Why talking about male violence matters

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is also the international day of tediously explaining why violence against women needs to be discussed as a category. November 25 is the day when you will be reminded that two thirds of homicide victims in England and Wales are male, and that (according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales) men are twice as likely as women to have been victims of violence. November 25 is the day of being reminded that women commit violence too. Last year, I was at an End Violence Against Women event in Bristol where a man had bought a ticket solely so he could stand up in the middle of the discussion and shout, “What about Joanna Dennehy?” (Dennehy became the first woman subject to a whole life tariff in February this year, when she was convicted of the murders of three men). What about Joanna Dennehy, then? After all, it’s true that women are also implicated in violence:

Yes, women are violent too. But the traffic of violence is overwhelmingly from men, and disproportionately to women. As a class, men are the bearers of violence. As a class, women are its victims. And this is why feminists talk about male violence: not for lack of concern about the violence perpetrated by women, but because as a demographic phenomenon, violence is masculine. For this reason, we can draw connections between the patterns of violence and other areas of male domination. What about the fact that women are more likely to live in poverty than men? The fact that the UK has a pay gap of 19.7% in favour of men? The fact that women make up just 23% of MPs? What about the fact that purchasers of sex are exclusively men – is that relevant here? All of these inequalities exist in an environment shaped by that traffic of violence: from men, to women. All of them must be addressed in the acknowledgement of that context, if they are to be addressed at all.

But there is still something troubling about the demographics of violence, and it’s this: if the majority of victims of male violence are men, why is there no male-led political movement for the dismantling of male violence? Why is this analysis a feminist project alone? If male violence were to end, this would benefit all victims – meaning that, in theory, men would benefit more than women. Instead, emphasis on male victims is raised almost solely as a spoiling tactic, to undermine discussions about the male-majority perpetrators. Why would men seemingly be acting against their own interests?

The answer is probably to be found in double-entry book keeping: every debit has a credit, and every unforced sacrifice an expected reward. This is an approach that can be usefully applied to many areas where men appear to exercise power in a way that exacts a cost from them. For example, philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards points out that sex discrimination in the workplace will lead employers to pass over better qualified female candidates in favour of less suitable men – which, in pure commercial terms, is a stunningly silly thing for any employer to do. “It means the job will be less well done, and therefore (to put it schematically) that he [i.e. the employer] will be losing money by appointing the man. Why should he do that?” asks Richards, and then she answers: “He is actually willing to pay for something or other, and it is hard to see what it could possibly be other than the simple cause of male supremacy.”

In the case of violence, men are paying with their lives for the cause of male supremacy. The end of violence against women means the liberation of females from our subordination to males. It means men giving up power in exchange for a less brutal world.