Backlash and the Fact of Battered Husbands

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By James Sniechowski, Ph.D. and Judith Sherven, Ph.D.
Nov 28, 2004, 02:13

Summary: One way to trivialize and dismiss a point of view is to claim it is part of a backlash. That is the contemptuous and derogatory characterization often applied when the topic of men’s issues arises. Domestic violence is a case in point.

[Reprinted by permission, circa 1997.]

One way to trivialize and dismiss a point of view is to claim it is part of a backlash. That is the contemptuous and derogatory characterization often applied when the topic of men’s issues arises. Domestic violence is a case in point.

The image of a battered wife is firmly established in the national consciousness. In the aftermath of the Nicole Simpson murder (we’ve nearly forgotten about Ron Goldman),

the national media almost exclusively portrayed the male as the brutal, overpowering, must-be-stopped perpetrator of domestic violence and the female as the helpless, innocent victim, deserving our collective sympathies. That situation may be accurate in some instances and should not be tolerated. However, to consider the possibility of a battered husband is so far from our national image of men as to be laughable. Nevertheless, many studies have been done that demonstrate the reality of the husband who has been assaulted and seriously injured by his wife or girlfriend.

In a recent opinion piece, Sara Engram, editorial-page director of the Baltimore Evening Sun, took another view. She admitted that “many women resort to violence rather than walking away from an argument.” Nevertheless, she contended, we should focus on the injuries to women, inflicted by men, rather than on the women’s participation in the violence. A reasonable position, at first glance, but one that is ultimately myopic.

According to domestic-violence researcher, Murray Straus, whom Ms. Engram quotes, “a man’s assault on a woman is far more likely to cause serious injury.” True. But two points need to be made.”Far more likely” is not a measure that discounts the damage a woman can cause and cannot be used to deny the effect of women’s assaults against men. But when reference to battered males is classified as backlash, the issue is relegated to the status of an aggravating diversion and the real injury done to men becomes irrelevant.

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Like many who ideologically defend a position, Ms. Engram is disingenuous. She relies on Murray Straus to support her view, but does not report that it was Straus’ 1986 study that found that “women are about as violent within the family as men.” Furthermore, Straus wrote that “Violence by wives has not been an object of public concern. It has not been defined as a problem.” in fact, researchers, Straus included, have been criticized and threatened for presenting statistical evidence of violence by women against men. “Good public policy,” writes Ms. Engram, “has to take into account the results of violence, not just the fact that it occurs.” True again. But what about causes?

It is not uncommon for a woman to enter and re-enter relationships with the same kind of man. When things turn sour, she wonders “aren’t there any good men out there?” She naively believes that relationship dynamics are a one-way street. They are not. Men and women, consciously and unconsciously, design together the relationship arrangements that house their lives. In varying degrees over time, bothare responsible and accountable for what happens. A focus on laws and police policies will not change a battered woman’s character. If she assumes no responsibility for her involvement in the violence, she will remain blind to her collusion and the likelihood of her developing a healthy relationship is next to naught. The same is true of men.

Current mythology holds that battered women go in whole and come out in pieces. Engram naively imagines that “intimacy transmutes into obsession” and that “reserves of virtues like patience, forbearance and forgiveness often run out.” In violent relationships intimacy and reserves of constructive care are absent from the beginning. such relationships are created by infantile, wishful, desperate women and men who have neither experience with nor capacity for real intimacy and respect of differences.

The not-so-innocent/men-as-guilty point of view ironically disempowers women keeping them in the very jeopardy they so vehemently decry. Furthermore it demonizes men, unconsciously encouraging the very behavior it seeks to eliminate.

As long as “blaming the victim” is deemed to be politically incorrect, we, as a culture, can never address, either preventatively or correctively, the characterological lack of worth that allows abused women and men to be attracted and remain addicted to their violent lovers.

Husband and wife team, Judith Sherven, Ph.D. and James Sniechowaki, Ph.D., are national spokespersons for genders issues as well as corporate consultants on the changing gender culture in the workplace. Judith is writing a book on women and victimization while James is writing on the metaphysics of the masculine image. Their offices are in West Los Angeles.