Male-pattern violence and the patriarchal system it serves to uphold, cause severe pain and suffering to vast numbers of women and children. This article argues that because this takes place within plain view of the state, it is not only unlawful discrimination, but also a form of state-sanctioned torture of women and children.
Torture happens within a context of power imbalance. State torture typically aims to cause the submission of the person being tortured in order to prop up and maintain the power of the state.
For example, intelligence officers or other agents of the state capture dissidents and torture them into submission – so that they reveal the names of their comrades, the details of their plans, etc.
When victims submit like this, they give up all that is important to themselves. This is what they hold out against, often with great courage, and this is what breaks them when they succumb, not the physical suffering. It is the submission that leads to the psychological annihilation that ultimately devastates them and from which they may never recover.
When agents of the state torture an individual like this, it not only affects the individual, it also sends out a powerful message to everyone else in that society. Because one way or another people get to hear about it. The message is: this is what happens to those who do not submit, who do not conform.
The torture state usually backs this message up with propaganda and portrays the individuals tortured as terrorists, insurgents, anarchists, thugs, guerrillas, enemy combatants, etc. In this way, the state redefines legitimate resistance to its illegitimate power so that what is illegitimate becomes legitimate and what is legitimate becomes illegitimate. A massive head fuck, in other words.
The torture state bullies, seduces, and confuses the population into conformity and acquiescence.
A legitimate state, one that governs through the will of its people, has no need to torture its citizens or fuck with their heads. When a state resorts to torturing its citizens, it no longer has legitimacy.
Some, perhaps most, of the agents who carry out torture on behalf of the state are sadistic individuals who enjoy inflicting suffering on their hapless victims. However, this is not the purpose of the torture. His enjoyment is irrelevant to the state’s purpose of enforcing submission. His enjoyment merely serves to make the torture easier. It therefore suits the state’s purpose to condone or encourage factors that condition individuals to sadism – factors like the use of corporal punishment in childhood, blood sports, violent misogynistic porn, scapegoating of minorities, etc.
Male-pattern violence within the one-to-one scenario can be summed up like this:
“The deal is this: I must submit to his will or I risk him unleashing actual physical violence on me. Perhaps even rape.”
Within the personal relationship between a man and a woman, the man uses emotional and physical violence and the threat of such violence to get his own way, to force her submission to his superior power, to maintain his power over her. Its aim is her submission.
She can’t win. If she submits, she gives up something of herself, something of her intrinsic humanity, just as surely as the dissident in the state torture chamber does when he cracks. And if she refuses to submit, she risks him unleashing violence against her.
Male-pattern violence therefore has many parallels with what happens when an illegitimate state tortures its dissident citizens, not least because it takes place within a huge structural imbalance of power.
Capitalism has always relied on male supremacy as a means of social control and of dividing-and-ruling the population. Men are bought off by the power they are given over “their” women and children. Women are bought off by the promise of protection and patronage, or they accept the status quo through lack of alternatives, or through the hope that their children, at least, will have a better life.
Male-pattern violence is one of the key ways that male supremacy is maintained.
The power imbalance between the sexes
During the 20th century, women succeeded in entering many areas previously dominated by men. But when women reach the upper echelons within those institutions, they are invariably significantly outnumbered by men. This means they are isolated, and everywhere they are judged more harshly than their male colleagues.
As a result, women are not present on their own terms but are under various degrees of psychological siege and in practice men continue to control all the great bastions of power: the government, culture, economy, media, film and music industries, banking, technology, the military, criminal justice system, social and health care systems, the curriculum in schools and universities, etc. And men use their control of these institutions to maintain male collective power; to erase knowledge and resources that would help women understand the truth and to resist; and to present women who argue for equality as feminazis, rabid, SWERFs, or unhinged in some way.
During the development of capitalism and industrialisation, the work that women traditionally did in having and raising children, making and maintaining the family’s clothing and home environment, growing, gathering or purchasing the family’s food and preparing it, etc. was defined as non-work. What men did was defined as work and was remunerated. Because what women did was redefined as non-work, they were not remunerated. And remunerated work moved out of the home and into the factory and office, unsuitable environments for small children.
During the same period, responsibility for raising children moved from the collective (the memory of which is seen in old sayings like “it takes a village to raise a child”) onto the shoulders of mothers alone. Mothers are generally still held responsible for the well-being of their children and when anything goes wrong, she is inevitably blamed.
Mothers were at the same time being held solely responsible for the well-being of their children while being systematically deprived of independent material means of supporting them.
Even though many (perhaps most) mothers now participate in paid labour outside the home, this has not really changed because the chances are high that she is paid much less than a man doing work of equivalent value and most or much of her wages must go towards paying for the care of her children.
This drives mothers into financial dependence on men. And this is still a key way in which mothers keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, shoes on their feet, etc.
Men know this. And so do governments.
And each individual man knows that if he walks away from the relationship, the odds are slim that he will be required to pay more than a peppercorn towards the upkeep of his children and the mother who cares for them, and that the odds of being held accountable if anything goes wrong are even slimmer.
In the current climate of austerity and withdrawal of the safety net, he also knows that if she were to leave, she may face poverty and hardship, or even destitution and the ultimate fallback of all mothers, prostitution. A different kind of dependency on men. One that exacts an even greater physical and psychological annihilation of the self.
And then there’s the imbalance in physical strength between men and women. Men, on average, are 10% taller and 20% heavier than women and have a much higher ratio of muscle to body mass. Moreover, boys are encouraged to develop their strength and physical prowess in ways that girls are not. Girls are usually not even taught how to physically defend themselves from attack.
All of this creates a huge imbalance of power within heterosexual relationships. This is the context for male-pattern violence within the family home.
But not all women have children and some women who do have children manage to avoid dependence on men – but men’s mass harassment and rape of women and girls in the public sphere and online, serve to keep women in line and to drive women and girls into dependency on a man – because this behaviour seldom happens when she is on the arm of a man.
Our very culture has been pornified so that girls and women are taught that their only value is as a sex object and men and boys are trained to think of women as not fully human, as commodities.
Online, porn rules. Violent, cruel, misogynistic porn, which conditions men and boys to be aroused by cruelty; to build their masculine identities on power over others; to believe that women and girls get off on this too and deserve the pain and suffering that men’s violence causes them. We must not forget the damage done to the bodies, minds and spirits of the actual girls and young women involved in the making of porn. Gail Dines describes pornography as “terrorism against all women.”
And then there’s the prostitution industry, which welcomes men to act out all they have learnt about cruelty on the actual real bodies of women and girls. This bolsters his narcissism and inevitably leads to him acting out his contempt on the other women and girls he encounters.
All of these forces work together to maintain men’s illegitimate power over women and girls and to make women’s submission hard, if not impossible, to escape. Together with male-pattern violence they uphold male supremacy and reduce women’s and girls’ options so that they are caught like flies in a spider’s web.
Male-pattern violence is never merely an individual act. Just as when the state tortures its dissidents, male-pattern violence sends out a message to those nearby: This is what happens to women and girls who do not submit. It therefore serves to uphold the power of other men and of men as a class.
When individual acts of male-pattern violence are looked at outside of this context, it is not possible to understand them. We see this in the frequent reports in the mainstream media of incidents of male-pattern violence where the police say they cannot find a motive.
But, but… people say, women are also violent to men. Which is undoubtedly true. But it is also a red herring. Because when women are violent to men they act alone. They do not have the whole culture behind them justifying and exonerating them. Generally, they don’t even have comparable physical size and strength. Very few women have sufficient power over men to use violence to demand their submission. No doubt it happens. But it is rare. A statistical anomaly. Women do, however, often have power over their children.
Adult power over children
Human beings are unique among mammals in having an extended childhood and this is fundamental to our humanity. The corollary of this is that raising children is also fundamental to our humanity.
We are mammals. We reproduce sexually. It is women who gestate the foetus in their womb for nine months. It is women who give birth to live infants. And it is women who breastfeed those infants. Traditionally breastfeeding continued for several years and women did the majority of the childcare, especially in the labour-intensive early years. Women cooperated together in this endeavour, the older women helping the younger women, particularly during the perinatal period.
This is surely the most convincing explanation for women’s significant longevity compared to men. The human race owes its existence to the hard work of generations of grandmothers. This fact is generally unrecognised in our male-controlled world because women’s work does not exist – it’s non-work, right? And women’s only use is as sex objects, and who the fuck wants to have sex with a grandmother?
With each step in the development of patriarchy, capitalism and neoliberalism, women’s independent means have been under attack and with them their children.
Under neoliberalism, the community disengagement with child raising has extended ever further so that now children are considered commodities. If you are selfish enough to want a child, it’s your sole responsibility to maintain it and pay for it. As if a child is a car! You can now even buy one. Under neoliberalism, society no longer exists, as Margaret Thatcher so memorably put it.
So neoliberal governments justify starving mothers and children of resources – and the structural imbalance of power between men and women, adults and children is increased ever further, making women and children easy targets of male-pattern violence.
It should not surprise us that child abuse and neglect of all forms are now epidemic and most of the perpetrators of the worst forms are male.
But our children are no longer at risk simply from individual perpetrators. Now, in the neoliberal climate that exalts greed as the highest value, our entire culture has been sexualised so what 50 years ago would have been considered pornography is now mainstream culture. And just below the surface, just a click or a swipe or two away is a whole world of violent misogynistic porn that eroticises male sexual cruelty to women and girls. Many, perhaps most, children are exposed to this, often from before the onset of puberty, and many boys are addicted to it by the age of 12 (you read that right, twelve).
This is a form of child abuse. And like any form of child abuse, the effects can be lifelong. Many will require a lifelong effort to undo its damage and many will struggle to form long-term loving relationships. And girls and young women are groomed by it into acceptance of a life of objectification and submission and many more will suffer when men and boys act out its violence on their bodies and souls.
This leads women and girls to hate themselves and feel they have no control and this is expressed in huge rates of eating disorders and self-harm.
Neoliberal governments look the other way. Because a fractured population suits its purposes of siphoning off the common wealth to the oligarchs.
Neoliberal governments allocate inadequate resources to dealing with the broken children that are the predictable fallout of their policies. When anything goes seriously wrong (a child not only dies but this comes to the attention of the media) inevitably a young, inadequately supported female social worker is blamed. And our under-resourced schools are blamed for not turning needy and often hungry children into well-adjusted scientists and technicians. As if.
What does the UN say about torture?
Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as:
“… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
Male-pattern violence inflicts severe pain and suffering. In the UK more than two women are killed by it a week on average and for every woman killed, there are many thousands who survive, hurt and traumatised. Each and every week. And many children are killed by it too.
Male-pattern violence is intentional and its purpose is to coerce women and children to submit to men’s individual and collective supremacy. This is a kind of discrimination and illegitimate power. The pervasiveness of male-pattern violence is a predictable result of the structural inequality between men and women.
Male-pattern violence takes place in plain sight of public officials who acquiesce in the face of it and condone it.
We see this in the persistent official reluctance to effectively address the pay gap between men and women and to hold absent fathers to account for contributing to the financial support of their children. We see it in the appalling rape prosecution and conviction rate, the harassment of women and girls on the street and online, the flooding of the culture with violent misogynistic porn, the withdrawal of funding from women’s organisations that are trying to address these things and support the female victims, the condoning of lapdancing, pimping and prostitution, the sexist representation of women and girls in the media, and so on. We see it in the official reluctance to address the structures that support and condone male-pattern violence.
When we look at the big picture, the only good faith conclusion is that male-pattern violence and the systemic and structural inequality of women and children falls within the UN definition of torture because it happens in plain sight of the state and with the acquiescence of the state. The state sanctions male-pattern violence and the systematic and structural inequality of women and children. This also falls within the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex set out in Article 14 of Human Rights Act 1998 and is a violation of the terms of CEDAW, which the UK has an international legal obligation to implement.
Women, it’s time to get angry. We must demand that this changes.