Gender and Abuse

Are men more of a problem in Domestic Violence and Abuse than women?

This question, as posed in many different forms by many different people, has been debated extensively for some time. It can be virtually guaranteed to be going on at any time, and you can find it going on in, soc.women, and alt.feminismtoday. The participants in these debates consider it to be very important. Some of these participants consider it to be extremely important to point out that most abuse is perpetuated by men upon women. Others doubt the veracity of the claim that most abuse is in fact perpetuated by men, and consider it extremely important that people realize that women also abuse men. The focus on this question eventually overshadows all other questions in abuse (like, perhaps, “Whom do you know who is abusive?”) because the folks involved in the debate seem to feel that they must establish once and for all that men/women are more of a problem in Domestic Violence and abuse than women/men are.

Personally, I don’t care about this question, which I call the Gender War. I’m interested in helping abusers and their victims identify themselves as such and get the help they need to break out of their violence and abuse. I am personally aware of both men and women who abuse both women and men. Arguing the statistics is not helpful in stopping abuse because people don’t abuse as statistical elements — they abuse as individuals. Acknowledging that women abuse does not mean that men do not, and it doesn’t relieve anyone from responsibility for their actions.

It is my current opinion that the power and control issues that are at the core of any abusive relationships come in pairs. Perhaps this concept is best expressed by likening it to being at a dance — when you are in front of a partner and the music starts playing, all you can do is dance with the partner or leave the floor. And when you find yourself in a relationship with someone with power and control issues, you will join in that escalating dance of abuse more often than not if you stay in the relationship.

I would not be surprised if men perpetrated more traceable abuse than women. I can see how denying this “fact” can be part of an abusers denial process that can perpetuate the abusive situation. I can also see how this “fact” can itself be abused to classify all men as dangerous and women as powerless victims in an evil patriarchal society. I have huge concerns about statistics and studies being used to support more general points than can be justified based on the scope of the evidence — that every 14 seconds (or whatever) a woman is beaten by an intimate, for instance. This is an inappropriate use of statistics. There is also a very huge problem in the collection of these statistics, due to the problems of under-reporting and silence which are characteristic of abusive relationships and families. And I am not personally willing to wait until we have gotten all those problems solved before I get busy trying to help people break the cycle.

There are, of course, some very strong gender-based patterns in our culture (and every other culture, for that matter), based in the fact that men and women are fundamentally different. These patterns can be enforced in different ways, and can influence different people in different ways. In some geographic areas, some religious communities, some social groups, some political groups, professions, etc., these gender-based patterns will be slightly different than in others, so we all will have slightly different understandings of what those roles are. Those understandings and beliefs about gender are so basic that we frequently don’t even realize that we have them, and they are very powerful. There is plenty of good material to be found in searching through these beliefs and reassessing them to see if they need adjusting. Just as I am convinced that no one abuses or is abused because of demographic details like gender, race, or class, I am also convinced that gender, race and class can and usually do play a role in how the abuse is justified and reacted to. It would be wonderful to see more discussion regarding those things, but, with the Gender War going on, there just isn’t time to get around to this stuff.

This is, of course, my own opinion. You are free to differ with it, and many of you will.


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