Gender, violence and the media: free speech or responsible speech?

Unpublished letter to The Guardian, 02 06 2013

keywords: the violences of hyper-masculine men, misogyny, fascists, fundamentalists, patriarchal masculinity, ‘free’ speech.

So what’s coming down the hetero track as ‘explanations’ for the violences of hyper-masculine men, such as the EDL, BNP, jihadists, sexual predators, domestic abusers, stalkers and killers of women and children, etc., who see violence as an acceptable and necessary ‘solution’ and/or lifestyle?

A selection in order of disappointment: “women’s empowerment” (Jon Snow, C4 05 2013), “unemployment” (Diane Abbott, Guardian 05 2013), “problem families” David Lammy (cited Guardian 29 03 2013), “alienation” (Deborah Orr, Guardian 01 06 2013). And Mohamed El-Gomati tells us to ’”invite the EDL for tea”, explain our point of view, as he and his friends at his mosque did: “they understood” and then played a game of football (as men do to bond).

Misogyny predates neoliberalism, even capitalism, yet in 2013 hate speech or hate crime against girls and women remain out on a limb, not properly acknowledged or policed, and we deploy gender-neutral terms to elide the problem of violence by men (against other men, women, children and property).

All these ways of avoiding mention of the significance of men’s hyper hetero-masculinity in scenarios of violence, be they racist or homophobic murder; violent street riots inciting racism and/or homophobia; predatory and aggressive sexual intimidation and bullying in the public domains of work and leisure; the attack and murder of those who look ‘different’; the massacre of strangers; the massacre of your own people; or behind-closed-doors domestic violence and abuse, for example. bell hooks is right to identify these behaviours as manifestations of “patriarchal masculinity” (see hooks [2004] ‘Understanding Patriarchy’ in The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love: 17-33).

The skills of fascists and fundamentalists are not dialogic; conversation is not part of their personal or political toolkit; not least because conversation is not arm-wrestling; not about dominance or male prowess; it’s not a form of coercion. So it’s maybe not ‘manly’ enough for them (too ‘girly’), and therefore perhaps a bit scary.

In 2013, the familiar Voltaire quote (Mohamed El-Gomati [01 06 2013] The Guardian) does not comfortably cover those (i.e. fascists and fundamentalists) who publicly promote a discourse, not just of hate, but extermination of the Other (and to them most of us are Other). For these men (and they are overwhelmingly men), it is all about power and dominance at the expense of all Others, and democracy itself is their target.

And this last is something they have in common with the current ConDem government. Taking tea together, as Gomati recommends, may be a tall order. And responsible speech might serve a democratic society better than ‘free’ speech, if free speech is appropriated by its enemies, becoming a weapon that destroys well being, and costs lives and liberty.

val walsh / 02 06 2013



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