Gurbaksh Chahal admits he lost his temper but says it wasn't domestic violence.

Gurbaksh Chahal admits he lost his temper but says it wasn’t domestic violence.

In regards to the continuum of sexist behaviour, people are fond of defending offending men by referring to the women who exist in connection to them. So it is argued that a Prime Minister cannot take a dim view of the abilities of women to govern and lead because he has three daughters; a radio host’s vile views about women cannot be anything more than shock jockery because he’s been married for 40 years; or an average young man cannot view women as transferrable commodities because he loves his mother.

The truth is, women often play significant roles in the lives of sexist and/or abusive men, and their existence isn’t a magical salve that prevents these men from wanting to wield power over others. One of the most terrifying experiences of my life involved me intervening in an incident of intimate partner violence while the tormentor’s teenage daughter blithely looked on. Abuse is complicated.

And yet this argument persists. It most recently reared its head after multimillionaire internet entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal was charged with 45 felony counts for allegedly hitting and kicking his girlfriend. The incident was caught on one of the many surveillance cameras Chahal had installed in his property, and involved Chahal allegedly hitting and kicking his girlfriend 117 times over a 30 minute period. Chahal pled guilty to one count of misdemeanour battery and one count of domestic violence battery. He has lost his job and gained three years’ probation.

Despite his guilty plea, Chahal continues to deny he did anything wrong. As he argues on his personal blog, “I recognize that my temper got the better of me, and I will regret that for the rest of my life.  But there is a difference between temper and domestic violence, and the truth of what actually happened is no where close to what the police claimed nor anywhere near what the online chatter and pundits are now making it out to be.” The internal reasoning for this abrogation of responsibility seems to be thus. People who abuse their partners are bad. I am not Bad, therefore what I did cannot constitute real abuse.

Chahal then delivers the kicker line, the get-out-of-jail-free evidence that’s supposed to set him apart from this so called contingent of Bad Men: “I have two sisters, a niece and a mother. I love them all to death, and would never want any harm to ever come their way.”

While it’s very nice that Chahal wants his female relations to be kept safe from harm, it isn’t actually evidence of a predisposition towards treating women equally. Most reasonable people don’t want their loved ones to endure pain or torment, but it doesn’t follow that this is the same as believing they should have equal opportunities or be entitled to the same public space. Loving one woman certainly isn’t proof that you have respect for all women – it isn’t even proof that you have respect for her.

There is a popular idea that many men become feminists (or at least develop a more heightened awareness of sexual inequality and oppression) when they become fathers to daughters. In general, this is accepted as some kind of heightened awareness in the man – a sort of levelling up of skills and power that results in a more enlightened being.

But when you peel back the superficial layers of that argument, it actually just reveals itself as a different version of patriarchal ownership (albeit in a rather more benevolent form). The thrust is that your average unreconstructed man is suddenly able to empathise with the plight of women once he creates one of his own. The understanding that she may be treated with disdain, that she may be belittled, that she may even be violated is supposed to shock men into crashing awareness. This is generally treated with no small amount of congratulations.

But why does it take creating a girl to suddenly appreciate the rights of women altogether? Why do we respond to circumstances that reinforce traditional ideals of protectionism with reverence instead of irritation? A recent article on She Rights called this tactic the language of ‘dude feminism’. “Men, we are told, shouldn’t hurt women, not because of any intrinsic rights women may have, but because other men might do it to THEIR women, and that would be awful.”

We have a twofold problem here. The first is in the assumption that being related to women is enough to guarantee favourable feelings to all women. Respecting the rights of women to co-exist equally and with their own autonomy is not dictated by how much you enjoy your mother’s home cooking.

But the second problem is the idea that we should celebrate how having daughters arouses in men a sense of responsibility and shame in regards to the way women are treated. Treating all people with dignity shouldn’t be the unexpected consequence of procreation – it should be a basic prerequisite for being a functioning member of society.

If you truly believe in women’s equality and their right to lead lives of their own making, free from gendered violence and abuse, then you wouldn’t need to wave your female family members around like a set of collector cards. Because your actions should be enough to speak for themselves. One of those actions might be expressing the view that no women – not just your sisters, daughters, nieces and mothers – deserves to have harm brought upon her.