The Genderisation of Partner Violence
After reading other members’ contributions I thought you might like to read a presentation I gave at work about what I perceive as a bigotted and sexist attitude towards family violence with social service agencies, the media and society in general.
There appears to be a disturbing trend where males are typecast as the perpetrators of family violence and women are typecast as the victim. This typecast is so embedded into the modern culture of western society, and backed up by pop psychology, that people succumb to it without realising. There are several example of this inaccurate typecast. One example is where a Physiotherapist was totally shocked to hear that the incidence of partner violence is equal between men and women. I have heard a comment at a team meeting stating that women in relationships get violent only to defend themselves. I have heard a Social Worker mention that male on female violence is worse than female on male violence. Bob Geldof on the What About Me CD talks about how men are vilified in society and how it is a great shame.
So what are the facts about partner violence? Nigel Latta in his book “Fathers Raising Daughters’ talks about gender differences, or more accurately gender similarities. He surmises that males and females are actually more alike then different. There are differences at the extreme ends in categories but for the most part it is the similarities that are dominant. Nigel states that whilst males are more violent when it comes to relationships the genders are equal. The equality pertains not only to frequency but also to the severity of the violence.
To back this up he cites a study by Janet Shibley Hyde from the University of Wisconsin (for gender similarities), the Dunedin Study, the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, (for partner violence), the Christchurch Health and Disability Study and a personal experience he had when he was an ambulance officer during the 1980s in Oamaru. He was called out to a partner violence incidence where a male was hit in the head by a plate and received a very bad cut. All the way into hospital in the ambulance his female partner was very angry and abusive towards him and at the hospital. Nothing was done to protect the “victim’ or to report the perpetrator to the rightful authorities.
My experience as a Social Worker was at Waikato Hospital where the New Born Unit team were very proactive on partner violence even wanting me to intervene on gossip about a family. However, when it was a male who disclosed to me that he could no longer take the abuse from his female partner I was left unsupported to assist him. This was very worrying as partner violence is seen as a form of child abuse yet there was no support. The Child Youth and Family Service made it clear that a referral to them would not be a high priority. All I could do was hope that if he ever hit back that he would not be typecast as the partner violence perpetrator. Incidentally it was more her rage at him rather than the hitting that got him most.
Rates of Partner Violence Committed by Women and Men
Verbal aggression 94.6 85.8
Minor physical violence 35.8 21.8
Severe physical violence 18.6 5.7
Any physical violence 37.2 21.8
Source: L Magdal et al (1997). Gender differences in partner violence in birth cohort of 21-year-olds: bridging the gap between clinical and epideminological approaches. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 65(1), 68-78. As cited in Fathers Raising Daughters by Nigel Latta.
Reasons for Gender Bias in Acknowledging Partner Violence
So if it is granted that partner violence is equal amongst males and females with frequency and severity then why is there such as gender bias against male victims. This bias is evident with screening for women only and there being a Womens’ Refuge and not a Men’s’ Refuge. I believe the reasons are as follows:
There are television shows that depict female on male violence as humour. I remember an episode of Ally McBeal where a man had to see his partner wearing a box so he wouldn’t get hit in the genitals again. He was hit after a minor indiscretion. I doubt very much whether the show would depict the female as having to wear protection when with her boyfriend so as not to be very seriously hurt. The incident of wearing protection was shown as comedy.
My daughters like to watch the programme iCarly on the Disney Channel’ which is the USA’s most popular children’s comedy television show, and there have been numerous occasions where I have had to turn it off. There is a female character there named Sam who is 15 years old and she beats up on Freddie who is 15 year old male. I remember one scene where Sam is dragging Freddie along the ground and jumping on him and hitting him and he is screaming for help and for it to stop. There is laughter in the background as it is seen as comedy. Again I wonder whether the programme would show a scene where the roles were reversed. I wonder what the public reaction would be if it was?
Unfortunately I also personally know of women who have been violent towards their partners and seem oblivious to the fact that it is spousal abuse. Some of them also try to maintain the typecast that as women they are the victims in society and are very critical of male behaviour.
Another part of popular culture is the television campaigns against family violence which depict men as the perpetrators and women as the victims. I may be wrong but I have yet to see an advertisement depicting the male as needing help and the support of the community. Even brochures about family violence have pictures of women and children looking sad. White Ribbon Day was solely interested in violence against women. If campaigns are used to portray an inaccurate image isn’t that classed as propaganda?
I remember reading somewhere a quote that stated that every ideology has a scapegoat. For example the Socialists have the wealthy and the Feminists have males. I believe that there is such a culture of victimhood with women that it has blinded society to the abuse that some women inflict on others.
Dr Laura Schlesinger is an American radio advice show host as well as a best selling novelist who is a self described reformed feminist. She believes that the feminist movement has eroded the image of males to such an extent that many men live unhappy lives and in “fear of their womenfolk”. She believes that feminism has belittled men’s needs and portrayed a stereotype that women’s’ needs are more important and therefore require more attention. I believe the gender bias in partner violence supports this social observation. Dr Laura is regularly vilified in the USA by feminist groups and much misinformation is distributed about her. Ironically she argues that by attending to men’s needs, which she describes as very basic, it actually gives women real power in their relationship as men will be do anything for them when their needs are met.
When I was studying I interviewed a counsellor who specialised in counselling men. He stated to me that he guarantees that all men who abuse women have been abused by a significant woman in their younger life. I was shocked to hear this and stated that there is so much information that it is a power and control issue that men wish to have over women and of a hatred towards women and he replied that that is what the feminist critique states.
The Toxic Trio
In his book “Emotional Bullshit’ Carl Alasko talks about how every person on a subconscious level has learnt a behavioural pattern called the toxic trio. He believes that people want to avoid the emotions of anger, anxiety, pain and fear and they turn to the toxic trio to protect themselves. The first part of the toxic trio is denial. This is where a person believes something that isn’t true or denies a truth. Then born out of that is delusion. This is where the person gets a warped view of the world through their denial of truth. Lastly comes blame where the person blames exterior factors for the situation. This toxic trio happens at the micro as well as macro level.
An example at the micro level is addictions like alcoholism. The person denies that they have a drinking problem, then is delusional about how their drinking is impacting on themselves and others, and lastly blame others when confronted about their drinking like people just have it in for them.
An example at the macro level is the Vietnam War. American policy advisors did not believe the intensity in which the North Vietnamese would go to as it was a war of independence for them (denial); they believed that their superior firepower would win the war for them (delusional); and they blame the American government for not giving them a “free hand’ to do what was needed (i.e. more bombing – even though more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than the whole of World War two).
How does this fit into the partner violence gender bias. I believe that at the macro level it is due to this. Society has a stereotype of women as the role of caregiver and nurturer and is too scared to accept that some women are violent (denial). This leads to thinking that somehow by concentrating on male violence it will lessen partner violence (delusional). This then leads onto blame e.g. male power over women and the family violence wheel of “male privilege’. After all if female violence is far more acceptable then who really has the privilege?
On the micro level women who are violent may believe (I know many who do) that because they are women then it is not partner violence (denial); therefore do not take their actions as seriously as they should (delusional); and then find excuses to blame their partner for their actions. The early example with Nigel Latta in the ambulance the woman was upset about her partner mentioning an ex-boyfriend and she felt it excused/justified her rage.
On the micro level for men I believe that it is due to not being able to face the pain of shame. They minimise the behaviour towards them (denial); pretend that nothing is happening or making excuses (delusional); and probably blame themselves for not being manly enough by being hurt by the actions towards them. I watched a British programme on the documentary channel and a young man was killed by his girlfriend because he felt too ashamed to admit the situation or ask for help.
On Nigel Latta’s programme “Into the Darklands’ there was an episode about a woman who murdered an older person and when Nigel explored her background she had a history of partner violence. When interviewing an ex-partner he disclosed that she attacked him with a large kitchen knife just missing him. He laughed when he recalled the incident and I believe that it was very scary for him but as a male he cannot express fear of a woman. Again this is the toxic trio working with influences both micro and macro.
Professional Psychology also falls prey to the toxic trio. Nigel Latta in Fathers Raising Daughters talks about how during the 1990s the political correctness meant men were classified as the offender/perpetrators and women as the victims. He states that “To say anything else was tantamount to heresy” (p.178). He attended many conferences where men were told to take responsibility for their violence and to do this under the “watchful eye of the sisterhood’. Ironically most of this was said by males. He goes on to say that the politics of “family violence’ has ignored female violence (denial); portrayed it as self defense or inconsequential (delusional); and that male violence is much more serious (blame). He also stated that if he said that male violence was “inconsequential’ he would have been “hung, drawn and quatered’.
Ongoing Effects On Society
This genderisation, or gender bias, of partner violence is to who’s benefit. Whilst on one level I believe it is used as a tool of control of women over men in that women are legitimising behaviour from women that is unacceptable from men. I believe it is actually, ironically, making it worse for women.
I believe that all violence does is begat more violence and if violence is allowed to be perpetrated to a certain demographic group then all that is going to do is entrench violent behaviour from that demographic group. Therefore by typecasting men as the violent perpetrators and not protecting their victim status when apt then as a society we are breeding violent males. Clearly when it comes to family violence for some there are agendas, or toxic trios, at play rather than a genuine concern for family violence.
I believe that if society were truly concerned about male violence then society would be just as concerned about violence towards males. After all to have zero tolerance of violence from males you have to have zero tolerance of violence towards males. Until this is done then I believe that all the family violence measures and public awareness campaigns are only going to maintain the current situation or make it worse as it is not tackling the real issues. If zero tolerance of violence towards males were to be done then I truly believe that life would greatly improve for both male and female victims/survivors/conquerors of family violence.