Thomas Fiffer reverses the genders in an article about abuse written for women to expose the euphemisms we use when women abuse men.
Note: If you don’t want to read the statistics showing that women abuse men in nearly equal numbers, skip down to the list of the 15 signs of an abusive relationship.
Last night I was searching the Internet for a video on “women abusing men” to run here on The Good Men Project. Not only were there just a few actual hits, most of which I’d already seen, but I also found that most of the results that did come up were for men abusing women. Even though I typed “men” first, Google found more results for the reversed phrase, indicating the huge imbalance of available online material. And yet, recent statistics confirm that men represent approximately 40% of the victims in cases of abuse.
According to a British survey, Domestic Violence: The Male Perspective, conducted in 2010:
About two in five of all victims of domestic violence are men, contradicting the widespread impression that it is almost always women who are left battered and bruised, a new report claims.
Men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, see their attacker go free and have far fewer refuges to flee to than women, says a study by the men’s rights campaign group Parity.
Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available. In 2006-07 men made up 43.4% of all those who had suffered partner abuse in the previous year, which rose to 45.5% in 2007-08 but fell to 37.7% in 2008-09.
The Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, also completed in 2010, came up with the same 40% figure for the U.S., contradicting the widely circulated figure that 85% of domestic violence is perpetrated against women.
As I dug, I found a page on the Mayo Clinic’s website on domestic violence against men. Similar to the way in which many women do not report incidents of domestic violence out of fear, the piece confirms that many men do not report out of shame or embarrassment.
Because men are traditionally thought to be physically stronger than women, you might be less likely to report domestic violence in your heterosexual relationship due to embarrassment. You might also worry that the significance of the abuse will be minimized because you’re a man. Similarly, a man being abused by another man might be reluctant to talk about the problem because of how it reflects on his masculinity or because it exposes his sexual orientation.
The Divorce Support section on About.com offered a page with links to studies conducted at University of New Hampshire, University of Washington, and University of Florida, all indicating that women act in a controlling manner and abuse men in nearly equal numbers. The article notes that:
Virtually all sociological data shows women initiate domestic violence as often as men, that women use weapons more than men, and that 38% of injured victims are men. California State University Professor Martin Fiebert summarizes almost 200 of these studies online.
Fiebert’s summary reads as follows:
286 scholarly investigations: 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.
The Good Men Project published an article by Laura Cowan in January 2013 on how to recognize domestic violence against men and what to do about it. Cowan emphasizes the lack of resources for abused men compared the plethora for women and reminds men that the abuse they suffer is not their fault.
Additionally, if you seek help, you might confront a shortage of resources for male victims of domestic violence. Health care providers and other contacts might not think to ask if your injuries were caused by domestic violence, making it harder to open up about abuse. You might also fear that if you talk to someone about the abuse, you’ll be accused of wrongdoing yourself. Remember, though, if you’re being abused, you aren’t to blame—and help is available.
And Mint News Press published a piece by Edward Rhymes called “Woman As Aggressor: The Unspoken Truth of Domestic Violence.” In a nod to the unpopularity of his message, Rhymes felt compelled to begin with the following preface:
I approach this writing with some trepidation because it will run counter in some areas to the current debate regarding domestic violence. When wading in these highly volatile and controversial waters, one finds that disclaimers – like life jackets – must be affixed to the body of the argument.
Let me be clear, the hesitance in speaking about female-initiated domestic violence is rooted in a very real concern about what the discussion can give way to: a dismissal and abnegation of the actual dangers women face. That, however, fails to be a compelling reason not to discuss the role of women in domestic violence. For example, an honest discussion about Israel’s occupation of Palestine need not devolve into anti-Semitism. Neither does a hard look at real terrorism, perpetrated by entities such as the Islamic State, have to degenerate into Islamophobia. So, conversely, a sincere critique regarding the totality of domestic violence does not have to be reduced to a capitulation to misogyny and sexist insensitivity.
Rhymes summarizes the studies above, noting that the Fiebert study brings forth “the uncomfortable reality that women are as physically aggressive, or even more so, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” And he makes it clear that the numbers are problematic, not only for the men being abused but for people who try to bring them into the national discussion on domestic violence.
And yet, these numbers prompt a resounding backlash. Accusations such as “You’re saying abused women are asking for it,” or “You’re blaming the victim,” get hurled. No person — female or male — is asking for it, and no victim — female or male — should be blamed for what is done to them. I’m merely broadening the definitions of abuser and victim.
In the article, Rhymes asks some extremely uncomfortable questions, and while there is not space to reprint them here, it is worth reading in its entirety.
So what am I leading up to with all this? Well, in my searching for those “women abusing men” videos, I came across a piece on YourTango.com called “15 Signs You’re in an Abusive Relationship.” Though the title does not suggest it is written for either gender, it speaks exclusively to women and ignores male abuse victims. That’s to be expected, because YourTango is a women’s magazine. But what I found fascinating about the piece is that, with the exceptions of the first parts of number 9 and number 10 (where I have not changed the pronouns), every single one of the 15 signs applies to a relationship in which a woman is abusing a man. The ease with which the genders in the piece can be reversed shows that abusive relationships are about power and control, not specifically male or female behavior, and that women use the same power levers, as well as some of their own (such as withholding affection or sex) to dominate their victims. Additionally, in “genderizing” abuse as a primarily male behavior, we minimize and, in a way, legitimize, women’s abusive behavior. To show how that works, I’ve interwoven into the 15 signs the ways we characterize women’s abusive behavior as something other than abuse.
1. She pushes for quick involvement. She comes on strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this before by anyone.” You get pressured for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.
She’s aggressive or demanding.
2. There is jealousy. Your partner is excessively possessive, calls constantly, or visits unexpectedly.
She’s needy or impulsive.
3. She is controlling. She interrogates you intensely about who you talked to and where you were; checks mileage on the car; keeps all the money or asks for receipts; insists you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything.
She’s protecting herself, because men can’t be trusted.
4. She has very unrealistic expectations. She expects you to be the perfect person and meet their every need.
She has high standards.
5. There is isolation. She tries to cut you off from family and friends; deprives you of a phone or car, or tries to prevent you from holding a job (substitute going out with friends).
She rightly expects to be the most important person in your life.
6. She blames others for her own mistakes. The boss, family, you – it’s always someone else’s fault if anything goes wrong.
She has too much self-respect to allow herself to be the fall guy.
7. She makes everyone else responsible for their feelings. The abuser says, “You make me angry” instead of “I’m angry.” “I wouldn’t get so pissed off if you wouldn’t…
She is a strong woman who calls men on their shit.
8. There is hypersensitivity. She is easily insulted and will often rant and rave about injustices that are just part of life.
She is sensitive to the victimization of women, something men don’t understand.
9. He is cruel to animals and children. He kills or punishes animals brutally. She also may expect children to do things beyond their ability, or tease them until they cry.
She has high expectations for her kids and is a tough taskmaster.
10. His “playful” use of force during sex. He enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will; he says they find the idea of rape exciting. She intimidates, manipulates, or forces you to engage in unwanted sex acts.
She enjoys reversing roles and playing power games in the bedroom.
11. There is verbal abuse. She constantly criticizes you or says cruel things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. She will use vulnerable points about your past/life against you.
She is trying to make you a better man.
12. There are rigid gender roles. She expects you to serve, obey, and remain at home (substitute work and pay all the expenses).
She is enforcing her rights in the relationship.
13. He has sudden mood swings. She switches from loving to angry in a matter of minutes.
She is highly emotional.
14. He has a past of battering. She admits to hitting men in the past, but states that they or the situation brought it on.
She had no choice and was only defending herself against abusive partners.
15. There are threats of violence. She makes statements such as, “I’ll break your neck,” but then dismisses it with “I really didn’t mean it.”
She gets mean and angry when provoked and wouldn’t say these things if you didn’t piss her off.
If you are man and you are experiencing these behaviors at the hands of your female (or male) partner, please recognize them for what they are. You are being abused. You need to get help. Talk to your friends. Let your family know what’s happening.One place to start is HelpGuide.org’s resources for abused men. As Laura Cowan says:
If you are a man and are being abused or have recently escaped an abusive relationship, please know that you are not alone. There are many of you out there, and many, like you, feel as though you are the only one to experience this sort of abuse. It is okay to be frightened, confused and hurt. Someone you love, care about and trust has broken that trust, turned against you and hurt you. You don’t have to suffer in silence, there are agencies and people who do care and can offer you help, support and advice.