Irish Times

Monday, November 19, 2001

Why so silent if the issue is so important?

By John Waters
Irish Times

In his column last Tuesday, "Rise in family violence needs analysis", Fintan O'Toole used the previous weekend's tragedy, following which a man and his child were found stabbed to death, to condemn those who have highlighted the unjust treatment of fathers in the family law system.

He listed a number of recent instances of children being, as he put it, "done to death", and concluded: "And although it is by no means an exclusively male phenomenon . . . it does seem that a majority of the perpetrators is male". The word "seem" is interesting. In fact, the vast majority of infanticides are perpetrated by mothers, who are rarely charged with this crime because there is an understanding that it is the act of a person of unsound mind.

The media have entered into a similar undertaking not to report infanticides by mothers as they would killings of other kinds. The silence makes possible Fintan's use of the word seem. It would have been interesting to read Fintan's analysis of the assault resulting in a brain haemorrhage by a Limerick mother on her six-month-old son, reported in the same edition of The Irish Times.

Judge Carroll Moran said the assaults were so abnormal that it was reasonable to think there were extraordinary factors behind the abuse and imposed a two-year suspended sentence.

Fintan, meanwhile, having constructed his straw man, went on: "The rising Men's Rights movement believes it has an explanation. It blames feminism, and in particular the operation of the family courts which it sees as a form of institutionalised discrimination against fathers." There followed a ritualistic nod towards the possibility that the alleged injustices might actually be taking place.

Those who have, apparently, justified the killing of innocent children have "had an easy ride of late" because they they have said things that needed saying. "They have drawn attention to the fact that men too can be victims of domestic violence, and that social attitudes can force them to suffer in silence. They have also made legitimate criticisms of the lack of transparency in the family court system. There is simply no objective information with which to test their allegations of bias against fathers in child custody cases because the secrecy of the courts does not allow for the scrutiny that every system needs. The service they have done in highlighting these two issues is considerable."

It is reassuring to know that in the course of inciting other men to kill their children, I have been doing something useful (although I cannot recall the easy ride). I note in passing Fintan's belated acknowledgement of the truth.

Regrettably, having previously criticised neither the social attitudes which force men to suffer in silence, nor the secrecy of the family courts system, his first intervention is to attack those who have spoken out.

The problem, he assures us, is not the arguments, it is "that these rational arguments often come wrapped in a hateful rhetoric that feeds the kind of paranoia, rage and infinite resentment that, in a deranged mind, can seem to justify horrific violence". There's that word seem again. It is clear that Fintan believes we must refrain from vehement denunciation of injustice on the off chance that disturbed others might do something illegal.

Having conceded that he does not know the scale of injustice against fathers, Fintan goes on to allege that a "wildly exaggerated vision of a society ruled by mad feminists . . . in which men are emasculated and oppressed is being conjured up by the Men's Rights movement".

He then attacks Magill magazine (of which I am Consultant Editor), and an article in the November issue by Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, about what Fintan calls "the appallingly high incidence of suicide among Irish men". Yes, it is appallingly high, but this is the first time Fintan has said so.

"The subject," he says, "is an urgent one, and the predominance of male victims cries out for thoughtful analysis." I agree, but wonder, if he thinks it so urgent, why Fintan has remained silent about it for more than a decade. Where is his thoughtful analysis? Fintan then rubbishes views expressed by Mac Giolla Bhain.

He disputes Phil's view that the elite running social policy in this State is governed by feminist ideas, quoting various statistics of female participation in senior positions. "If there is a man-hating elite, therefore, it is overwhelmingly male," Fintan argues. Well, precisely - the social policy of this State is formulated and implemented largely by men who think like Fintan O'Toole.

Having suggested that those who protest about systematic denials of human rights have in doing so justified the killing of children, Fintan then claims not to have said this. "It would be absurd," he says, "to suggest that rhetorical distortions about the nature of Irish society cause anyone to kill children." Absurd is a good word, but scurrilous is better. Having made his allegation and withdrawn it, Fintan then repeats it.

"What they \rhetorical distortions do, however, is to feed into an already unstable mentality a picture of a world in which there is a vast conspiracy to deny men any kind of domestic justice. If you put wild resentment together with a paranoid sense of hopelessness, the result is bound to be explosive". It is difficult to perceive the distinction between what Fintan is saying he is saying and what he is saying he is not saying.

Is it at all possible that the resentment and sense of hopelessness are products of the injustices which Fintan, who has made a career out of denouncing injustice, refuses to condemn as he has condemned those who have dared to expose them?

jwaters@irish-times.ie

© 2001 ireland.com