18 March 2019

It’s absurd to blame the Christchurch attack on toxic masculinity

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Shortly after news broke of the New Zealand massacre last week, Sophie Walker, the founder of the Women’s Equality Party, decided she knew what had caused this tragedy. “Please let there come a time when male violence is recognised as the single biggest threat to peace and treated accordingly,” she tweeted. “My heart goes out to the victims and families and everyone affected by the disgusting act of Islamophobic terrorism in #Christchurch.”

I was scheduled to debate Walker on Good Morning Britain this morning about whether it was right to link the terrible events of last week to “male violence”, but she refused to take part when she heard I had been booked and the producers cancelled it rather than pander to her by finding a more agreeable opponent.

First, I would have expressed my disappointment that the founder of a political party and a major public figure had exploited this tragedy to promote their partisan agenda, just as the Australian Senator Fraser Anning did when he tried to blame the massacre on Muslim immigration. I’ve been shocked by the speed with which scores of political activists on all sides have jumped on this massacre in an attempt to discredit their opponents.

Among those people and causes who’ve been saddled with responsibility since last Friday are Boris Johnson, Rod Liddle, Melanie Phillips, Douglas Murray, Katie Hopkins, Suzanne Evans, Rupert Murdoch, the Daily Mail, the Times, Brexit, Donald Trump, Chelsea Clinton, white people and, of course, the entire male gender. It shouldn’t need saying, but the responsibility for the 49 murders lies with the man who carried them out: Brenton Tarrant. Incidentally, he said that one of his aims was to polarise political debate and set people at each other’s throats. By exploiting this tragedy to demonise men, Sophie Walker is doing exactly what he wants.

Second, her analysis is at odds with the facts about male violence. Like many feminist commentators on last week’s events, Walker attributes Tarrant’s actions, and male violence more generally, to the inability of some men to cope with increasing gender equality. According to her, men like Tarrant feel “emasculated” by the “sexual and reproductive and economic freedom of women”. She takes it for granted that male violence, particularly violence against women, is increasing – she calls it an “epidemic” – and that’s exactly what you’d expect if there was a positive correlation between mass shootings like the one that took place in Christchurch last week and female empowerment.

In fact, every permutation of male violence, particularly violence against women, has declined dramatically since women’s rights began to be enshrined in law at scale across the developed world about 70 years ago. As Steven Pinker documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the annual rate of rape declined by 80 per cent in the US between 1973 and 2008. And that statistic probably masks the real decline since women have become more likely to report rapes in the past 60 years or so. In the UK, the number of people charged with rape fell to its lowest level in 10 years in 2017-18, with a 23.1 per cent decline in the number of suspects being investigated for rape since 2016-17.

It’s a similar story for rates of domestic violence in America and Britain. Protecting women from male violence has been one of the great victories of the feminist movement and, at the risk of being accused of mansplaining to the founder of the Women’s Equality Party, I think Walker is doing the architects of that movement a disservice by not acknowledging this. Apart from everything else, Walker’s analysis is completely incoherent. Women cannot be more vulnerable than they’ve ever been before and, at the same time, more empowered. Either the legal protection of women’s rights has increased or male violence against women has increased. It’s not possible for both to have risen or – to add to the incoherence – for the former increase to have caused the latter.

The third point I would have made is that it’s glib and superficial to attribute the tragedy in Christchurch to “male violence”, as though masculinity is the toxic ideology responsible for the deaths of those 49 people, not the extremist, racist ideology of Brenton Tarrant. Far from men in general being responsible for mass shootings, terrorism, violent assault, etc., it is men, for the most part, who protect the innocent from harm. We saw this during the terrible events of last week, when some men threw themselves between the hail of bullets and their children, while several others risked their lives to stop the attack.

Across the world, most police officers are men, most firefighters are men, most paramedics are men, most members of the security services and the armed forces are men. These are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from maniacs like Brenton Tarrant. Instead of trying to tar all men as being cut from the same cloth as this racist killer, why can’t Sophie Walker just give heartfelt thanks to those brave men who risk their lives every day to keep us safe, including her?

Apologies if this comes across as a bit too strident. But I’m sick of the way so many people have used this tragedy as an excuse to smear their political opponents, whether on the Right or the Left. As the Prime Minister of New Zealand said, let’s come together and recognise our common humanity and not dance to Brenton Tarrant’s tune by letting his appalling actions divide us even further.

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Toby Young is the co-founder of the West London Free School. He is the author of 'Technically Gifted' and, with Miranda Thomas, of 'What Every Parent Needs to Know: How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Primary School'.