Saturday, April 21, 2007

Violent men

Beatrix Campbell's 1993 book Goliath was a fascinating examination of what one Amazon reviewer called "lawless masculinity", but it was fascinating in a way the author did not intend. Ostensibly an examination of three outbreaks of urban disorder in "Thatcher's Britain" - in Oxford, Cardiff and Newcastle - it was in fact a straightforward illustration of the dangers and dishonesties inherent in any feminist (or Marxist) work of analysis. But this was only the case because Campbell is a brilliant reporter.

The book fell into two halves: reportage and analysis.

In the first half, Campbell clearly showed the complicated interactions between men and women. This is from memory, and it's at least ten years since I read it, but she showed how in Cardiff rioting with a racist aspect was incited by women but carried out by men, and how when the men began to flag their women spurred them on again. Her descriptions of joyriding showed clearly how it was a form of mating ritual, with girls making themselves available as prizes to the most daring boys.

In the second half, she started with her conclusions - that men were to blame - and disregarded her own reportage. No mention was made of the interactions with women, except of course, to depict them as victims. But she had to do this; she already knew what her conclusions were going to be, before she even began to look at the events themselves. Starting with an open mind and examining the evidence without any preconceptions isn't going to be a feminist, or a Marxist, analysis.

It was an extraordinary display of a certain type of intellectual pathology that even her admiring four-star reviewer at Amazon was moved to mention:

Campbell writes from a feminist perspective, and while this is generally insightful, she sometimes seems to portray the women involved as being preyed upon by these dangerous youths
After her own reporting had shown this was not the case, the analysis was genuinely bizarre.

The Guardian today reports on the case of:
A mother and her three daughters who forced two toddlers to take part in a "dog fight" and filmed it...
The women, including the children's mother, goaded the tearful brother and sister to punch each other and even use a magazine and hairbrush as weapons. When the boy, who was in a nappy, stopped fighting they called him a "wimp" and "bloody faggot".
... the children's grandmother... she saw nothing wrong with what they had done as it would "toughen them up".
I think most people actually know that men and women are complimentary, and participate equally, but differently, in most human activities. These include violence and criminality.

Unfortunately, this view does not inform public policy, which is more driven by the idea that men and women are identical, except where men are bad.

There are the usual links beneath the Guardian piece, links to associated topics of interest. They all relate to child care. They should instead point to the gender pages. This case - rare only because it was filmed and therefore became known - stands in silent reproach to every Guardian columnist who writes as though it were an established fact that violence is an exclusively male failing. But that link won't be made. The evidence has been there all along. The evidence was in Bee Campbell's book. They all choose to disregard it.

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