CJCA Radio (Edmonton), 22 May 1992
Just to give a brief overview of the argument in the article, I concentrated on looking at some of the most basic statistics on violent victimization in Canadian society, and discovered that in most key respects, the majority or the overwhelming majority of victims were men. To cite a few of those statistics: two-thirds of homicide victims nationally - that was 80 percent in Montreal last year - a majority of assault victims, 80 percent of suicide victims, 87 percent of people murdered on the job in Canada, 97 percent of people killed on the job in occupational accidents, 80 percent of those injured on the job. That, of course, does not get into some of the broader questions, like victims in war and so on.
Despite that, it seems that in the present context of discussions of violence in Canadian society, the framework is very much one of violence against women. My intention is not at all to downplay the really obscene levels of violence against women in Canadian society, but just to point out that we do not even have a vocabulary for discussion of the male victim. And this is very visible in most media coverage, which really strongly emphasizes - when the gender of a victim of violence is stressed, it's almost a female who's being discussed. Hence the notion of "the invisible victims." When men do appear as victims, they tend to be classified in some other way. For example, in discussing occupational fatalities, they tend to be classified by their occupation. And the fact that 97 percent of the victims in those occupational areas are men, does not seem to take front-and-centre in the coverage. It's certainly not front page news.
Why do you think this kind of mentality exists, particularly in the media? Is it an editorial policy? Because quite frankly, prior to reading your piece myself, I hadn't really given it too much thought. But when you do read it, and you stop to think about it, it doesn't seem fair.
Well, I think there's a lot of explanations why it's the case. A lot of them have to do with the kind of social heritage we've inherited. Male-dominant society, if we want to use that phrase, going back thousands of years has tended to view the man as being somehow stoic in the face of victimization. Men aren't supposed to lay themselves open to successful physical assault. If they are assaulted or injured or wounded, they're supposed to "take it like a man." I think in recent years that stereotype has been intensified and exacerbated by much of the discussion and activism that's surrounded the issue of violence against women. I think it's proved tactically convenient for a lot of activists in this area to stress the stereotype of the male as victimizer and perpetrator of violence - which is, of course, accurate in key respects - and to skate over the fact that in most key areas, men are the majority or the large majority of victims.
You in this piece were specifically pointing out to the powers that be at that particular newspaper [The Globe and Mail] that they have this gender bias in a lot of their coverage of events. What was the reception you got? I mean, they published the piece ...
An interesting reception. The article was following upon a much more in-depth study I did, which has been published in monograph form by an institute based in Edmonton. It was looking at about four months' worth of Globe and Mail coverage on issues like murder, assault, suicide, conjugal violence, occupational fatalities, and pointing out that in many respects the male component of these victimization patterns was either invisible or starkly downplayed. I sent draft copies of the monograph to several people at the Globe and Mail, and actually over the following months had some fairly positive feedback from some of those people, culminating in an offer to write a feature article outlining my views.
So, "Canada's National Newspaper," as they so proudly bill themselves, a pretty well-known and reputable publication - would there be, do you think, some fallout from a piece like this running? That all of a sudden, editors at other newspapers across the land, and indeed in other locations, would suddenly sit up and say: "Hey, this fellow has a point here"?
Well, I hope so. I'm doing my best to ensure that that's the case. I've distributed copies of the monograph to most of the major newspapers in Canada, and have had some feedback, much of it positive, from people on those newspapers. I'm just doing what I can to bring some of these issues into the public domain, again stressing that we shouldn't view issues of violence or mobilizing against violence as being a kind of zero-sum game. In order to grant a reasonable amount of space to the male side of the coin, it's not my intention to diminish the experience of women in these respects. Certainly in some key areas, particularly serious conjugal violence and sexual assault, women constitute a large majority of victims. And that's something that the feminist movement has worked very hard to point out, and I think successfully, over the past couple of decades.
Has there been a response from, if you will, some feminist organizations to this? Have they come forward and said, "You don't know what you're talking about," or have they given the piece the merit I think it deserves?
I've not yet had much in the way of a systematic response. The piece was published so recently in the Globe that there haven't been to my knowledge any letters published on it yet, and I await with interest exactly what people will have to say in those pages. I haven't been, by any means, deluged with representatives of those organizations. I don't know whether that is a testament to the fact that there are more fair-minded people out there than I'd suspected there were ... It's maybe worth noting that when I was constructing the monograph and passing around draft versions of it, I made a point of targeting a lot of friends, fellow students, and professors whose sympathies were very much feminist, as my own are. The response was close to uniformly: Yeah, you really have a point. I'm not trying to establish an artificial conflict between these issues, and I've tried at all stages to stress exactly what it is I'm saying and what I'm not saying. So far, so good.
There has been so much talk, feminist-movement talk, about violence against women. Now it would be interesting to see if there will be a meaningful dialogue in this respect.
I hope so. I think that's the key. I think that one of the failures of the feminist movement - if we can speak about such a varied pattern as being a "movement" - is that the depiction of the male experience in so-called male-dominant society has really been very fragmentary and one-sided. As I said, there's been this emphasis on the male as perpetrator of violence. For the most part there hasn't been a lot of receptiveness to the stories and accounts men have to tell of their own experiences, growing up, being socialized into the role of victim of violence, which any man who's been through elementary and junior-high school knows is absolutely fundamental to the male experience. And I think what is needed is some kind of sympathetic dialogue between the sexes in terms of understanding not only the general risk of violence which both sexes face, but also the areas in which a particular gender - one of the two genders - is peculiarly or particularly prone to certain kinds of violence. We've seen that very much in terms of women's vulnerability to domestic violence and sexual assault. We haven't seen it in terms of men's liability in areas like occupational fatalities, where the statistics are simply mind-boggling. That's been accompanied by a total lack of interest in this at the level of government research. There's almost nothing in the way of government studies, Statistics Canada data, on the male victimization experience. I think when we have a situation where, for example, every 2.1 hours of the working day in this country there is someone being killed on the job, and 97 percent of the time it's a man - I think it's about time some of this received discussion.
The other area you delve into here, and which makes an interesting statement about society and how we accept this whole thought, is in cartoons. Like Andy Capp, the British comic strip which has been around forever. And as you point out, at least a couple of times a week, there's Andy lying flat on his back after a severe roundhouse from Flo. And everybody laughs about it. Everybody says, "Well, it's a cartoon."
Yeah, it's a cartoon. Of course, if it were a cartoon with a woman on the receiving end it would suddenly be an issue. One of the points I make is that there's no better way for the average person with a limited amount of time to spend exploring these issues than to just look closely at the comics page of your daily paper. Look for strips where some act of violence is taking place, and look at the way that's structured. The levels of violence directed against men are just overwhelming, and if you play a little substitution game in your mind and imagine the roles reversed ... A lot of the time, of course, it's male-on-male violence, although usually there's a distinction drawn between a physically very strong male and a much more physically weak one, like Beetle Bailey, or "No-Neck" in the Drabble strip and others. And quite regularly - you mentioned the Andy Capp example; I'd also mention Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Drabble, and other strips - there's a lot of conjugal violence directed against men. There's a lot of physical abuse directed against men by their wives which would be entirely unacceptable [if the roles were reversed]. Interestingly enough, in Andy Capp, if readers have been following this for twenty years or so, you may remember a couple of decades back there used to be a fair amount of stuff flying either way. Andy used to be hitting on Flo quite a bit. That has now become politically completely unacceptable. But the other side of the coin is still a matter of "just for laughs."
What was the reaction from your female friends on this piece? Was it pretty positive?
It was positive partly because, as I mentioned, I tried to be careful in pointing out that I acknowledge and sympathize with the female victim of violence, and that I'm not trying to deny there is a gender component to committing acts of violence. The large majority of violent acts in this society are committed by men. In general, I tried to take a fair-minded approach and qualify my statements wherever necessary, and I guess I just happen to hang around with a fairly fair-minded bunch of women. Their response has been sometimes constructively critical, which allowed me to hone the arguments a little, but in general quite supportive.
Let's talk a little about the issue of domestic violence. There has never really been a lot of research done on the issue of how many men are abused in domestic situations, has there?
That's exactly right. In the last decade or so there's been an increasing amount of work done on this, including a couple of very large-sample studies done in the United States, and even one carried out in 1987 in Alberta, by a couple of people at the University of Calgary. In general, and increasingly, we're coming up with some very consistent data, and those suggest there is a roughly equal willingness on the part of men and women in the domestic setting to use violence as a means of conflict-resolution, to initiate that violence.
Often it's the woman that hits first.
Well, often - about half the time. Again, this is an emerging body of data. The conclusions are not carved in stone. One of the reasons we do finally have some data on this is that at long last, the questions are being framed in a way that actually allows some of the reality to emerge. And that is to say that the questions are not being exclusively focused upon the issue of violence against women. Now, because this is an extraordinarily controversial topic, I think it's important to be clear what's being said. The fact is that regardless of how willing men or women are to resort to violence, the simple physical disparity that usually exists between men and women is such that the large majority of acts of severe conjugal violence - the kind that lands people in hospital and in shelters - features women as the victims. It's quite clear that any kind of program or social attempt to address this issue is going to have to concentrate its resources on the female victim. But it does certainly go a long way towards dispelling this stereotype of the woman as being this idealized, gentle, passive creature who is the eternal victim. That is not, apparently, borne out by most of the studies being done. Another large-sample survey that just came out of the University of New Hampshire two or three weeks ago found the proportions almost exactly identical to the previous studies.
There exists an incredible taboo against discussion of this issue from this perspective. I think a lot of people are suspicious of it in a justified way because they perceive that some people will use that information as a way of blocking resources for women's shelters, which are desperately needed. On the other hand, I think there's a lot of people in the activist community who have a vested interest in preserving this image of the woman as victim and the male as perpetrator, and are absolutely unwilling to admit any of the nuances into the discussion.
You know, with all the incidents we've touched on here I get the feeling we're drifting farther and farther apart on these things. It's almost like there are two very distinct camps now. There's not really a lot of common ground being reached here.
There's certainly not a lot of common ground being sought by the people who are advancing these agendas, for the most parts. One of the other aspects of the situation that I think is worth noting, and one of the reasons I think the unwillingness exists to acknowledge the male victim, is that a lot of these issues, including conjugal violence and date-rape - in order to come up with very striking or shocking statistics like "One in four women this," "One in three women that," the issues tend to be defined in an extremely broad way. So when you're looking at conjugal violence, you're talking about everything from a slap in the face through to assault with a deadly weapon or outright murder. Now, the problem is that clearly, when the issue is defined that broadly, and when conjugal violence and wife-battering is defined as including a slap in the face or a kick - if you actually do investigation which is gender-neutral, and ask men, "Have you ever been slapped? Have you ever been kicked? Have you ever been on a date where you have been exposed to psychological pressure to sleep with a person who's sort of questioning your manhood if you're not willing to go that far?" - the results are often very striking. This applies to the date-rape scenario as well. A lot of activists in that area are now arguing that someone, a man, who threatens to break up with his girlfriend if she won't go to bed with him is guilty of date-rape. But there has been research done on date-rape, not yet very systematic or large-sample, showing that quite a large proportion of men have been in situations where they've felt psychologically pressured or coerced into sexual situations that they didn't seek.
Now, [in all these cases,] either you're going to have to have a very broad definition, and then for reasons of fairness you're going to have to recognize that there's a large male component to the victimization; or you're going to have to narrow your focus and your definition of the issue in a much more rigorous way. But when you do that, it's hard to come up with these very shocking statistics that make the front page of the paper. I think that's the quandary.
What about Hollywood's treatment of these issues? A couple of films pop to mind: Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction, the sort of dark, brooding-type woman that has a homicidal bent to her. What do you think of this formulation? Is that an effort on their part to point out, in some subtle way, that there is another side to the issue of violence?
I doubt it. Hollywood is in the business of making money, and they make money by doing stuff that's sensational. And there's a bit of mystique that surrounds the female murderer. It's an unusual thing, in the sense that women are not predominantly the ones committing murders. In general - I've seen Fatal Attraction but not yet Basic Instinct - I suspect there's a lot of sexism in Basic Instinct which is going against women. Again it's important to stress what's being said and what isn't: my intention is certainly not to deny that there's massive amounts of sexism against women in society, and that's reflected in the mass media - exactly as the bias against men is also reflected.
One of the things you touched on was police forces. What would happen if we had a female police officer killed in the line of duty? I wonder how much activity there would be calling for tougher measures to protect our officers. We've had numerous men cut down in the line of duty, and there's always an investigation into it, but I'm just wondering how much different it would be if it were a lady who died in the line of duty.
It's hard to say. The only example that springs to mind is the policewoman in Britain a few years back who was killed by a shot from the Libyan Embassy ... I'm not really sure if that led to any gender-focused discussion. I think one of the things that is interesting, though it's a little tangential to the point you're making, is the issue of police violence or police brutality, which has been very much in the news over the last few weeks with the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles. A lot of the discussion in terms of the victimization of Rodney King and so many other minority men has usually emphasized the fact that they're members of minorities. That's certainly true in Montreal, where there's been a big controversy over the last year or so - last year there was a Black man, Marcellus François, who was killed by police. One of the interesting things is if you actually look at police shootings last year, there were nine people killed by the police. Only one of them, Marcellus François, was Black, but all nine of them - and all the other people who were shot and wounded - were men. Nonetheless, the issue is very much framed in terms of violence against minority members, rather than violence against men. And if you try to imagine to yourselves, those among your audience who've seen the video beating of Rodney King, try to imagine the outrage above and beyond what was generated, had that been a woman on the ground being belted to a bloody pulp by a dozen officers while a dozen more stood around and watched ... I suspect that the level of outrage would have reached the skies.
Well, I'm sure it would never have gone as far as it did; I'm sure there would have been instant dismissals.
Yes. And I suspect that quite a number of the people standing around and watching would have taken action [to stop it]. Because that's just not something you do to women. There is still a stereotype, at least in terms of public violence, that you do not assault and torture women in public that way, whereas it's commonplace for men to be treated in that fashion.
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