September 18, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The issue of domestic violence has been much in the news lately, particularly with the hand-wringing about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s punch-out of his then fiancée, now wife. And predictably, essentially all of the commentary follows the standard script that, for some reason, male violence against women should be taken seriously, but female violence against men is fit only to be ignored or laughed off. Remember the bumper sticker, “There’s no excuse for domestic abuse?” No longer. Nowadays there are plenty of excuses for domestic violence as long as it’s a woman doing it to a man, or even to a woman.
After all, we could compare the two sports stars Ray Rice and Hope Solo’s incidents of assaulting family members and notice that, while everyone knows about and has an opinion about Rice, few people know that soccer star Solo punched a sister and a nephew and is facing criminal charges. Rice has been fired by the Ravens and indefinitely banned from playing in the NFL. Solo? Not so much. There’s been no talk of banning her from soccer, much less threatening the job of league officials for doing too little to discipline her.
Our societal double standard on male and female-perpetrated domestic violence is fairly screaming to be examined, but no one wants to. Vice President Biden, who, on the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, eagerly informed all and sundry that it was his proudest political achievement, hasn’t said a word. Indeed, whenever he discusses domestic violence, the VEEP is at pains to ignore male victims and female perpetrators altogether.
Politicians not only don’t mention the double standard, they put their money where their mouth isn’t — in services that benefit almost only women, once again ignoring male victims. The domestic violence establishment doesn’t mention the double standard either; they’re too busy banking the proceeds of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and private funding for — you guessed it — facilities and services that benefit only women.
And of course the news media are generally happy to ignore male victims and female perpetrators. That tendency was painfully obvious in the reporting on the Rice incident. As far as I can tell, a single sports journalist, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, was willing to mention the fact that Rice’s fiancée had attacked Rice first and what that might mean for Rice and his punishment by the league. Needless to say, Smith has been excoriated far and wide for daring to deviate from the prepared script.
And speaking of the media, here’s a piece from The Guardian that follows in Smith’s footsteps, albeit not about Rice, but the U.K.’s current DV flap (The Guardian, 9/11/14).
Kelly Brook is no ordinary woman. Men have voted her the sexiest woman in the world; women have declared her to have the best British female body. And the world’s most politically incorrect deodorant, Lynx, reportedly paid her £1m to promote its Axe body spray. Oh and another thing, she thinks it’s funny to punch her boyfriends in the face.
If you’re smart enough to avoid celebrity gossip, you may have escaped the fact that Brooks has been accused of repeatedly trivialising domestic violence. When the model released extracts of her autobiography, they revealed that she had punched two of her former partners, Jason Statham and Danny Cipriani, in separate incidents.
Imagine if a British football star had just penned his autobiography and revealed he’d punched a couple of his girlfriends in the face. The news media would be in an uproar and feminist groups from the four corners of the globe would be calling for his head. He’d certainly go to jail and, if he were still playing football, he’d be kicked out of the league amid torrents of invective that the punishments were insufficient. But, since she’s a woman and Statham and Cipriani are men, the revelations were greeted with barely a yawn.
The ManKind Initiative, which runs a national helpline for male victims of domestic violence and abuse, spoke out last week about its disappointment at the lack of public backlash. The story had all but faded when the Jeremy Paxman of daytime television, Phillip Schofield, confronted Brook about her violence and she giggled, guffawed and smiled her way through the interview before indulging in a spot of victim-blaming, saying: “I’m not going to do that in the future, I’m just going to pick more wisely in the men I be with.”
As writer Glen Poole so aptly pointed out, that’s precisely the type of excuse that would get a man pilloried if he made it. According to Brook, her violence against her boyfriends is their fault. They made her jealous, she was drunk, she was upset, etc. are exactly the type of excuses we’ve been taught aren’t appropriate reasons to hit someone. And we’ve been taught correctly. Yes, your partner may make you angry and your anger may have good cause. But we all must express our anger in ways that don’t hurt other people. It’s a simple concept and one we can all agree on.
But it only applies to men. Men must learn to direct their anger so as to keep safe people, animals and property. Women? They’re free to hit, punch, stab, etc. their intimate partners and few will raise an eyebrow.
Now of course the laws are all nicely gender-neutral. With the exception of the name “Violence Against Women Act,” there’s nothing gendered about the wording of the laws on DV. But enforcement of same is another story and the news media can be counted on to ignore female IPV against men. To his great credit, Poole gets all that.
Our cultural understanding of violence and gender is shaped by a relentless, binary narrative that maintains our unconscious, collective belief that men are problems and women have problems. It’s a cultural meme that seems to have taken up permanent residence in the mindsets of both social conservatives and progressive liberals. Traditionalists think men should protect women and children from the unpleasantness of the manmade world, while progressives think women and children should be protected from men and their patriarchy.
There is little room for the female perpetrator or the male victim in mainstream modern discourse around violence and gender. It’s a story where there are only two major roles on offer to men — the unhealthy masculine perpetrator or the healthy masculine protector. Women are also offered an equally limiting binary choice between being the unfortunate victim of male violence or the heroic victor who fights to overcome the problems that men cause…
Together, we have gendered our beliefs around violence to the point where we have no language to support people who fall outside the rigid norms of male perpetrators and female victims.
Women are committing violence against men and boys on a daily basis and their male victims are less likely to report the violence to anyone, fear they won’t be believed and are less likely to see the perpetrator held to account when they do come forward. International research suggests that as much as half of domestic violence is committed against men, but in the UK, fewer that 7% of convicted perpetrators are female.
All true. Poole gets it right from start to finish, but I’d like to go a step beyond merely pointing out the contradiction between our highly gendered narrative of a domestic violence phenomenon that in fact has nothing to do with gender. After all, such a shockingly wrong view of an important problem predictably begets wrong “solutions,” i.e. those that don’t work. If we really wanted to combat DV, don’t you think we’d at least admit what we know about it and try to craft responses based on that knowledge. But we don’t.
The question I have and that Poole doesn’t ask, is “Why?” Why engage in such ludicrous self-deception, particularly in the face of whole libraries of science demonstrating the truth about the DV phenomenon?
To me, the inescapable conclusion is that we like things the way they are. We’re satisfied by the narrative of brutal, corrupt men and innocent, virtuous and helpless women. After all, what suggestion raises more ire than that women can actually take precautions against being victimized? But to grant to women that sort of agency contradicts the narrative of their utter helplessness, a tale we too much prefer to drop in favor of the truth.
By now, we’ve had over 40 years of opportunities to adopt a different script, one that conforms to the facts about domestic violence, but we’ve rejected every one of those opportunities. Kelly Brook and Hope Solo are two such opportunities that we’ve let go by. There’ve been countless others; more are coming every day.
The simple fact is that, despite decades of feminism asking us to put aside gender norms, we’ve done so only to a very limited degree. We’ve gone so far as to give women the vote and to open up economic opportunities to them. Those of course are good and necessary things, but they obscure others at least as important. We’ve done those things under the rubric of equality, but when we try to take the concept further, say, to domestic violence, we stall. Again, 40 years of knowledge and research into domestic violence teach us that women are at least as violent as men and possibly more so, but we ignore the fact all but completely. Where’s the equality in services for men? Where’s the equality in punishing offenders? Where’s the equality in treatment for women?
There’s none, for the sole reason that we don’t want there to be. We like things the way they are; otherwise we’d change them.
It’s no accident that the cultural bias that infects the narrative on DV does the same regarding shared parenting. For decades feminists have fought for women to get out of the house and into the plant and office. More recently, those espousing equal parenting have argued for fathers to do more of the parenting and get more time with their kids in the event of divorce. But exactly like our resistance to the realities of domestic violence is our refusal to change our laws and practices on parenting. Despite all the science on DV, public policy still pretends that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men and a similar majority of victims are women. And despite all the science on the benefits of equal parenting to all concerned, especially kids, public policy still removes one parent from their lives when parents split up.
Our dogged resistance to science in both the DV and child custody cases, even though it damages us in innumerable ways, stems from the same thing — our resistance to changing sex roles. We tell ourselves that, because women now do more paid work than they used to and men do more childcare, sex roles are themselves changing, and to a modest extent, that’s true. But we’re not convinced. Taking the plunge into the icy waters of real equality between the sexes is far harder than anyone would have guessed. And nothing demonstrates the fact like our utterly fraudulent narrative about domestic violence and our scandalous refusal to keep both parents in the lives of their children post-divorce.
Thank to Malcolm for the heads-up.
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