And Another Thing …

In my post last Friday on domestic violence, I wrote: “I will also refer to abusers as ‘he’, and to their victims as ‘she’; this is accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases.” I think this was a mistake. I could just as easily have written that I would use these pronouns because while writing s/he is relatively easy, writing ‘his or her’, ‘himself or herself’, etc., throughout what I knew would be a very long post would be awful, or because I know the dynamics of relationships in which women are the victims of abuse better than others. I should have.

Some commenters provided cites to statistics about the relative frequency of abuse of men by women as opposed to abuse of women by men. (I had checked the Department of Justice statistics before I posted, but some commenters questioned them.) I can think of a lot of reasons why any statistics on this topic might be wrong: reasons why either gender, or both, might underreport abuse; questions about whether violence in self-defense was being counted as abuse, and if so which gender was more likely to be overreported as abusive; etc. These cut both ways, and working through the arguments on both sides would take time. And I stopped, because on some level, I don’t really care what I would find. It’s not a contest. If anyone, of any gender, is being abused, that’s awful; and that, it seems to me, is what I need to know.

What mattered more to me were the comments by men who had suffered abuse at the hands of women. As I thought about it, I thought: I’m not particularly interested in sorting out who has it worse. Surely there are especially bad things about being a woman who has been beaten up by a man — the fact that men tend to be stronger leaps to mind — but one thing that must be especially tough about being a man in that situation is that it is nearly invisible, especially when compared to domestic violence committed by men against women. Imagine being in this situation: who would you tell? And how? It’s tough telling people if you’re a woman who has been beaten by a man, but at least you don’t have to wonder whether everyone will think it’s funny, and you certainly don’t have to worry that no one will have heard of such a thing.

I hate the fact that I added to this, and I apologize.

I think it’s important, in thinking about this, for those of us who are feminists not to be distracted by the fact that there are also men out there who are using the idea of male victims of domestic violence as a sort of rhetorical club to use against feminism and the battered women’s movement. (“What about battered men??? Huh???”, said in the same tones in which one might say: but what about the white victims of racism???) They certainly exist, and I ran across a number of them before I stopped trying to wade through the statistics. I don’t much care for them.

But their existence does not imply that there are no men out there who are married to, or romantically involved with, abusive women. Pick the human tragedy of your choice: somewhere, there is probably someone trying to fake that tragedy to make some political point. It’s bad enough that there are such people; we should not compound that problem by dismissing the concerns of quite different people who deserve to be heard. People who use tragedies that way have already hardened their hearts; we should not let them harden ours.