The problem with men

I was in my local cafe a few weeks ago when the men and women at the table next to me began a conversation about the stories being told by survivors of child abuse at the Royal Commission. These stories, which are available on the Royal Commission website, demonstrate the endemic nature of child abuse in Australia and the repeated failures by governments, churches and NGOs to act on reports of abuse. Anyway, after an uncomfortable and brief discussion about child sexual abuse, one of the women at the table in the cafe said with some asperity, ‘What is the problem with you men?’

I thought it was a very reasonable question. And while a title like ‘The Problem with Men’ might seem more appropriate for a 1930s screwball comedy, it is worth thinking about. Because what the perpetrators of family violence, sexual abuse and public and private violence have in common is this: they are mostly men.

When I first started working professionally in the area of family violence, in a service that works with men who use violence, I thought I was becoming unnecessarily paranoid. It worried me a bit. It seemed to me that violence against women and children was everywhere, in every street. Eventually of course, I managed to pull myself together. I realised that male violence IS everywhere. It’s one of the cornerstones of Western culture. And of course just as neoliberal panoptic capitalism elides its own practices of coercion, so the gendered of violence gets quietly erased, even when it is perfectly obvious.

If ‘feminism’ has become a dirty word, ‘patriarchy’ is an even dirtier one. Whenever there is a public naming of the gendered nature of violence, a variety of voices collude to manage out that gendering: he was really a good guy. He just ‘snapped’. Anyway, not all men are violent. Women are just as bad. He just drinks too much, that’s all. He was young and so his brain hadn’t developed properly. It wasn’t his fault. He was just a sicko. If he’d just been allowed to see his kids it wouldn’t have happened, and so on.

When men are the victims of violence it is usually at the hands of other men. Earlier this year there was considerable media interest in the deaths and injuries of young men in Sydney in what were referred to as ‘alcohol-fuelled’ attacks. The fact that the attackers were men and the victims were also men was never named, and a ‘king-hit’ was always referred to as a ‘coward’s punch’, as though a fatal punch to the face preceded by a threat was somehow heroic.

When Phoebe, Fletcher and Mia Hunt and their mother Kim were murdered last month by the man who was Kim’s husband and the father of her children, the gendered nature of the crime was rapidly and industriously and urgently erased by most print and internet media. And this is always the case when men murder their partners or children. It’s not unusual for attention to be shifted away from the gender of the perpetrator of the violence, and toward the faults of the victim. A hint is enough: the way she dressed, or where she was, or what she said, or what she thought, or the way she looked – that’s what made her responsible for her own murder. And the more responsibility can be pushed onto the victim, the more sympathy can be generated for the perpetrator.

To say that it is men who are the perpetrators of violence is to front up to a key question in how our social relationships are ordered: What is it about the construction of masculinity that is responsible for so much violence? This is not the same as blaming men, a distinction that misogynists often fail to make. And while it might be fruitful to look at the ways that boys are gendered as ‘not-girls’, that too can be an easy way out. It can very easily become a problem of parenting, or even more perniciously, a problem of mothering.

It might be more useful to look at the characteristics of abusive men as a way of getting a window into what makes men do the violent things we do and the foundations that masculinity is built on. And that’s the crux of the matter. Abusive men are not a sub-species of men generally. One of my male colleagues made this clear at a professional forum recently. He said, ‘It’s not about “us” – the good men – working with “them”, the bad men. They ARE us.’ Another colleague emphasised this when he said to me, ‘If I raise my voice to my partner, I’m trying to control her. There isn’t any other reason for me to do that.’

To think otherwise is to take the first step into the world of collusion, which is a big part of working with men who use violence.

Collusion occurs when we subtly or unsubtly support the narrative that men do not need to take responsibility for male violence: there are extenuating circumstances. It’s not really violence or abuse. Women are partly to blame. One can change abusive behaviour without challenging misogyny and patriarchal power. Abusive behaviour is really just about managing anger. Abusive men are just bad apples, and so on. Collusion supports the continuation of gendered violence by reframing and naming it as something else.

Collusion can happen when we find excuses for male violence or invent other perpetrators or duck the question. When Matt Damon condemns gun violence but continues to make Bourne films he is colluding with an idea that violence has no gendered underpinning, and that fiction has no bearing on reality or any moral weight. When the gaming company EA refuses to condemn the vicious misogyny of Gamergate but says only that it is ‘wrong for any person to threaten another’ it colludes with the negation of the gendered nature of abuse. And I do the same if I attempt to add ‘balance’ to a debate on male violence by arguing that not all men are violent.

The actions of abusive men exist on a continuum of sanctioned male behaviour, and are just an articulation of male privilege and control. Men who use violence usually blame others and see themselves as innocent. Faults and, indeed, evils always lie in others.

In 2009 Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo, a speech both terrifying and deadening, was not just a narrative of the history of the world culminating in triumphant American exceptionalism, but also a glorification of violence as a driver of moral responsibility. The world is permanently in blood-debt to the US, said Obama, and furthermore does not truly acknowledge the benefits that American violence has brought to millions.

Obama’s speech, boring and pedantic and yet built of the most egregious lies, misrepresentations, and contradictions so disturbing that one experiences vertigo reading them It was a frightening revelation of the state of mind called ‘violent innocence’, a state that men who use violence have made their own.

What was most terrifying about Obama’s speech was his deadpan sincerity, his tedious insistence on the narrative of his own unchallengeable omnipotence and goodness and the thuggish description of the history of the world as an enterprise that American violence corrects and purifies through the dispensation of violent justice.

Men who use violence situate it as a moral force for good, as a method of reluctant correction and purification and as an act of justice. This is as true of the man who uses violence against his partner and children, and men who are mass murderers, as it is of Barack Obama.

This production of violence is always innocent of gender except when it is carried out by women. There’s a strange doublethink at work. Women who murder their children tend to do so, as far as we know, because they are in intolerably dangerous situations and can see no other way of protecting their children. Men who murder their children do so as a way of punishing the children’s mother.

Any abuse or violence perpetrated by women is hyped and fetishised. The mother who kills her children has transgressed boundaries that many people find inconceivable and aren’t willing to forgive, unlike a father who murders. It is easier to rationalise Agamemnon’s murder of Iphigenia than Medea’s murder of her usually unnamed children. Agamemnon can be a tragic hero or a ruthless careerist depending on your point of view. Medea doesn’t get off so easily. She is deemed to be both monstrous and mad.

The idea that ‘not all men are perpetrators’ has become something of a common trope lately, and is particularly invoked when the gendered nature of a violent crime is pointed out. It is also an attitude common to the more public anti-violence campaigns such as White Ribbon. White Ribbon takes the position that drawing attention to the gendering of violence can leave men feeling blamed and alienated. To avoid this, goes the argument, men need to be engaged with positive messages and sold the idea that not all men are bad. Otherwise they won’t engage with violence prevention.

Work to end male violence that worries about offending men is never really going to get off the ground. Suggesting that men might be alienated if they aren’t spoken to in a nice enough way about violence is absurd.

This kind of collusion – and I think it is collusion – can be a way of steering away from examining the structural and cultural embeddings of masculinity. And of course it’s a very small step from saying ‘not all men are violent’ to ‘women are violent, too’. At which point the argument has gone completely pear-shaped and collusion has burned everything to ash.

It seems to be true that we are seeing an increase in interpersonal violence among women and girls. But the most recent research I have been looking at suggests that this is related to practices of male violence and control. For example, teenage girls who are violent are often in abusive relationships in which their violence – usually against other women and girls – is supported and encouraged by their male partners.

The structure of innocence in the violent is also a description of victimhood. It is the abusive nature of violence, its double whammy. The user of violence always situates themselves as the real victim – not as a conscious strategy of abuse, but because that’s how things seem to them: they are unappreciated, imposed upon, misunderstood, vilified, even as they go about their duty of imposing moral order on the world.

As much as we may like to think otherwise, nobody can step outside gender. Gendering deals everyone a hand. We can learn to resist or queer or reconstruct it if we wish. But there are generalities about being male in a western capitalist order that every man has to face. They involve narcissism, false victimhood, the casual assumption of control and power, the othering of women, a refusal to take personal responsibility, and so forth.

The abusive man is a frightened man, and work with men who use violence can make you wonder about the fear that lies at the heart of masculine identities. Getting millions for counter-terrorism against imaginary baddies who want to take our freedoms is a piece of cake. Getting a few bucks for women’s services to work for the safety of women and children, or for services like mine that work with violent men who terrorise, abuse and kill women and children every week of the year right in our own streets, is like pulling teeth.

It’s not surprising really. Vanquishing baddies with missiles only strengthens the paranoid status quo. Responding effectively to the problem of male violence and prioritising the safety of women and children cuts right to the heart of our punitive, exploitative social order.

Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

More by Stephen Wright ›

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  1. That was the real problem with the shirt-fronting threat. I felt sure that Tony thought it would win him votes. The Liberals revel in being ‘tough’ guys. Where is the male narrative about bullies being cowards and weak rather than the people you should make sure are your best friends? If men were really responsible for children — the key act for us to have equality between women and men — would it quell violence too? Also, I just think we have to keep banning all kinds of weapons from knives to nuclear bombs on the agenda because they only up the ante.

  2. What a disgusting generalisation : ‘What is the problem with you men?’ A very indiscriminate blaming of all men, in the world, each and every one of them, gay ones too, that would be.

    The article’s hardly any better.

    What exactly is the collusion you talk about? Why is it a small step from saying not all men are violent’ to ‘women are violent, too’? What does the empirical evidence show? Have you read Steven Pinker? Why haven’t you written to inform and educate us, and to debunk generalisations? What is the problem of men, then? Why don’t you just come out and say it?

  3. Mm. maybe you could read the post again, and think about the sentences: “What is it about the construction of masculinity that is responsible for so much violence? This is not the same as blaming men, a distinction that misogynists often fail to make.”

    As far as evidence on male violence goes, it is overwhelming. For starters I suggest that you look at this link ( at the site of the Qld Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research and have a listen to the Australian researcher, Michael Flood’s presentation which demolishes the arguments that there is a hidden problem of violence perpetrated by women, and takes in a lot of other stats on the way which you might find helpful.

    Last time I checked, Steven Pinker was not an accepted authority on domestic and family violence. However I believe Michael Flood is.

  4. I’m not arguing against the overwhelming predominance of male violence. Of course men are responsible for the alarmingly high numbers of cases of domestic violence. It’s terrible, but that shouldn’t be a blight on ALL men. Men, in fact, should be part of the solution. Agreed, what is it about the contruction of masculinity that is responsibile for so much violence?’ Yes, i would like to know, but this is way too simplistic, for we have to factor in upbringing, socialisation, heredity, etc.

    1. I agree with you Talo. ALL men is bugging me like crazy. These are the things that make people believe and fear ALL men. There by growing fear itself. A person commits violence against other. Fight violence not men/women/tradies/arsonists…

      Do NOT fight violence with violence, that is just too weak.

      “Because what the perpetrators of family violence, sexual abuse and public and private violence have in common is this: they are mostly men.” You must be talking about the reported violence and ignoring the fact that if a man reports violence the society frowns upon and calls him “Princess”.

  5. … and i don’t deny the evidence and the availability of it. The problem is that it doesn’t appear in your article and factored into the arguments you make, empirically.

    1. As I’ve clearly stated ‘male-blaming’ is not part of the agenda of those of us who work in the area of DFV. However, given that it is men who are responsible for DFV and sexual assault on women and children, I think a question from a woman like ‘What is it about you men?’ is very reasonable.

      What it is about masculinity that makes men use violence is not a cut-and-dried case. However, we know that it IS masculinity and how it is constructed by the many forces that have an interest in it. What’s of interest to me, is how the bleeding obvious gets elided, smoothed over, pushed away and so on – and then very often turned around, so that it is actually women who are the problem.

      This precisely copies the presentation of an abusive man who is confronted by others with his violence and abuse: a huge variety of complicated (but predictable) strategies aimed at (a) avoiding responsibility, and (b) blaming the victim.

      Furthermore, one of the abusive man’s strategies for avoiding responsibility is to try and recruit his upbringing, heredity etc etc etc as an excuse. It can be easy to be misled into reading this as a way that he is accepting responsibility. It’s not. It’s an attempt to make the other collude via misplaced sympathy with the idea that it is not his fault.

      Personally, I do not know any heterosexual man who has not behaved abusively to a woman at some time in his life, and it seems to be true of my gay male friends too. And I’m confident my colleagues, male and female, would feel the same.
      Male entitlement is wired in very early. We all have to unlearn it. That’s my whole point.

    1. Or that we don’t argue about it at all. Or argue about it with women. I agree that men need to step up and be part of the solution. But I think that situations where men get together and talk and want to take responsibility for male violence is still rare.

      1. A whole post on what the woman in the café thought of men would have been enlightening – and what women in general think of men would help too – if men would ever stop to listen, read, and suck it in.

          1. I am a woman who thinks men should be more reflective and conscious of what they do so I think a lot more posts like Stephen’s would be great to read.

          2. Sure, love his posts, but we can’t have the man getting a big head, and that’s the main problem with men (their screaming ego), also, dialectic is necessary (as long as it leads somewhere), and on the screwball comedy thing, perhaps the post should have been titled Deconstructing Harry (The Trouble With Harry), but nope again, there’s a problem there too. Hell, there’s always a problem with men, wherever you look.

  6. The way masculinity is enacted in the world today is no less terrifying than it has ever been.
    I have been researching murders committed over the past 100 years in my home town, in that time 1 murderer was a woman killing a man, while 3 were men killing men, 1 was a mixed group killing a single man and 11 were men killing women, specifically men killing wives, partners or women they claimed to love. One town and the biggest risk factor for being killed lives in your own home, I can’t imagine that this is much different to any other Australian town.

  7. Thanks for that Natalie. Yes, I would think that it’s much the same everywhere. And it might be enlightening to look at the situations where women were the perpetrators. Research (and practice) suggests that when women kill men it is often self-defence, or to protect others, ie; children. And the murder where women and men were involved might also bear looking at in the light of the dynamics of male violence.

    1. The Murder by the woman was a robbery, which is quite rare. The mixed group murder of the man was related to allegations that he had been violent towards one his de-facto and this prompted the killing by her and her friends, a married couple.

  8. Great article, very insightful. Appreciate the male accountability as a male author considering the impact of male socialisation on cultures of violence against women.

    Not so sure about the use of the picture though.

    I would like to a discussion about men’s violence (against women) without the “1000 words” that too graphically describes what this violence can look like? Consider the impact of the image on people victimised by this violence.

  9. Ta. Yeah, I was scratching my head ambivalently yesterday about the header pic (which I didn’t choose he said hastily). Then a woman friend of mine saw it today and as her first reaction was ‘Wtf?’my ambivalence was resolved.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Thank you for responding. Yeah, there seems to be a slight discrepancy between the ethic of your piece and the decision around using a salacious image conveying this violence.

  10. Interestingly, it is the beautiful woman’s face that is the focus of the header; hair, eyeliner and lips looking very nice as she is strangled. She doesn’t look that worried either, to me. More like an ad for Valium or Bex or cocktails or something.

    As an illustration of how we shift attention to the female victim, it is perhaps appropriate.

  11. “Women who murder their children tend to do so, as far as we know, because they are in intolerably dangerous situations and can see no other way of protecting their children.” This quotation reveals two fundamental flaws of this article. Firstly, an oversimplification of the motivations for murder, which (while some follow broad patterns) are varied and idiosyncratic. Secondly, a demonization of men coupled with an angelic depiction of women. Maternal infanticide is far more often related to mental health problems such as post-natal depression. Suggesting that most mothers who kill their children are just responding to deep feelings of protectiveness, love and concern for their children’s welfare is just wrong. Furthermore, women physically abuse children too. While it is really important to address the overwhelming overrepresentation of men in cases of violence and physical abuse, setting up such an absolute polarity is not helpful.

    1. Also, it’s just straight up unfair to say that women commit murder or violence for “good” reasons, while men commit the same acts for “bad” reasons.

    2. I’ll try and address your concerns separately Annathea. First, I think the evidence is well in, that murder is mostly a crime committed by men. That in itself tells us something. Whether it is mass murder, serial killings or family killings, men are overwhelmingly responsible. In Australia a woman is murdered by her male partner every 5 days or so. Similar stats don’t exist where men are the victims.
      Second, I agree that maternal infanticide is a complex matter. However to ascribe it to ‘mental illness’ is too convenient scapegoat. Obviously someone who kills their own children is not mentally well. And I’m not arguing that maternal infanticide is excusable or women are acting out of altruism. I said ‘as far as we know’ maternal infanticide appears to have some motives related to a woman’s situation as an experience of DFV. This makes some intuitive sense, in relation to current knowledge, as women who injure or kill their partners are often attempting to protect themselves or their children. Men who kill their children we know often do so to punish their partners or ex-partners. This doesn’t seem to be case for women, and other motives seem very possible. ‘Mental illness’ as an explanation isn’t really helpful.
      I’m aware that women abuse their children too. But the numbers are not in the same category, and the reasons may well differ. That’s the crux of the matter. When a woman abuses and a man abuses, there are differences that need to be understood. That is not the same as finding excuses. In every case we come back to the same question: why is so much violence and abuse and murder committed by men? And why is it so often excused and women blamed?

  12. Also, it is just straight up unfair to say that women commit violence and murder for “good” reasons, while men commit the same crimes for “bad” reasons.

  13. What if ‘gender’ is not so completely ‘socially constructed’ as you assume? What if the ‘violence’ is hard wired into ‘masculinity’ (to ensure protection/ to hunt/ to work hard – dig into the ground/ to farm/ to mine/to ‘penetrate’ the problem)
    perhaps ‘a problem solving mind’ cannot be ‘socially constructed’?
    Is it not a ‘violation’ also to keep fathers from their children? what of the ‘social patricide’ since Lionel Murphy’s Law?
    Are men not allowed to be ‘angry’ – like the boys who sit forever on the floor in the naughty corners of feminine classrooms?
    The feminine violates its children from the day they are born.

  14. As with the anonymous comment above, I don’t have a lot of time for these kinds of statements. I have heard them all, insults included, a million times before sometimes from women, but very often from men with very real problems with their behaviour. Ideas of ‘social patricide’ have zero credibility anywhere, except possibly in fringe areas where unsubstantiated generalisations about women, ‘the feminine’ , and ‘hardwired’ masculinity can be fetishised and pondered on as though they had real foundation. Even IF men were ‘hardwired’ to dig holes (something there is no evidence for) how would this explain violence toward women and children?
    I have no objection to anyone disagreeing with my arguments even when they are based on overwhelming evidence, but what is intriguing is the anger that seems to be generated. Comments that begin with something like ‘your ideas are disgusting/bullshit’ etc etc, not only lose any credibility immediately but relegate themselves no to the ‘naughty corner’ but to one where nobody will listen to you, except another who is prepared to share your unexamined assumptions, emotional overload and misogynist statements about the ‘the feminine’ violating children.

  15. The point I am trying to make is that it is entirely possible that ‘violence’ is not socially constructed, but somehow an essential ingredient of masculinity. As necessary for the male as ‘nurturing’ is for the female.
    Digging holes is ‘violating the earth’ – thus all farming is a ‘violation’ (as the feminine/Gaia/Greeny mindset will tell you) If you wish to stop violence against women, you may need to also stop violence against the earth/violence against animals/ etc – Yet violence may be as necessary to ‘man’ as it is to evolution in general, (or to animals, or to the world in general)
    Every effort at ‘social engineering’ violates the animal in humankind, including the violation endemic in ‘mothering’ and the feminine violence of primary ‘education’.
    Though you conflate the previous anonymous comment with mine – there is no anger in either of my comments.
    Except, of course, yours – which also seems to verge on a patronising kind of ‘maternalism’.
    Words get lost in this type of conversation, but how can you allow yourself to hate men so blindly? You know that 90% of all men love their women courageously and beautifully – despite the pervasive hatred of all feminism.

  16. I’m sorry, your arguments are getting stranger and stranger. ‘Nurturing’ is not necessary for a woman to be a woman. You are positing essential characteristics that you not only believe explains gender inequity, male violence and justifies male resentments but that can’t be modified by social forces.
    When you use terms such as ‘social patricide’ and talk about the violence ‘endemic in ‘mothering” and the ‘feminine violence in primary education’ you are loading your argument up with huge amounts of misogyny and are displaying a lot more about yourself than you might care for people to know. You are not proposing arguments but a series of loaded, perjorative and nonsensical statements that lack coherence and are backed with zero evidence.
    I can’t be bothered addressing the ‘you hate men’ accusation again, as it is well-refuted in the post. But it is a common accusation made against feminist and anti-violence arguments, and it is absurd to keep having to keep knocking it on the head.

  17. And I think I’d prefer that your points WERE made angrily. They sound much weirder advanced as rational propositions, in which anger is implicit.

  18. The ‘nationalisation’ of the family has stolen fathers from their children for over fifty years with the complicit agreement of all the feminisms.
    Violence against women may continue to expand whilst this type of ‘passive violence’ against men (and fatherhood) continues.
    Men are powerless within the domestic matriarchy which claims to be the modern marriage, but which is, in fact closer to ‘serial monogamy’ and is totalitarian in nature.
    Men who are denied any power over their children (whom they mostly love more than themselves) will not hang around, and in some extreme cases, will react violently.
    Controlled, state sanctioned violence is always more vicious and cruel than the desperate reaction of a destroyed man in the throws of having his children stolen and manipulated, in front of his eyes.
    Of course there is a rise in violence against women – what do you expect after such a sustained period of utter contempt and hatred for everything ‘male’ and indeed, if you accept the ABS figures on children who still reside with their fathers – is a virtual ‘social patricide’ which has taken place in just fifty years.
    You seem to be convinced that the fault lies entirely with all the nasty men who refuse to ‘man up’ and get honest with their shame and disgrace. I put it to you that the state sanctioned and feminist backed domestic matriarchy is the real problem, and that ‘men’ have done brilliantly in the face of unbelievable hatred and provocation.

  19. Here’s a different bark (voice) on an argument going nowhere, and I’m probably a mad dog for getting involved, but here goes …
    Blame the state all you like man, not women. Matriarchy? Power in the hands of women? Since when, dude? Like never! You’re wrong, but if you are arguing we currently live under a matriarchy (domestic or otherwise), you are going against your own argument because you are saying that gender IS a social construct, therefore “not hard-wired”, but dependent upon a social / cultural system which keeps power in the hands of, and for just about ever, men, and not women as you seem to believe is currently the case. Patriarchy has mostly always been the social and cultural ordering system of the day. A gendered society means socially constructed categories such as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are produced culturally through a range of cultural practices – family, occupations, sports, dress, games, education subjects, toys etc. – and are not “hard-wired biologically” as you would like to believe. Sure, such gendered positions relate to sexual (biological) differences in complex ways, but they are nowise natural positions, as you keep asserting.

    1. And with such a comprehensive summary and rebuttal to much of the above woman-blaming and excusing of male violence, let us consider the discussion closed.

  20. Hi Stephen, (one last peep before you close the door 😉 thanks for your article, I am interested in reading about male violence from the viewpoint of a man (men, to include the contributors above), gives me a broader understanding.

    1. Thanks! Yes men who have used violence, also men in general… I wonder how men who are generally peaceful feel/think/cope with the stereotype of ‘males are aggressive and violent’ along with a social expectation / acceptance that it is a ‘natural’ characteristic of men…

  21. Since the state took control of ‘the family’ under the Family Law Act 1978, the ‘power’ and the ‘controlling behaviour’ has been in the hands of women (listen up, Tamer Dog).

    All violence against this ‘control’ whether physical, emotional,or even ‘thought’ is against the law. Yet our courts are still clogged with AVO’s – over ninety percent against men. Clearly, it is women who have the law and the state (i.e. ‘the power’) behind them and it is men who are breaking the law.

    Not only are they breaking the law, but they are breaking it against the women they love. Surely you can see that something is not right here? Why, on earth, are so many ordinary men lashing out at the women they love?

    Could it be because ‘marriage’ is not ‘equal’ and that men are being threatened with losing their children (…and probably their house and their sanity) …if they do not submit to the totalitarian ‘power’ of women in marriage (i.e. ‘The Domestic Matriarchy’)?

  22. “There’s a point at which when I start to know a man well–this isn’t true of women–I wonder whether there’s something in him that’s evil. Something that’s pure and can’t be touched. This quality of evil may be related to the quality of artistry, for an artist has the same characteristics.”

  23. You know what, anon, I think you’re right on the money. It’s certainly true of me .. that there’s something in me that is evil .. and I spend my life ( and all my knowledge of life and civilisation) making sure that it doesn’t get out. I suspect this is true of everybody (even women and Stephen Wright)

    When we begin to realise that ‘evil’ is not only in ‘the other’ … we will actually (really) begin to be able to address the problem this essay attempts to address

  24. The author says “Women who murder their children tend to do so, as far as we know, because they are in intolerably dangerous situations and can see no other way of protecting their children. Men who murder their children do so as a way of punishing the children’s mother.”

    but this is false, not least because it ignores the variety of motivations usually attributed to filicide. Imnportantly, although it is true that more men than women commit retaliation or spousal-revenge filicide, it is still the case that this is the least common motivation by far (even for men). It’s far more common for children to be killed by their fathers “accidently” in attacks designed to harm but not kill the child. It’s a shame this wasn’t discussed as it fits nicely with the authors point that men tend to be more violent. Similarly most filicides committed by women are classed as neonaticide with alturistic filicides (attempts to protect the child) being far less common. Of course any analysis of this point needs to involve a discussion of psychosis and perceived threats arising from parent’s delusions. It is also the case that several studies have found that such ‘alturistic’ filicides are just as common amongst male perpetrators as female.

    I’m happy to send through some good reading on this, but I would say the filicide is a crime which attracts a lot of attention but much of what is out there is simply myth and it doesn’t help to continue to spread those myths. There is good scholarly work out there which should be considered in trying to understand the crime.

    Finally, I would also note the filicide is something of an anomaly as a kind of violence in that it is committed as often by women as by men — and thus not a very helpful example for the authors point here. It may be the case that the motivations for the crime differ between men and women but these differences are subtle and complex and deserve proper analysis.

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