Domestic Violence and Gender, or ‘What about the men?’: 5 Myths, Debunked
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
‘What about the men?’. It’s the refrain any feminist campaigning against domestic violence will be confronted with, because it’s two women a week who are killed at the hands of their current or former partners, not two men, so it’s on trying to prevent those deaths that we focus our energies. And that should be a more than adequate response to ‘what about the men?’, not what gives rise to the question in the first place.
Unfortunately though, a lot of misleading information about domestic violence and men gets peddled. Here, we’d like to debunk five of the most common myths we’ve come across:
- ‘Women are as likely to perpetrate domestic violence as men’. This one came up in the recent BBC documentary about ‘The Rise of Female Violence’, though to its marginal credit, the beeb only claimed this for ‘low level domestic violence’. First of all, we shouldn’t assume that if women perpetrate domestic violence, it’s always against men — some women have relationships with people of other genders too (and we don’t celebrate violence in those relationships either, especially as there is a real dearth of specialist service provision for survivors of domestic violence who are LGBTQ— which are also in fact the services that men experiencing domestic violence are most likely to need ). Furthermore, when women do commit ‘low level domestic violence’, it’s usually either self-defence or ‘co-violence’ — women are sole perpetrators in less than 4% of reported incidents . This leads on to the next myth that needs to be debunked.
- ‘Violence against men, especially by women, is taken less seriously than the other way around’. ‘The Rise of Female Violence’ showed bystanders confronting a male actor after a staged incident of domestic violence in which he played the perpetrator, but failing to do so when the roles were reversed. There are several problems with this popular stunt. First of all, had the incidents been real, confronting the perpetrator could have put the woman at greater risk later: she could have been ‘punished’ for ‘making’ her partner lose control in public. Research has also shown that in fact, one in three reported incidents of domestic violence with a woman perpetrator lead to arrest, compared to one in ten incidents with a male perpetrator . And that’s despite the fact that, as we’ve pointed out, when women commit violence in their relationships, it tends to be ‘low level’ and not place men at high risk of serious harm or murder in the way that domestic violence against women does – you can bet that if two men a week were being murdered by their female partners, we’d definitely know about it. When a woman is reported for trying to defend herself from domestic violence, that is itself a form of domestic violence. When she is arrested for it, that is a form of state violence.
- ‘Domestic violence is worse for men, because it makes them feel emasculated’. It’s not possible to quantify suffering, but the assumptions at play here are really telling. If we think being on the receiving end of domestic violence is an affront to men’s sense of masculinity, why don’t we think it’s an affront to women’s sense of femininity? Probably because if it’s an affront to men’s sense of masculinity, it’s something we think of as inherently feminine — part of a woman’s lot, you might say. This may desensitise us to domestic violence when it’s perpetrated against women; it does not make it ‘worse’ when it happens to men. This myth is also dangerous, because it leads to the assumption that men are less likely to report domestic violence, making it easier for those men who are in fact perpetrators of domestic violence to compound their violence with state violence, by having their partners arrested for self-defence, as described above.
- ‘Most violent crime overall is committed against men’. This is the picture created by conventional crime statistics (although in that picture, most of the violence is still committed by men , and feminists cannot be expected to save men from themselves). The thing is, conventional crime statistics are also actually skewed towards capturing the male experience of violence (almost as if we live in a sexist society where ‘male’ is considered the default or something). So for example, in the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the number of times one person can be counted as the victim of violent crime is capped at five. Any additional violence committed against that person won’t be counted. But as we’ve pointed out before:
In a world where, on average, a woman will be assaulted 35 times before going to the police , this cap means that not only is domestic violence under-reported, when it is reported, government statistics have placed an arbitrary limit on recurring violence. Professor Sylvia Walby, of Lancaster University, took the 2011/12 CSEW and calculated that the capped number of estimated violence against women at 839,000 would increase to 1,417,000 if the cap was removed, a rise of just over 68% . Add to this the estimated 65% of domestic violence that isn’t reported, and the numbers start to become so high as to be unimaginable: a silent epidemic of gender-based violence.
Because the kind of violence women are likely to suffer is usually of a recurring kind, like domestic violence, most violence against women is left out of the conventional picture of violent crime altogether — because it’s different from the kind of violence men suffer and we live in a sexist society.
‘Female violence is rising’. If this is true, it should hardly be surprising given some of the facts contained here: there is a silent epidemic of violence against women, and women are all too often reported and arrested for trying to defend ourselves against it.
What we are campaigning for at Sisters Uncut — for the funding that has been cut from domestic violence services to be restored in full, and ringfenced at a national level for specialist providers — should be considered a form of collective self-defence. We must remember the history of these services: they were not benignly handed to us by a government, they were fought for and built by women who had had enough of their sisters dying, of living under the threat of male violence with nowhere to run, and decided to take matters into their own hands. We have lost over 30 specialist domestic violence services under the current and last governments , primarily services set up by and for women of colour. Generic services, run on a shoestring, will not compensate us for this loss. Sisters are stepping into the breach, to win back what has been robbed from us.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains. Join us on the 28th.
 https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf (US source).