This week, the Metropolitan Police Service has apologised “unreservedly” for the “excessive and unlawful force” that killed a man at the G20 protests in London in 2009.
Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper seller, was caught up in the demonstrations in the City of London as he walked home in April 2009. He was attacked with a baton from behind by Police Constable Simon Harwood, collapsed minutes later and died of internal bleeding.
Harwood was found not guilty of manslaughter but was later sacked by the Met Police for gross misconduct.
An inquest jury found Ian Tomlinson was the victim of an unlawful killing, but what nobody seems to be saying is that Mr Tomlinson was also the victim of violence against men and boys.
Every year, all over the world, men and boys are four times more likely to die a violent death. According to the World Health Organisation, men and boys account for 81% of the people who die violently each year. In total nearly half a million (455,000) men are boys are killed violently every year at a rate of one man dying of violence every minute of every day.
We are, it seems, more tolerant of violence against men—that’s all of us, men and women, together we have a greater collective tolerance of violence against men.
For every woman who is killed violently, four men are killed and there are no global campaigns to end violence against men and boys, yet there are global UN-sponsored campaigns to end violence against women and girls.
Women account for 19% of violent deaths and the international community has decided we need a global campaign to end violence against women and girls, but no campaign to help men and boys—and this is symptomatic of the fact that all over the world men and women are more tolerant of violence against men.
Can we say without doubt that the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson was because he was a man?
Tomlinson was a separated father who had struggled with alcoholism and was living in a homeless shelter. He was working casually selling the Evening Standard newspaper and got caught up in the G20 riots while trying to take his normal route home from work—by all accounts he just wanted to get back to his homeless shelter and his way home was blocked by police—and as the film footage clearly shows, one of them attacked him from behind.
Did this happen because he was a man?
As a man we can certainly say he was at far more likely to be separated from his children, have alcohol problems and be homeless—as a man we can also say he was far more likely to be the victim of violence on the street and it seems reasonable to speculate that if the police had attacked and killed a female passer-by that day, that our reaction would have been different because we are collectively more tolerant of violence against men and boys.
I saw this collective tolerance in action whilst watching a video of an anti-fracking protest in a nearby village in Sussex this week. Men and women joined arms to form a barricade put the police broke it up by inflicting pain on two of the protestors—it was a level of pain that would no doubt be deemed as “reasonable force”, but it is notable that the pain wasn’t inflicted on two women, or even a man or woman, but on two men.
Why as men, if we go on a demonstration, are we more likely to have pain inflicted on us than any women we go with? Why as men are we more likely to be hit by a baton and die? Why as men are we more likely to be killed in the street by a stranger? Why as men are we four times more likely to die a violent death.
Is it simply because of our gender? Did being a man make Ian Tomlinson more likely to be killed when he got mixed up in the G20 protests. Is it because we tolerate violence against men more than we tolerate violence against women?
We certainly seem to tolerate men’s disposability more—whether it’s male soldiers dying in combat, male suicide, men dying at work, men like Ian Tomlinson being separated from his children, becoming homeless, becoming alcoholic, being killed by the police.
Readers in the UK and USA will be familiar with the names of Stephen Lawrence and Trayvon Martin—young black teenagers killed probably because they were black and definitely because they were men.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission in the UK tells us that black men are twice as likely as black women to be the victims of race hate crimes and gay men are twice as likely to be the victims of homophobic hate crimes. Because they are men—because we are more tolerant of violence against men —gay men and black men are at greater risk of violence than their female counterparts.
I grew up not in the Seventies and Eighties when it was deemed acceptable for male and female teachers—even the terrifying dinner ladies who paraded the playgrounds—to physically assault children. Though in reality it was the boys who took the bulk of the physical punishment. The last assault I was on the receiving end of personally was from a male teacher in 1985 — he grabbed me by the hair and shook me shortly before I took one of my O Levels—not the best preparation for an exam!
I often saw boys pulled about by the hair by adults in school—but never girls—because we are more tolerant of violence against men and boys.
Why when the Home Office tells us that six out of 10 people killed by someone they know and nine out of 10 people killed by a stranger are men and boys do we have a national strategy to end violence against women and girls, but no strategy to help men and boys?
Who is looking out for the boys around the world who are beaten and bullied at school, the men and boys sent to war, the men and boys subjected to rape and sexual abuse and domestic violence who find it far harder than their female equivalents to access help and support?
Why on earth is there no law to stop people cutting off parts of a boy’s genitals without an anaesthetic for no medical reason, when there are laws to prevent lesser procedures on girls (like piercing or nicking). When it happens to girls we call it violence against women and girls. When we hear that a baby boy bleeds to death from the end of his penis in the UK in the 21st Century there not a single MP prepared to stand up in parliament and say this must end—and no-one dares to call it violence against men and boys.
So where are the feminists who claim to be fighting for gender equality in all of this? If women were four times more likely to die a violent death than men it would be a gender equality matter—so why not when it’s men?
Maybe that isn’t feminism’s job. If not, then where are the men’s rights activists? Why haven’t they created a global campaign to help the men and boys of the world be free from violence and abuse?
Part of the challenge is that to acknowledge our collective tolerance of violence against men and boys, men’s rights’ activists would also have to acknowledge that the majority of (not all) violence against men is perpetrated by men—they couldn’t credibly blame feminism or women for the majority of violence against men and boys—though some would try.
And because of this—because of the tendency of men’s rights advocates to see the world through the filter “men have problems and women and feminism are the problem”—focussing on stopping all violence against men and boys detracts from highlighting cases where men are victims of women’s bad behaviour.
As a result, it is currently pro-feminists who seem to be more likely to highlight the issue—or at least part of the issue of our collective tolerance of violence against men and boys. There is a growing “patriarchy hurts men too” narrative evolving that is mostly pro-feminist and is shifting the narrative on violence from “women have problems, men are problems” to “women and some men have problems and it’s men and patriarchy who are the problem”.
What pro-feminists struggle with is acknowledging that men are far more likely to be victims of violence than women —because this takes focus away from female victims— and they also struggle to acknowledge the violence that women do to men and boys—the mothers who beat and abuse their children, the women who beat their partners and husbands, the women involved in elder abuse.
And so between them, between the men’s rights activists and the feminists who all proclaim to be for “true equality”—no group is standing up to end our collective tolerance of violence against men and boys.
Only when we take a gender inclusive approach that acknowledges men and women as both perpetrators and victims will we ever create a world free from violence and abuse for everyone.
Men are four times more likely to die a violent death than women. The Met Police didn’t kill a genderless passer-by in 2009, they killed a man—our collective tolerance of violence against men and boys makes it more likely that there will be more deaths like his in future.
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