We have pushed to ensure that survivors of domestic violence do not have to face couples counselling. For this, we feminists have been labelled by the media as “witches” who are out to “control our society”.
According to Bettina Arndt, feminists are “wicked witches” trying to “control our society”. This, in an article responding to our work in raising our concerns about the government funding couples counselling in the context of domestic and family violence under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.
The article was published in the Spectator at around Midday 29 July, which was the day I was running around Parliament House taking meetings with anyone who would listen before the Senate Motion introduced by Larissa Waters was passed, calling on the government to ensure survivors of violence are not forced to undergo couples counselling, to put in place standards for working with people who use violence, and to adequately fund specialist services for survivors.
Arndt feverishly summoned people to lobby the government on the issue providing direct links to the Prime Minister and relevant Minister’s offices in an effort to “rein in” the feminists.
Citing a 2008 research paper written by the Marriage and Therapy Program at Kansas State University and Virginia Tech, and a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Marriage Family Therapy, Arndt argues that couples counselling is both safe and effective, notwithstanding the first article only referring to “experimental studies and clinical practices of conjoint treatment” and the second acknowledging that “there has been little research on when this type of treatment is appropriate and advisable”.
This latter study goes down the rabbit hole of trying to classify certain “couple violence” as “situational” and looks to evidence of the success of couple therapy in addressing a wide range of other issues, such as “conflict management” and “sexual problems” to justify the conclusion that “there is reason to believe that couple therapy may provide an integral tool for treating situational violence among couples who do not wish to separate.”
The conclusions from the meta-analysis component of the study reveal the biases of the research perspectives, for example: “t is undeniable that certain issues associated with situational couple violence are more effectively addressed with both partners present, so that the couple can grow stronger attachment bonds and support one another through the process.”
Arndt goes on to assert that the government should come to its senses and ignore the “male-bashing feminist industry” by implementing its policy in support of couples counselling in domestic violence.
So, where does all this fear for “ferocious” feminists come from?
The reality is that, whilst 95% of all victims of violence (women or men) experience that violence from a male perpetrator (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey), feminists aren’t out to “bash” men.
Feminists don’t want to “bash” men. We want to support men to be their whole selves, just as we do for women and girls and non-binary people.
In fact, this is the opposite of our project. What we have come to understand after working for many years on the coalface of domestic, family and sexual violence is that men too are not benefiting from a society that is governed by patriarchal rules.
It is these rules that we challenge; the rules which state that men and boys should be strong, stoic and dominant and women and girls should be kind, caring and gracious. Those men and boys who do not fit the hypermasculine stereotype fall prey to the more dominant of men around them and this causes them to feel humiliated, disempowered and inadequate.
This is a lonely, isolating place to be. And for the women and girls in the lives of men struggling with these pressures, it can be terrifying. Investigative journalist, Jess Hill calls this “humiliated fury” – men who feel humiliated by not being in control hitting out at the women and children in their lives.
Feminists don’t want to “bash” men. We want to support men to be their whole selves, just as we do for women and girls and non-binary people. We want them to be free to express their full range of emotions without fear of being ridiculed. We want them to have deep, intimate, emotional connections with the people they love; to be able to enjoy relationships of equal power without being the subject of mockery.
This, we believe, would benefit everyone. Yes, women and children would be much safer, but so would men.
Feminism is not something to be afraid of. We want everyone to thrive.
The men’s behaviour change programs that we in the sector have been promoting in place of interventions like couples counselling do just this. They provide a genuine opportunity for men to reflect upon their lives and how their values, thoughts and actions are impacting upon their relationships and the people they love.
At a deeper level, they provide an opportunity for men to consider a different way to be in the world, and so many men who engage with these programs report profound changes to their own feelings of self-worth as men and better communication and deeper relationships with those that they love as a result.
And do we want equal rights for women and girls? Hell yeah! But why shouldn’t we want our daughters to have the same rights and opportunities, and the same sense of safety as our sons?
Feminism is not something to be afraid of. Yes, we’re ferocious.
But we want everyone to thrive.
Big night for women’s safety tonight on @ABCTV! First us discussing the National Action Plan on @ABCthedrum then @ninafunnell and #LetHerSpeak Grace on @abc730! Not to be missed. https://t.co/15lGidWawk
— Hayley Foster (@CEOWomensSafety) August 12, 2019