In the previous blog post I wrote about how partner violence is falsely presented as a problem where men hit women. The myth of the male perpetrator and the battered woman is so pervasive that even most mental health professionals and social workers ascribe to it, though it flies in the face of substantial amounts of academic research.
In reality, gender is a very poor predictor of violence in the home, even though conventional feminist wisdom portrays men and presumed male privilege as the leading reasons for domestic violence.
So what are the consequences of misrepresenting the causes of domestic violence? What are the effects of perpetuating the myth of the male perpetrator?
- You move further away from solving the issue. Partner violence is caused by psychosocial problems such as mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, raising young children, unemployment and poverty. If you don’t deal with these issues directly, and instead try to solve the problem by telling all men that manhood is the cause of violence, then your chances for success will be slim indeed.
- You perpetuate current myths about the sexes. By incorrectly stating that nearly all partner abuse is caused by men hitting women, you cement the notion that women are weak victims that are easy to exploit, while men are strong individuals who are likely to abuse the power awarded to them from society. In reality, women are far from weak, and men inhabit the whole spectrum from being empowered to being disempowered.
- You blame and shame men for an issue that is actually a human issue and not a male issue. The traditional male gender role presents men as stoic creatures that can handle anything life throws at them. While it may be true that many men have the ability to persevere under difficult circumstances, men are far from immune from being shamed, and having this affect them on a deep level. Blaming ordinary men for the societal issue of domestic violence, when women in fact instigate just as much violence (and most perpetrators have psychosocial problems), is in itself a subtle form of psychological abuse.
- You scare women and children by putting out the message that it’s ordinary men who hit their spouse. In reality, men who hit their spouse are much more likely to have psychological issues or drug abuse than ordinary men. Criminality is also vastly over-represented in men who physically abuse women.
- Children stay stuck in violent environments. Since female violence in the home has been made invisible by the current myths around partner violence, these women can carry on their abusive activities without any interference. This leads to children of all ages having to grow up in a violent environment, and potentially being physically abused themselves.
- Male victims cannot get the help they need. In the dominant worldview broadcasted by the media and politicians, male victims of partner violence hardly exist, and therefore there is no need to offer much help – if any – to men who have been abused. Men are thus doubly traumatized: first of all by the violence itself, and second of all by being made invisible by society and not getting any help to heal psychologically.
It’s great that women have access to women’s shelters nowadays, and that social workers and the police alike are vigilant about battered women and male perpetrators.
But when will we see similar support systems geared towards battered men, and have the police be as vigilant about female perpetrators who hit their husband? When will men be able to bring themselves and their children to a safe-house in order to escape a violent wife?