed, I firmly believe that it is not the work of government to regulate that, any more than it is their work to suppress religion.

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