This ABC segment about women abusing men is very enlightening. It’s interesting that they would even bring up the subject of women abusing men, since it normally gets very little media exposure.
Posts Tagged ‘violence’
In this post I’ll combine the subjects of physical abuse and personal accountability, by publishing an edited version of a piece that I originally posted in an online forum, in a response to a woman who had been abused both when growing up and later on in her marriage.
The gist of what I’m trying to get across to her is that it’s possible to hold ourselves responsible for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is, and that holding ourselves responsible is not the same thing as blaming ourselves.
I feel a lot of compassion for your experience, and I agree that placing blame on a victim doesn’t lead to anything constructive, but like J, I would like to make a few distinctions.
You cannot be responsible for another person’s actions. If someone beats you up regularly in your own home, then you have zero responsibility for their actions. The person who’s doing the beating has full responsibility for his/her actions.
You however, have full responsibility for your response/reaction. You can respond in a host of different ways (maybe not when the actual beating is going on, but afterwards). You can stay, you can leave, you can call the police, you can go talk to a friend, you can do nothing, etc..
This is not to say that you are to be blamed for your response! Blame leads nowhere, and has no purpose except to put another individual down, or to put ourselves down.
But as long as you are responsible for your actions, then you can choose a different, and better, response. So holding you responsible for what you do is not about blaming you, it’s about believing that you can make better choices for yourself. It’s about trusting your innate power and the fact that the path to empowerment remains open for every human being during their whole life.
Nothing of this denies the fact that if you had a terrible upbringing then it may be awfully hard to respond in a constructive way, and to get out of a destructive relationship. Even if you didn’t have a bad upbringing, you can get sucked into a bad/abusive relationship, to the point that you hardly can see your options. But you are still responsible! You still have access to your free will, and saying that you are responsible is a way of honoring your integrity and autonomy, and not treating you like a child.
Because children… are not responsible. When you are under a certain age, you simply are not a fully autonomous individual with full access to your own free will. Therefore society has an extra responsibility to look out for children that are being abused, because they cannot even be expected to call out for help, and it is developmentally incorrect to refer to them as response-able individuals.
So children can be, and are, helpless victims of abuse. But when we extend that view to adults, as has often been done in feminist literature aimed at women who have been abused – then we start to disempower adults, and that is something I simply cannot agree with.
The “helpless victim” line of reasoning is sometimes even extended to persons who molest children, and the reasoning is then that they are simply repeating the behaviors that they themselves were subjected to when growing up. However much compassion I may feel for what these persons were exposed to as children, I still hold them responsible for their own actions. They are adults, with access to their free will, and if they choose to molest they should go to jail. And should they be pathological to the extent that they have lost access to their free will, then they have no place in a free society anyhow – they have then become “automated response mechanisms” that are programmed to do damage in society.
Again, I feel deep compassion for people who have been subjected to abuse. However, once we are adults we have choice, and we can be empowered, and as a consequence we have responsibility. I consider holding another person responsible one of the most loving things you can do. Because by doing that you show them that you believe in their ability to make better choices for themselves, and their ability to break free from destructive relationships.
None of this negates the fact that you can help abused people by being a friend, offering them a place to stay, driving them to the police or to a hospital, etc. But if you help people without holding them accountable for their own responses, then you are simply helping them perpetuate their personal tragedy.
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?
What do you think about when read or hear about intimate partner violence? A sobbing woman with visible bruises?
Physical violence is a horrible crime that can take many shapes or forms. One of the most tragic kinds of physical abuse is when violence takes place within the context of an intimate relationship between two adults. An intimate relationship is supposedly the place where one can feel safe and loved, and having that bond be hijacked by a slap, fist or baseball bat is a traumatic experience indeed.
Nowadays there is considerable awareness around partner violence, and the signs of this increased awareness abound in the public sphere. The number of shelters for battered women have increased drastically in many modern countries, policy makers pass specific laws to combat domestic violence against women and the media no longer refrains from reporting about the damage that men inflict on women in relationships.
On first glance, this may all seem to represent real progress, and in many ways it actually does. However, there is a major omission built into the burgeoning domestic violence industry, and that omission has to do with the image of the sobbing woman that many of us have been taught to believe is at the core of partner violence.
While it’s certainly true that domestic violence against women is a huge problem that deserves our attention, society remains unaware of the fact that violence against men – perpetrated by women – is a problem of equal proportions.
Statistics or Research?
When you look at the statistics of domestic violence, it is far from obvious that men are the victims to the same extent as women, since 80 to 90 percent of the reported victims are women. Statistics, however, are not the same thing as academic research.
Statistics can be seriously biased due to large amounts of people not wanting to report what has happened to them. In the case of violence in the home, men rarely report what has happened to them, since they know that they would likely be shamed, laughed at, and not believed when telling their story.
Thankfully, the issue of partner violence is one that has interested lots of researchers around the world, and they have produced large amounts of reproducible research that consistently tell us the same story:
- Men and women instigate domestic violence in equal amounts, with a small tendency of women instigating the violence more often
- Men and women hit each other with the same frequency
- Women tend to get hurt more than men, due to the superior upper body strength of men. However, the most serious injuries are sustained by both sexes in equal amounts, or even with a majority of male victims, since women are more likely than men to use a weapon or a tool when assaulting their partner.
- Same sex couples experience similar levels of partner violence as heterosexual couples
Examples of Research
As noted above, the amount of research done on partner violence around the world is impressive, and consistently shows us the same thing. Perhaps the most overwhelming proof of women assaulting their male partners to the same extent that men assault their female partners, is the annotated bibliography by Martin S. Fiebert.
Other research studies include:
The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study performed on a cohort of more than 1000 subjects in New Zealand. Some of the key results of this this study can be seen online in this report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the study, about 27 percent of women and 34 percent of men reported having been physically abused by their partner. Furthermore, about 37 percent of women and 22 percent of men said they had perpetrated the violence.
What is especially interesting about this study is that the characteristics of the male and female perpetrators differ significantly. Male perpetrators had “extreme levels of polydrug abuse, antisocial personality disorder, dropping out of school, chronic unemployment, poor social support and violence against victims outside the family”. However, “these extreme social and personal problems were not found for Dunedin study female perpetrators.”
The researchers speculate that the reason that ordinary men do not dare hit women, while ordinary women do dare to hit their men, is that the women feel safe in the knowledge that the police will not believe a battered man, while the men know that laying your hand on a woman means that she could easily have the police arrest you.
Like many other studies, this one shows that women were more likely to get physically hurt than the men were.
The British Home Office Research Study 191 found that men and women perpetrate equal amounts of domestic violence. 4.2 percent of men and women had been victims of partner violence in the year preceding the study. The following risk factors for domestic violence were identified: marital separation, young children, financial pressures, drug/alcohol abuse, disability/ill health.
Straus and Gelles (1986) found no difference in spousal abuse prevalence among men and women, and no difference even when it comes to severe abuse. Just like many other researchers, they concluded that mutual violence occurs more frequently than either male or female violence alone.
The available research, which is substantial and of high quality, makes it clear that gender is not a good predictor of partner violence; both genders hit each other with the same frequency. Women aren’t able to hurt their men to the same extent that they get hurt themselves (though some research contests this point), but this is certainly not from lack of trying.
Good predictors of domestic violence have consistently been shown to be mental illness, drug abuse, young children and poverty (i.e. psychosocial issues).
If we are ever to make progress in the difficult area that is partner violence, policy makers and the media need to start focus on the real causes, instead of buying into the feminist myth that partner violence is caused by some kind of male oppression.