Almost every day for months, and sometimes several times a day, I have heard a PSA about domestic violence on the radio. The script goes something like this: [fun, happy tone] “You teach your son to hit a fly ball, to hit the puck in the net and, haha, hardest of all, to hit the books.” [Serious tone begins.] “But you should teach your son early and often not to hit women.” This ad is put out by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and you can visit their website at www.endabuse.org. They have transcripts for several ads on their site but not for this one.
I hate this ad for two reasons.
First, the idea that men should not hit women is already ingrained in our culture. It is connected to the pre-feminist notion that women should be placed on a pedestal. And, most importantly, it obviously has not worked because men are hitting women.
Second, this campaign perpetuates a myth regarding domestic violence. The myth is that all or most domestic violence follows the pattern of the awful Julia Roberts movie Sleeping With the Enemy (1991). In that movie, wonderful Julia is beaten by a domineering and psychotic husband. She makes his coffee the wrong way (or something like that) and he flies into a rage and beats her. I think that portrayal of domestic violence, while true in some cases, presents a simplistic view of human relations.
I believe the typical domestic violence incident begins with two people arguing. The argument becomes heated and then escalates into violence. Maybe the escalation to violence is most often initiated by the man, I don’t know. I don’t think the available statistics really address this question. But it seems likely that the escalation to violence is sometimes (half the time? a third of the time?) initiated by the woman. Once the conflict has escalated to violence, men being generally bigger and stronger, women suffer the worst injuries. From endabuse.org, “Male violence against women does much more damage than female violence against men; women are much more likely to be injured than men.”
The most important message of domestic violence awareness is that it occurs across all ethnic, cultural, gender and income groups. Domestic violence occurs in lesbian and gay relationships. In other words, the most important message is its universality. Blaming men alone for domestic violence hurts that message. Here is the breakdown by gender, from endabuse.org: “Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 2001, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence (588,490 total) and men accounted for approximately 15 percent of the victims (103,220 total).”
The number of male victims is probably higher due to underreporting. (From endabuse.org, “Women are seven to 14 times more likely than men to report suffering severe physical assaults from an intimate partner.”) On the other hand, many of the male victims were gay. (I.e., the perpetrators were men.) And I wonder if these statistics are measuring who got the worst of it in each case. (I.e., the person who is the most physically damaged is designated the victim.) In any case, I don’t dispute that the end result of domestic violence is that women are suffering, and that women are suffering significantly more than men. But I want to know more about what’s happening at the beginning and in the middle. If we want to reduce domestic violence, we need to understand it and I don’t think that annoying radio PSA reflects an understanding of it.
I know some will accuse me of “blaming the victim.” I think that’s a cop-out with the side effect of stifling debate. I’m saying domestic violence is more complicated than “women good, men bad.” I’m saying we should teach our boys and girls, “Don’t hit other people.” And, “Don’t resort to violence to solve conflicts.”