Beyond the 'rotten apples' assumption: creative contributions to the issue of men's violence

Author: Daniel Heath Moss

Moss, Daniel Heath, 2018 Beyond the 'rotten apples' assumption: creative contributions to the issue of men's violence, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Domestic and family violence presents a seemingly intractable social problem. Our attitudes towards men who abuse women and children have traditionally been punitive, viewing them as ‘rotten apples’ rather than acknowledging the deeper socio-cultural issues which legitimise violence and privilege dominant male behaviour. Men who abuse are often seen as a homogenous group who need to be identified and confronted, to be controlled, until their behaviour is stopped through statutory or coercive therapeutic methods. These men are viewed as desirous only of power and control in their relationships with women and children, disqualifying the possibility of ethics of love, compassion, safety, empathy or respect (Jenkins, 2009). Popular and therapeutic approaches to these men have therefore focused only on the inventories of their violence, or the effects of their narcissism, and have disqualified more nuanced and holistic exploration of these men’s motivations in their relationships with women and children.

The three components of this thesis are designed to extend contemporary analysis of men who use violence as a heterogenous group, driven by unique motivations and contexts, but influenced by hegemonic messages about masculinity. It moves beyond traditional individual deficit notions to examine how men become captured by the legitimisation of gendered violence in western society, and how they might strive for more connected and loving relationships.

The three components of the thesis are connected by the possibility of redemption for individual men and commits to an understanding of them that extends beyond only their use of violence. These components focus of individual examples where men have broken from the constraints of dominant male practice, to demonstrate difference. These components are connected by the advocation of a more nuanced and compassionate approach to men who abuse, using examples from contemporary MBCP practitioners and authors to support this position.

My thesis focuses on the attitudes of men’s behaviour change program (MBCP) practitioners, Australian authors and the characters in my creative piece, The Man in Her Head. My approach to each of these components is influenced by what Australian psychologist, Alan Jenkins, calls ‘A parallel political journey (2009).’ Jenkins advocates for a political therapeutic response to men, acknowledging that therapists themselves are influenced by discourses that can have them acting in coercive and repressive ways. Jenkins is interested in ways that therapists could become interested in their own personal ethics in their work with men, and how both therapist and client could enter into processes which uncovered these ethics.

In my interviews with MBCP practitioners I explore the history of their approaches to men who abuse. In all eight interviews, participants describe their own political journeys in their work with men and how this had either reinforced or changed their practice position over time. I was also interested in how these practitioners had been influenced by popular ideas about men’s violence, their own personal or professional experiences and their understandings of ‘best practice’ in work with men who abuse.

In my exploration of contemporary Australian authors, I am interested in their use of polyphonic dialogue to include the voices of all of their main protagonists in the creation of their novels. Particularly, I am interested in how the voices of men who use violence are included, as well as those women and children who are affected by their violence. I am also interested in how Australian authors describe the effects of political institutions and normative social messages on the legitimisation of violence on their male and female protagonists.

In my creative piece, The Man in Her Head, I have attempted to follow the lead of Australian authors by exploring how messages received through childhood about the legitimisation of gendered violence has affected each of the three main protagonists. In particular I am interested in how each of the three characters are contained by these messages, but also about how they are able to break from this containment to find different possibilities to connect and redeem.

Keywords: men's violence, men's behaviour change programs, masculinity, de-centred and influential therapy, creative writing

Subject: Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Danielle Clode