The day after Rowan Baxter brutally incinerated his ex-partner Hannah Clarke and their children, the detective in charge of the investigation, Mark Thompson, publicly queried whether the “husband” had been “driven too far”.
He did this despite knowing that Clarke had been dragged out of her burning car screaming “He’s poured petrol on me”. He would also have been aware that Baxter had given an account to the paramedics of what had just happened.
Still, Thompson took it upon himself to share his unsubstantiated bias, stating: “Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence, and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband? Or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”
The public outcry that followed forced the Queensland police commissioner to stand him down from the investigation.
Since then, men’s rights activists, in particular One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson and anti-feminist Bettina Arndt have stepped in to defend Baxter and Thompson.
Hanson told Channel 7 on February 24 that men like Baxter “are driven to this, to do these acts for one reason or another”. She further trivialised the crime by stating that “these things happen”.
Arndt said Baxter might have been “driven too far” and condemned what she described as the “misplaced outrage” of those demanding Thompson be stood down.
Arndt is renowned for her hatred of young women in particular, having toured campuses to tell students that young women are exaggerating the level of sexual harassment on campuses. In 2018, while speaking about a case of a paedophile teacher being jailed in 2011 for raping a15-year-old student, Arndt said girls are “exploiting their seductive power to ruin the lives of men”.
The fact that Arndt was awarded the Order of Australia in January for her so-called “gender equity” advocacy indicates how much purchase the anti-woman brigade has on the establishment, though due to public pressure moves to strip her of the award are underway with the Coalition backing Labor’s Senate motion to this effect on February 25.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is “shocked” at the murders, he has not reconsidered the appointment of two misogynist MPs to the Family Law Review – Liberal MP Kevin Andrews and Hanson.
Andrews is fiercely anti-abortion and Hanson has a history of supporting the men’s rights movement and trivialising anti-women violence. Left in charge, they will see to it that its recommendations jeopardise the safety of women and children.
Arndt and Hanson are femicide deniers. Like climate change deniers who refuse to acknowledge the science, these two deny that the intentional killing of women is a growing problem that governments need to address.
They are so ideologically committed to defending men against a “feminism that has gone too far” that they trivialise and belittle those on the receiving end of grotesque violence.
Their position is absurd and dangerous. Despite overwhelming evidence of the rise in lethal violence against women, these men’s rights activists have friends in powerful places.
Anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty is correct to say that “A loving parent never considers murder as ever being an option or a solution. Murder is a decision that is deliberate and driven by the need to exact revenge and achieve the ultimate act of power and control.”
The difficulty of tackling family violence is connected to the essential role of the family: to privatise the raising of the next generation within the family system, in which women have fewer rights than men.
The patriarchal family system was only developed several thousand years ago, primarily to transfer wealth from one generation to another within the one family. In this set-up, women and children are considered possessions of the patriarch. In many households, they still are.
While we may think of our own particular family unit differently, and capitalism has shown its ability to adapt to same-sex families, women still undertake most of the unpaid labour and still take most responsibility for the care of young and older family members.
Because of this, women cannot easily escape a violent partner or ex-partner: they cannot just abandon their children and often do not have the economic means to leave.
This is why we need to continue striving towards a world without sexism, where women, men, boys and girls are free from gender roles and rules and can relate respectfully, in all our diversity.
[Sue Bolton is the Melbourne co-convenor of Socialist Alliance and is a councillor at Moreland City Council.]