DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:
Some Things Have Always Been Equal

by John A. Rossler


John Rossler is a businessman from Syracuse, New York and a member of the National Coalition of Free Men. For 10 years he raised his three children under a joint custody arrangement. He was a co-founder of New York's Father's Rights Association and served as V.P. for 8 years. He is a co-founder and past President of the National Congress for Men (now called, National Congress for Fathers and Children).

This article was originally published in Transitions, May/June 1994, Vol. 14 No.3.

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Feminism's greatest contribution to society may have been its willingness to raise social issues of the sexes heretofore thought too sensitive. Socially they forced us to grow up. Their greatest failure was their unwillingness to positively include men in the framing of those issues as we've allowed them to self-servingly do. Precisely why "insider-trading" is a crime.

Outside the abortion issue, questioning feminists have framed domestic violence causes one of their strongest emotional responses. If "Job Opportunity" gave women new roles, "Abortion on Demand" their freedom from patriarchy, then "Domestic Violence", as they've constructed it, politically advantaged women as victims oppressed by men.

TV hosts Regis and Kathie Lee devote a show to "How to raise boys so they don't become abusing men."

United Way solicits funds portraying a mother and child battered by her husband "who shouldn't have to live this way."

Johnson & Johnson devised a campaign to donate a nickel to a national women's domestic violence organization for every redeemed coupon.

The stereotype of the abusing husband and battered wife has been added to America's lexicon of cultural wisdom.

All well intentioned; all wrong in their premise it is mostly women beaten; all serve to perpetuate the myth of the violent male; all contribute to "men's increasing legal and social defenselessness." None would recognize the following:

"One of the cruel ironies of marriage is that, although husband-wife relationships are largely male-dominant, the use of physical violence seems to be one of the few aspects of marriage which approaches equality between spouses." (Strauss 5, 6/'80 681-704 p.681) "She may cast the first coffee pot (emphasis added), but he generally casts the last ..." (Ibid.)

The serious examination of violence in the family began in the mid 70's with studies by Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz that challenged many of our preconceived notions of violent men. Also challenged was the stereotype, the anathema of feminists, of the "little women," docile and passive compared to her husband. Whereas these original researchers suspected violence was a major problem in American families, consistent with our violent society, surprising was its high incidence: at least one act of violence occurred in 16% of families in the last year and 28% since the beginning of the marriages ("Societal Change and Change in Family Violence from 1975 to 1985 As Revealed by Two National Studies," Straus and Gelles, Journal of Marriage and Family, 8/86.)

More surprising was the virtual equality of offenses by wives to husbands. They committed 48.5% of all violent occurrences, and 54.8% of all violence termed "severe."

In her 1977-78 Victimology article, "The Battered Husband Syndrome," (p. 501) Steinmetz (U. of Delaware) reveals "The data from the nationally representative sample (Straus et al., 1977) ... found wives slightly higher in almost all categories (of violence) except pushing and shoving."

As to the frequency, the "little women" held additional surprises, "The data suggest that not only the percentage of wives having used physical violence exceeds that of husbands, but that wives also exceed husbands in the frequency with which these acts occur." Of the five studies she cites, only one shows a lower frequency rate for wife to husband abuse. Another feminist myth debunked was the alleged greater aggressive nature of men causing them to resort to violence to dominate women!

"Gathered data plus insights gained from in-depth interviews, suggest that women are as likely to select physical violence to resolve marital conflicts as are men." (Ibid., p. 505)

In another index of spouse abuse, researcher M. McLeod, "Women Against Men," Justice Quarterly, Fall, '84, found that it is often men who sustain the severest attacks, aggravated assaults. Whereas we have found that women are inclined at least as much to initiate violence in the family, women often lack the bodily wherewithal to execute their intentions. Technology overcomes biology in this case; women compensate by using weapons.

"The National Crime Survey data confirm the increased use of deadly weapons against male victims. Of all incidences perpetrated against female victims, 14% involved the presence of guns or knives (McLeod, 1982). Of all incidences perpetrated against male victims, 35% involved the presence of guns or knives. Wolfgang (1958), in his study of homicides in Philadelphia, observed that knives and cutting objects were used four times as often by women as by men." She adds, "Offenses against men are significantly more serious in nature than are offenses against women," (pp. 185,186). She finds that 84% of male victims of domestic violence required medical care (p. 191).

It may be true there are more battered women because of a physical pummeling by men, but indications are there may be more scarred men because of women's weapon of choice in domestic disputes, the knife.

A ten year follow up study by Straus and Gelles discovered a remarkable 21% drop in wife beating in the years 1975 to 1985. However, they found no significant change in the Severe Violence rate of wife to husband abuse and a 4.3% increase in "Overall Violence" rate of abuse to husbands. Two questions are begged: First, what factors contributed to the 21% drop in violence against women? Secondly, why was there no comparable drop for men?

Suggested significant factors for the drop in wife abuse are given by the authors themselves:

"Most likely the findings represent a combination of changed attitudes and norms along with changes in overt behavior. This interpretation is based on a number of changes in American society that took place during or immediately before the decade of this study, including: changes in the family, in the economy, in the social acceptability of family violence, in alternatives available to women, in social control processes, and in the availability of treatment and prevention services."

It is significant to note the importance the authors give to "treatment and prevention services" in the reduction of violence to women. In virtually every metropolitan area of the nation shelters can be found for women which are privately or publicly funded with tax dollars offering women an alternative to a life of violence. Most of these shelters offer counseling to help the women start a new life and many are beginning to offer legal services for future protection or divorce.

Many of these shelters are forces in the community educating its citizens to the inappropriateness of wife beating.

"If all that has been accomplished in the last 10 years is to instill new standards for parents and husbands about the inappropriateness of violence, that is a key element in the process of reducing the actual rate of child abuse and wife beating." (Ibid. p. 11)

Justifiably implied in the reasons for the reduction of wife beating is a subtle pride in the part the authors played in helping bring about this social phenomenon. But if you are a man, aware of society's discrimination to males, you may note something is missing that may help us to understand the answer to the second question of why there has been no comparable reduction in violence against men. There is no evidence of concern in the numerous social comments these authors make. In fact, throughout this article and others written by these authors, even when the data shows equality in offense frequency and severity of occurrences, they still show a sexist bias in that they often interchange the terms wife beating with spouse abuse and subtitle sections of domestic violence with "Wife Beating."

In their "Table 2 Marital Violence Indexes: Comparison of 1975 to 1985," the authors show that wives outperform husbands in the "Severe Violence" index (46 wives to 38 husbands and 44 wives to 30 husbands per 1000 couples studied respectively for the years 1975 to 1985) and that in 1985 wives' "Overall Violence" was greater than husbands'
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Try reconciling with the above data the authors' attempts to diminish or excuse the violence of women in the following statement:

" ... because of the greater average size and strength of men, the acts in the 'Severe Violence' list are likely to be more damaging when the assailant is the husband. Consequently, to facilitate focusing on the rate of severe violence by husbands, the term wife beating will be used to refer to that rate," (p. 4).

They presume men's greater size necessarily results in greater inflicted harm. The human species produces a wide variety of sizes and shapes for both genders. Many women are capable of physically overcoming their partner and for those who can't, research by others has shown they compensate with weapons or surprise la Mrs. Bobbitt ( the wife of John W. Bobbitt, who maliciously slashed off his penis). The bullet cares not which chest it enters, nor the knife whose genitals it mutilates.

Their assertion that women's violence is responsive to men's doesn't logically correlate with their data. Table 2 noted above shows "Severe Violence" by wives for both studied years exceeds men's violence (55% and 59% for the years '75 and '85) and in another table comparing specific acts, women exceed men in occurrences in 5 of 8 categories and tie men in one category. Although they make no reference to data within this study supporting their claim of "responsive violence" by women, a previously noted quote that "She may cast the first coffee pot" indicates their interviews may have lead them at one time to another conclusion. If more women are hitting, are we to believe, without reference to specific data, more men initiate violence!? Theologians call such a mental exercise a "leap of faith"!

To interject a bias expiating women's responsibility for violence in the home ignores their greater involvement in child abuse, and that, when added to spouse abuse makes women the most violent members of the family. Only an analysis of women's violence that excludes child abuse could stretch to conclude with the politically correct and advantageous "women as victims" formula. (A normal comparison of data would not conclude women are victimized more.) Or is child abuse responsive to "matriabuse"?

Another researcher, possibly less intimidated by feminist criticism, examined the motives of 145 women perpetrators of the ultimate act of violence - killing. In an article, "Getting Even? Women Who Kill In Domestic Encounters" published in Justice Quarterly (March '88), Dr. Coramae Mann concludes that although nearly 60% of the women legally claimed self defense, a detailed examination of the relationship and the circumstances of the killing did not justify the "Battered Woman Syndrome." "I felt that under 6% had justifiable self defense as a motive ...", she said in Behavior Today (7-25-88), and "In many cases, the women went and got a weapon, then returned to the fight/murder scene. In several cases the men were asleep and the female assailants still claimed self defense." Mann also found that nearly 30% of victims were incapacitated at the time of the murder.

Straus and Gelle's interchanging of "domestic violence" with "wife battering" in their ten year follow up study becomes more perplexing. By their own assertion, " ... in the case between spouses, the 'OVERALL VIOLENCE' rate is more important than is 'OVERALL VIOLENCE' by parents (against children)" for the assignment of focus. In the 1985 study the "Overall Violence" rate is 8 points per 1000 higher for women than it is for men and the "Severe Violence Index" for both years is higher for women!

For researchers who have been impeccably accurate in the reporting of the data it is a wonder how, knowing of the virtual equality of offenses, such a bias could enter their analysis. They may have revealed a significant reason why violence against husbands has not dropped:

"Violence by wives has not been an object of concern. There has been no publicity, and no funds have been invested in amelioration of the problem. In fact, our 1975 study was criticized for presenting statistics on violence by wives. Our 1985 finding of little change in the rate of assaults by women on their male partners is consistent with the absence of ameliorative programs." (Ibid. p. 8)

I submit that because the 1975 study done by these authors was a leading precipitator bringing spouse abuse to public attention, the above mentioned bias of singular focus of abuse to women, to the detraction of abuse to men, contributed greatly to husband battering "not being defined as a problem." Add to that some factors other researchers have shown to be relevant, the inability of men to report abuse, the unwillingness of police to take reports, the fear men have of losing their children in a divorce precipitated by abuse, and it is little wonder abuse to men has not declined.

The lack of attention to men's abuse while focusing on women's has allowed (in conjunction with academician's silence) a misframing of the issue in such a way that it serves feminists well in politicizing the social and legal encounters between men and women. The dichotomy of victim/villain diminishes both men's public support and individual initiative for legal and social reform as society strives for gender justice. Men have been doubly wounded in this regard: unrecognized and unaided victims of spousal abuse as well as stereotyped as villains used by a political agenda that excludes men from social reforms. The authors mentioned in this article show the need for a wider scope of study in abuse cases including not only the initiators of violence or the verbal abuse preceding it, but also more thorough examination of the inequities of power in family structure that may well be a major source of intergender hostility.


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