Philip Davies fails us as an MP by ignoring complex power structures

Philip Davies, the newly elected member to the Women and Equalities Committee, is an anti-feminist who believes that the committee should never have been set up. Yesterday, he spent 78 minutes arguing against the Istanbul Convention Bill, a bill to fight violence against women and domestic violence, claiming that it would be harmful to men. This is Tory Britain.

This should not have been a controversial bill. The bill stated that “it shall be the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to take all reasonable steps as soon as reasonably possible to become compliant with the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.” The latter category – domestic violence – covers both men and women. Davies was so keen to derail a bill that protects women, that he was willing to ignore that it included to men too.

But domestic violence is a gendered issue. There is a statistic going around citing one third of domestic violence victims as being men. This is a gross overestimation – this statistic is a measurement of fatal domestic violence (largely skewed because women are more likely to use a weapon.) Domestic violence that results in homicide happens in a minority of cases. This statistic hides the vast majority of domestic violence cases, which are non-fatal and repeated – when these cases are examined, 92% of the perpetrators are male, and 83% of the victims are female.  This does not in any way mean that male victims are less important or should be ignored, and there is definite stigma against male victims in particular, meaning that there are likely to be more men who don’t come forward. But pretending that a problem isn’t gendered won’t help us understand why domestic violence happens on the scale that it does. Male victims are still less statistically prevalent, and filibustering a bill to protect women doesn’t make you supportive of male victims: it means you are the kind of person who uses them only as a counterpoint when women’s issues are being discussed. And frankly, there is too much of that going around.

If you only bring up male victims of domestic violence to score points in a debate against women’s issues, you are not supportive of male victims. You are using them as pawns to rail against women. This is evident in Philip Davies’ speech: he does not really care about men having better protection against domestic violence, he just wants to stop women getting it. If you are actually dedicated to helping male victims, then you take positive action – you don’t try to shut women out. Not to mention that it is often feminists who speak out for male victims; in fact, domestic violence became a social issue because of feminist activism in the 1980s. The stigma around male victims of domestic violence is an issue bolstered by a patriarchal society that deems physical strength and dominance to be male characteristics, rendering victims as weak and unworthy.

Should we be surprised by Davies’ filibustering though? This is the same man who has filibustered bills to give carers free hospital parking and a bill to prevent landlords from evicting tenants for asking for necessary repairs. This is the man who said that same sex marriage discriminates against straight people, that BBC diversity targets are racist, that disabled people should work for less pay. Apart from his obvious misogyny, this instance of filibustering is just another instance of an extremely privileged man being too far removed from the playing field to see how full of potholes it remains.

If, like Davies, you feel like the world is skewed against men, against white people, against straight people, or able-bodied people then you are in dire need of perspective. Regardless of whether people are starting to get more progressive (and 2016’s political landscape would suggest the opposite) the majority of the world remains a long way from progressive. The world, overwhelmingly, is not governed by political correctness gone mad or anywhere near it; the dominant force of male and pale is far from diminished.  Social movements and policies – from Black Lives Matter to the BBC taking positive action to diversify TV – are not an attack on white people. This view rests on a flawed assumption that naively sees society as a lot more equal than it is, that understands discrimination as being simply rooted in individuals rather than systems. It assumes the status quo has occurred naturally. That so many TV shows have all white casts has just happened naturally, and so taking positive action to diversify is contrived. It is a simplistic, limited view of how oppression functions. Women being paid less doesn’t just happen; people of colour don’t just happen to get overwhelmingly stopped and searched; trans actors don’t just happen to not get cast.

Oppression is systemic and operates on many levels. Philip Davies refusing to acknowledge its manifestations doesn’t surprise me, but it does sadden me a great deal.

Image Credit: BBC Parliament

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