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When truth isn't convenient

Posted on October 5, 2012 at 11:40 AM

October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month."

This is a good thing. Domestic violence is awful. It needs community resources, mandated legal responses, and social support networks for those involved. Awareness about painful issues never hurt anything and often can do a lot of good in the long run.

This issue is important to me ~ not because I've experienced or perpetrated violence against my partner, but because in working with couples, I've learned some things that make me very unpopular at the local meetings of the feminist societies in my community. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is seen as a one way street - men hurt women.

Not so.

I'm all for equality. I believe every one is equal in value, worth, and uniqueness. Each and every human being on this planet is priceless; irreplaceable, and therefore of immeasurable value. Do I think we're all the same? Absolutely not. God forbid. In all the ways that matter ~ that can be measured; gender, intelligence, race ~ no one person is more or less than another.

Reality proves, however, we don't all have the same potential, we don't all have the same abilities, and we don't all have the same opportunities. Consequently, we cannot possibly make the equation "Equality = Identical" a formula that works. Different roles does not automatically negate equality. Geography may hinder or impair potential but it doesn't change equality. A human being born in poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo is equal in value to a human being born in some wealthy enclave in Toronto. Do they have the same opportunities? Sadly, no. Do they have the same right to dignity of person, individuality, emancipation, autonomy, and self-determination? Inherently, the answer is 'Yes.' In reality, not so much. But those rights, no matter how trampled or strangled by existing governments, or poverty, or disaster, are still very much a part of the human spirit and cannot be denied, as evidenced by world history. Recent events point to this understanding ~ we humans know in ways which cannot be denied ~ that we have these rights and we will fight for them. This is not about those rights.

Violence against women is truly awful no matter where or how it occurs. Where I run afoul of the feminists is in objecting to unequal "equality." Violence against men is truly awful. No matter where or how it occurs. But in truth, society turns a blind eye to the violence that happens between men and women in intimate relationships... if it's the woman being violent. This 'cultural blindness' is evident everywhere.

A recent study conducted in California (read: The Abused Husband) clearly exposed this bias toward ignoring the violence that women perpetrate in intimate relationship. Erin Pizzey (Prone to Violence) in the UK has worked with hundreds of women over the years and published a great deal of research on women and violence. Her studies are worth reading.

In my own classes, working with psych students, I always present three case studies when teaching the course, "Abuse & Domestic Violence." All the studies are real, but the gender of the clients has been stripped out. (This makes for awkward writing!) The class is required to come up with a therapeutic treatment plan for all three cases.

the end, the treatment plan is irrelevant, because of the furor that erupts when I tell the class that in case study #2, the perpetrator is the wife. This pronouncement always requires the remainder of class, and sometimes more, to process. There is disbelief; accusations of "...setting back the cause of women;" of perpetuating 'myths'; of being disloyal to my gender, and much more. I've had students walk out of class, complain to the Registrar, and leave nasty notes on my office door. It has never mattered that I have a stack of studies, American and otherwise, on the corner of my desk, available to all which clearly indicate that violence in intimate relationships is a gender-equal issue. I promptly compound the students' confusion and anger with the next assignment; watch at least three episodes of "Friends," and count the number of times violence/abuse is perpetrated. Most of the class hates this assignment as well. (It's the women verbally abusing and/or hitting the men. Always.)

There's something wrong with this picture. As Erin Pizzey laments, refusing to recognize a woman's capacity for violence means she is not offered access to, nor expected to address, the underlying causes of her tendency to resort to power-based tactics (or, as Erin calls it, "terrorism").

A meta study out of the US uncovered some disturbing facts: the violence in any given conflict was more often initiated by the woman. If the man became physically violent, injuries were common (7 out of 10 incidents involving male-initiated violence result in injuries requiring some form of medical attention); if the woman became physically violent, there was more likely to be a weapon involved (fry pans, books, knives, forks, lamps, laptops, mace, pepper spray, hair spray, cooking spray, hot water, crockery are just some of the examples offered) and while injuries were common in these situations (female to male aggression), few were reported. And as another inconvenient reality - to whom would these injuries be reported? Men disclose being laughed at, ridiculed, and dismissed when attempting to report Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) to the local police. Few cities have battered-men shelters or resources, and many professionals simply cannot accept that the incidents and injuries disclosed in couples' counselling by these men are credible.

Don't get carried away here. This is not about justifying the patriarchal systems which have perpetuated "less than" status on women for thousands of years; this is not about equal-pay-for-equal-work ~ a total no brainer; this is not about discrimination against women being abominable, which it is. This is about a human propensity that has become swept up in a righteous effort to address a different systemic issue.

Consequently, women have been given a 'free pass' to perpetuate behaviours in intimate relationship which are destructive, injuring, and traumatizing. Men and women are violent in different ways, but make no mistake, they are both violent. The tendency to "power up" and resort to coercion is a human failing, not a gender-based one.

Given the reaction of the many students I've taught when this issue is raised, I fear it will be awhile yet before this issue is addressed without regard to the gender of the perpetrator. You know, equally? Until it is, men who are the victims of domestic violence will continue to be victimized by the cultural acceptance of an issue which has no business in our modern society.

Do some reading. Look for studies and writing done by professionals who work with battered men; look for work done by professionals who deal with violent women. Examine your own constructs, rules, and biases in the issue of Intimate Partner Violence and educate yourself. As inconvenient as this truth is, the reality makes it impossible to ignore.

October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month." Please. Be truly aware.

Assessing for Domestic Violence

https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/r-ferrer/VisitationSchedule/Domestic%20Violence/GenderInclConceptionInIPVResearch.pdf" target="_blank">Toward a Gender-Inclusion Perspective on Intimate Partner Violence

Erin Pizzey

Battered Husbands

Signs of a battered man

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