Dr Michael Flood gave a keynote address at a Melbourne event designed to increase Victorian policy-makers’ knowledge about the primary prevention of violence against women.
Dr Flood’s presentation to the Prevention is Possible forum, on July 4, focused on the issue of backlash. Efforts to prevent men’s violence against women often face resistance and backlash. Resistance is a common, indeed inevitable, response to progressive social change.
Resistance and backlash are both individual and collective, both formal or informal, and more likely to come from the people who are advantaged by the status quo. In the case of efforts to prevent men’s violence against women, resistance is more common from men than women, e.g. in the form of defensiveness and hostility.
Resistance takes typical forms:
- Denial: Denial of the problem or the legitimacy of the case for change
- Disavowal: Refusal to recognise responsibility
- Inaction: Refusal to implement a change initiative
- Appeasement: Efforts to placate or pacify those advocating for change in order to limit its impact
- Appropriation: Simulating change while covertly undermining it.
- Co-option: Using the language of progressive frameworks and goals (‘equality’, ‘rights’, ‘justice’, and so on) for reactionary ends
- Repression: Reversing or dismantling a change initiative
Denial is one of the most common forms of resistance and backlash. Individuals and groups seeking to push back against progressive social change often:
- Deny that the problem exists; minimise its extent, significance, or impact; or rename and redefine it out of existence
- Blame the problem on those who are the victims of it
- Deny the credibility of the message
- Attack the credibility of the messengers of change
- Reverse the problem, adopting a victim position, claiming reverse discrimination, etc.
Dr Flood argued that three kinds of strategy are relevant in responding to and preventing backlash and resistance to particular social justice initiatives:
- Framing strategies: How to articulate, represent, or frame the initiative
- Teaching and learning strategies: How to teach about the initiative and engage people in coming to understand and support it
- Organisational / institutional strategies: How to involve individuals, institutions, and organisational policies, processes, and structures in the initiative
For example, in framing violence prevention initiatives, we must try to draw on shared principles and goals, both organisational and personal; clearly articulate the rationale and benefits; anticipate and answer common resistant reactions; and emphasise that men will benefit.
One common counter-reaction to initiatives focused on men’s domestic or family violence against women is to ask, “What about women’s violence against men?”. In response, we should start by acknowledging that, yes, men are routinely the victims of violence, and their perpetrators overwhelmingly are other men. We must provide accessible critiques of inaccurate claims about female perpetration and male victimisation, including accounts of the data on actual gender asymmetries in domestic or intimate partner violence, and critiques of the conceptual assumptions and methods in literature used to claim gender symmetry. The problem of domestic / family / intimate partner violence is largely a problem of violence by men, against women and children. Comparing men’s violence against female partners & ex-partners and women’s violence against male partners & ex-partners, men’s violence is far more common, has much worse impacts, and is far less likely to be in self-defence. If we only ‘count violent acts’, males look like 1 in 3 or 4 of victims. But as soon as we look at impact, meaning, context, and history, we find profound gender contrasts.
Another key element of an appropriate framing response to anti-feminist backlash is direct critique. We should offer alternative analyses of the issues on which men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups focus, critique and discredit them, and show that their efforts are harmful for men themselves.
Dr Flood also explored the teaching and learning strategies, and organisational strategies, with which to respond to and prevent backlash and resistance.