Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I saw quite an interesting documentary last night on the topic of battered men, which gave me some food for thought. There were a few very distressing examples shown, one of which being the case of a man who was stabbed to death by his partner in a fit of jealous rage.
I could not help but feel some empathy with the abuser, who had a history of abuse herself (as have many abusers) and had long term mental health problems that had gone unaddressed. How will she live with herself in the years to follow? The other women featured had similiar issues in their respective backgrounds.
Perhaps the issue of female violence will need a slightly different analysis to that of male violence. But the issue does make the classic feminist analysis of domestic violence being an expression of patriarchy (or at least justified by it) look increasingly weak.
The psychology of the relationships and of the women (and men) involved appeared virtually identical to that where the man is the abuser. The male victims were isolated by their abusers, who expressed the same possesiveness that male abusers do. The man who was eventually killed by his partner expressed the same traits as do female victims of domestic violence. He returned to his partner after her pleas and apologies, 'hoping he could change her' (in the words of one of his family members). He covered up for her likewise (on one occasion telling his family he had fallen into a rosebush).
This kind of violence is uncontrolled rage, an inability to cope with emotions and to communicate and express oneself. Much of it appears to stem from insecurity. This seems to apply to abusers of either sex. If patriarchy is allegedly the ideology which justifies men's violence towards women, what is the ideology that justifies women's towards men? There isn't one. So it would appear relatively safe to say that there is not one that justifies or motivates men's violence against women either. It doesn't need an ideology, it just needs the psychology of the perpetrator.
Perhaps once in some times and in some places it was considered acceptable for men to 'discipline' unruly wives (and in some places, at certain times, it may still be). This remains an issue. The traditional patriarchal family was one place where power relations were exercised. But this structure is on the wane under late Western capitalism.
In modern society it is not socially acceptable for men to beat their wives. A batterer would not be respected by his peers. It would be a mark of shame rather than of strength or pride. And it goes without saying that very often 'traditional' codes of chilvary dictate that men should not hit women. Machismo may sometimes serve for some men a justification for violence, but a justification is all it can ever be. 'Patriarchy' is not the underlying reason for it.
In my experience on the left I have encountered men who have raised these concerns being dismissed not only by feminists but also by left wing men who stick with the traditional analysis. The fact that there may be 5 or even ten female horror stories for every male one does not mean it is not an issue that should not be addressed. We should oppose violence and take it seriously whatever the sex is of the perpetrators or victims. DV should be today treated as a gender neutral issue, as I have argued before.
One man in the documentary reported that he was not believed by the police when he informed them. Yet the police have run a tough campaign against male violence for a good few years now. Let's hope society and it's institutions will wake up to this problem, and let's hope the left rethink it's stance. Men can be victims as well as women, even if it may be less frequent.