When my book, Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed to Know, was published eleven years ago, my greatest fear was that it would be misinterpreted as a defense of violent men — or worse, as a denial that violence against women is a problem. As I emphasized and reiterated numerous times throughout the book, my purpose was not to deny or minimize violence against women. Rather, it was to take to task those who have falsified data and concealed information in order to portray all men as violent and all women as victims. As I explained:
[I]t would be regrettable if anything in this book were to be used as a basis for eliminating programs and services for abuse victims…. Calling attention to the untold half of the story about domestic violence should only serve to increase awareness that the problem is even more widespread than we may have thought before; that when the male victims are added in, there are even more victims than we previously thought. If anything, the information in this book should therefore impel more, not fewer, programs; more services, not fewer; more research, not less; and ultimately, it should impel the development of treatment methods that are more grounded in reality and therefore more likely to be effective than the current approaches that are not working.
It appears that these words, for the most part, have largely been ignored. In a recently published law review article, for example, my book is cited as an example of a “fathers’ rights” book that claims women lie about being victims in order to support the “domestic violence industry.” In reality, neither those words nor that claim is made anywhere at all in my book.
In the never-ending gender wars, it seems everyone must get classified as either “for” women or “against” them, and if you challenge any statistic or claim that ostensibly was created for the purpose of securing special advantages for women, then you are “against.” Well, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, that’s just a bunch of malarkey.
In the book, I explain why many of the things we have been told (that sporting events fuel violence against women; that 95% of all incidents involve men beating up women; that it’s the leading cause of death for women; and hundreds of other myths that people seldom question) are not true. I did not do this because I am against women. I did it because I am for truth.
The domestic abuse field has been plagued by misinformation for many years. It seems that a lot of people have believed that it is necessary to make wildly inflated claims about violence against women in order to get people to care about the issue. And apparently a lot of people, at the same time, have also believed that information about male victims must be suppressed.
From the standpoint of a person who honestly believes that people only care about fantastic outbreaks of large-scale epidemics but couldn’t care less about individual people, I suppose lying about the magnitude of the problem would be very tempting. The motivation for suppressing or concealing information about male victims, however, is a bit more difficult to explain.
Some advocates seem to view domestic violence as a zero-sum game. Any protection afforded to male victims is viewed as somehow “stealing” such protection away from women. Of course, this is not true. It is possible to provide legal protections for male victims without diminishing the legal protections that are available to women.
The most plausible explanation, I believe, is that many people in the domestic violence field have wed themselves, in one way or another, to a feminist theory of domestic violence. According to Gloria Steinem, domestic violence is the means by which men, as a class, maintain power and control over women, as a class. Predominant domestic violence treatment protocols are founded on this belief. To acknowledge male victims would be to acknowledge that the feminist theory of domestic violence is invalid. I think it is likely that the originators of false information and propaganda about domestic violence simply are not yet prepared to discard the feminist theory of violence as propounded by Gloria Steinem.
How false claims about domestic violence hurt women
One misgiving I have had about the book is that I did not explain as fully as I might have how false information about domestic violence actually does more to harm abused women than to help them. I did mention this, but the focus of the book was more on the fact that portraying violence as an exclusively male phenomenon prevents men and boys who are victims of domestic violence from being acknowledged, and therefore prevents them from getting the help they need.
Misinformation about domestic violence hurts women, too.
To begin with, since most couples violence is mutual, and is at least as often initiated by the woman as by the man (according to studies cited in the book), it stands to reason that women will be put at greater risk of retaliatory violence if there are no legal, social or moral inhibitions against women’s initiation of violence against men.
In addition, and just like the fable about the boy who cried wolf, repeatedly making false claims about domestic abuse victimization ultimately weakens the credibility of the movement.
Most importantly, though, adhering to a false theory about the nature and cause of domestic violence obstructs the development of treatment modalities that may actually be effective in addressing the problem. If domestic violence is simply viewed as the means by which men as a class maintain power over women — that is to say, simply the means by which “the patriarchy” sustains itself — then there will be very little chance of the real causes and correlates being discovered. As I expressed it in the book,
Those involved in the treatment of offenders need to honestly and openly acknowledge that not all batterers are alike; that “patriarchy” and “male privilege” usually have very little to do with it; and that things like low self-esteem, dependence, poverty, unemployment, lack of education, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, stress, biological and neurological factors, cohabitation at an early age, parentage at an early age, parental rejection, abusive childhood, weak parent-child attachment, tolerance of corporal punishment (a.k.a. child abuse), marital dissatisfaction, and yes, sometimes even female violence, do in fact have a lot to do with male violence. Unless these issues are addressed honestly and objectively, the real causes of violence will never be treated.
(Citations omitted here for the sake of brevity.)
Another way that false propaganda embracing the Steinem model harms women is by perpetuating sexist stereotypes. The double standard that a man should not hit a woman but it does not matter if a woman hits is a man is founded, in large part, on a belief that men are – or should be – capable of taking care of themselves, and women are not. It reflects a belief that women need protection because they are weaker than men, but men should not need anything because they are stronger. Sexists have no problem telling an abused man to “man up” and “take it like a man,” but would never suggest to an abused woman that she “woman up” or “take it like a woman.” Female violence is minimized, or even laughed about, because women are regarded as ineffectual. Of course, this is not true. Some women do, in fact, have sufficient physical strength to inflict considerable damage on another person. Nor is women’s supposed deficit in physical strength particularly significant, given that any woman can make up for with a knife or a gun what she might lack in physical strength.
The double standard reflected in the propaganda reinforces a belief that a man should be strong enough to control a woman: If he is so weak as to “let” a woman or a girl beat him up, then he is not “a real man.”
It should not be necessary to explain that it is not really in women’s best interests to teach boys and men that their defining characteristic — what makes them “real” and therefore worthy of the title of “man” — is their capacity and willingness to use physical force to control women.
The double standard also reinforces a stereotype of all men as being stronger than all women. It is exactly this stereotype that has been responsible for the denial of equal opportunities to women in law enforcement, firefighting, and certain types of military service.
In the eleven years since the publication of my book, I am pleased to report that many service providers and workers in the field of domestic violence either have come to expressly acknowledge that male abuse victims exist, or have made at least some effort to start using gender-neutral language. A few, like the Mayo Clinic, have even developed information and resource listings explicitly for male victims analogous to the ones they have developed for female victims. It has also been reported that even though they legally may only be required to provide free screening of female children for child abuse, some health care providers screen all children for it regardless of sex. These are the kinds of positive changes I had hoped my book would help bring about. So far, none of these things appears to have diminished anyone’s level of concern for women.
The truth is really very simple: The pain of domestic abuse does not discriminate on the basis of sex. It is not something that anyone, male or female, should have to endure.
I have been informed that my book, Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed to Know may be going out-of-print soon. Send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, using “BOOK” as the subject-header, for ordering information if you are unable to obtain a copy through regular channels.