Two points Michelle O’Neill overlooks about violence and misogyny

A letter from David McCabe:

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with Sinn Fein MLA Caral ni Chuilin at a Belfast vigil for Ashling Murphy
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with Sinn Fein MLA Caral ni Chuilin at a Belfast vigil for Ashling Murphy

This week, in the wake of the tragic death of Ashling Murphy, the Deputy First Minister made an emotional plea.

Michelle O’Neill read out the names of women murdered since the start of the pandemic.

She said ‘enough is enough’ and called for an end to the sexism and misogyny that leads to male violence against women.

Letter to the editor

Men and boys should ‘call out’ these sexist and misogynistic attitudes among their peer groups in order to prevent future deaths, she concluded.

For me, her comments were notable for two glaring oversights.

Firstly, it is a gross simplification, if not a complete falsehood, to attribute the murder of women to the single root cause of male misogyny.

Secondly, to characterise all men in Ireland equally in this context is an injustice.

Let me elaborate.

In the first instance, the overwhelming majority of these appalling murders are committed by the victim’s partner, ex-partner or close family member.

Repeated studies into the risk factors for violence against women cite distinct psychotic disorders.

They show the perpetrators to be suffering with issues around their own identity rather than having a particularly skewed misogynistic attitude to women.

The traditional perception of masculinity runs counter to dependency upon a female partner, making any such reliance appear as evidence of weakness and humiliation or an affront to ‘masculine honour’.

The male role as breadwinner came with characteristics of leadership and independence, and societal change in this area is perceived by some men as challenging, while fostering feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

These are complex issues.

However, today we have the single pervasive narrative of ‘toxic masculinity’ that makes it all too easy to pronounce men and boys as inherently sexist and misogynist.

I agree with Michelle that educating young men will play a key role going forward, but disagree that the focus should be on sexism and misogyny.

Perhaps young men need to be made aware that advancement in women’s rights does not, of necessity, conflict with masculinity.

The second oversight further weakens the case that all men and boys in Northern Ireland/The Republic of Ireland are equally sexist or misogynistic.

When the Deputy First Minister was reading the list of victims I was struck by the names, many of which were of an ethnic origin other than British/Irish.

I appreciate that these concerns are sensitive but it is not unreasonable to suspect that cultural issues as well as gender issues might be at play here.

A quick reference to the demographics of Ireland reveals that women of ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately represented among the tragic victims. We should discuss such factors.

While presumably well intentioned, I believe the broad brush painting of men and boys as sexist misogynists may say more about the current climate of ‘woke’ misandry than offer a reliable diagnosis or help of any substance.

David McCabe, Dromore, Co Down

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