Yesterday I participated as a volunteer for an organization devoted to helping people with family violence. They were doing a fundraiser to raise funds for the free counseling services the organization provides. It is a great organization but I have to admit I was a little disturbed (maybe triggered is a better word), not because of the organization or what it was doing, and not even so much because of the fundraiser itself, but because of what I read into the pamphlet I saw on the tables. This pamphlet was advertising an “ALL WOMEN” campaign to end family violence” and what I read into this was an example of making invisible the reality of social violence.
Now ending family violence is a laudable goal, I won’t argue with that. Who doesn’t want to end family violence? But I have to admit, things like that, things that say “all women” or “only women” or, for that matter, “only men” or “you can’t come because you’ve got a penis or vagina” or “there’s something wrong because you belong to “that” group of people’ always make me a bit nervous…
Oh, who am I kidding, things like that make me really nervous ’cause typically when you see that sort of exclusion you’re not getting whole picture. Typically, when you start pointing the finger at specific demographic categories you’re expressing some kind of blind spot or bias. If I point to Jewish people and say they are all “like this” or they are all “like that,” I’m being a bigoted racist. But the same doesn’t apply to gender, does it? We regularly point the finger at one gender or another and say “oh they are like this” or “they are like that.”
So what does gender bigotry have to do with this all women campaign?
[ad#article]Well when I read the pamphlet I asked myself the question, where are the men in this campaign to stop violence? Don’t they count? Aren’t they concerned? Why aren’t they included? The answer to that is easy and it pops to mind without any thought or effort at all. Men are the perpetrators of family violence, aren’t they? Men are the ones who act violently, who take up the knives, who shoot the guns and blow up the houses. Men are the perps. and women and children are the victims. It is not overly stated in the pamphlet, but it is certainly the common perception. Ask anybody and they’ll tell you, men are the problem and women and children are the victims.
But is that true?
Must “all women” stand against the violence perpetrated by “all men.”
Personally, I don’t think so and I can start with examples from my own life because as a child and teenager I was a victim of family violence, but not in the way you might expect. In fact, although I’ve experienced profound emotional and psychological abuse, not to mention serious, physical abuse, it has never been at the hands of the male of the species, but at the hands of the female species. To be perfectly blunt, from the time I was born it has been the females in my life that have abused me in ways that I still struggle to deal with.
Let me explain
When I was two my dad flocked off and left my mom to fend for herself with two small children. For the next ten or so years my mom, who I know loved me, nevertheless subjected my brother and I to emotional, psychological, and physical abuse. This women beat me and my brother with belts, spoons, and other household implements to the point where the implements broke and we were battered and bruised. The physical abuse was bad, as bad as any “daddy figure” could have subjected us to, but as bad as it was it was the emotional and psychological abuse that hurt the most. She used to force me and my brother into corners for long periods of time, cut us off from love for extended periods, make us feel small and unloved, and generally engage in textbook examples of emotional and psychological abuse. She even left us once or twice screaming and crying as she abandoned us to our own devices, all the while saying she was going to jump off the downtown bridge and kill herself! Can you imagine the emotional and psychological scarring that comes to the eight year old child listening to their mother threaten to leave them alone, desperate for the love, attention, and care that parents are supposed to provide. I won’t go into the details of the psychological and emotional impact of this long term and systemic abuse we experienced, but I don’t think you have to have a very developed imagination, or a graduate degree in psychology, to know this abuse affected us in a profoundly negative fashion.
And you know, for all the talk of women victims of male violence, it wasn’t just my mother who abused me. I remember my first girl friend, a female by the name of Bonnie, who once danced gaily around me all the while she was smacking me repeatedly in the face, laughing, and telling me I’d never understand why she was doing that. I have to admit, I didn’t understand why someone you had been dating for almost a year would treat you with such callous and mean spirited disregarded. All I could do was stand there in shock. And for those who think that men are innately violent let me point out that I didn’t strike back. All I did was stand there and take it. In retrospect I think it was that experience that solidified this basic truth for me that that on this world, the people most likely to hurt and abuse you are the people you let get close to you.
And that’s only two examples. Let me also mention in passing the catholic nun I had in grade one, the female English teacher, or my cousin who babysat us and thought it was funny to terrorize small children with stories of monsters under our beds, or any of the number of violent and abusive females in my life over the years.
Do you get the point?
If I had to answer a survey, based on my experience, on the gender that I felt was the most violent and mean, it would hands down be females. Men don’t even register on the scale, in my experience.
And I know it is not just me that has experienced the violence of women. My wife and I have been doing couples counseling now and we see regular examples of violent women who manage to skirt below the radar because of the “in play” gender stereotypes. That is, women can be the primary abusers but men can be the targets of “therapy” because the therapists themselves cannot see beyond their gender scripting. They act according to their social scripts, blame the husband, and proceed with counseling on those grounds. It is a huge failure on the part of the psychological establishment because as a result of their failure to see the reality of the situation, children who are victims of female abuse never get the help they need. And what’s particularly troublesome about this is that if the husband in a relationship ever “snaps” and slaps his wife, he would be the one arrested, charged, and put in jail. In other words, he would become a statistic and he would become “proof” of the violent male and consequently the reality of female violence would be submerged, hidden, and forgotten.
Perhaps you can see why I get so annoyed by the “all women” campaign.
All women want to stop family violence?
All women are victims?
All women need to stand together?
My question is simple? Why can’t the women who want to end family violence stand with the men who want to end family violence and work outside of socially scripted, and largely irrelevant, gender roles?
Why do they have to stand alone?
Why do they have to perpetrate the illusion that it’s only men that abuse?
Well, there are lots of reasons for that I think. One, the media panders to this illusion. They highlight examples of female abuse in the news, produce cop shop after cop show presenting us with a “reality” of male violence, or simply ignore the examples of female violence occurring all around them.
Two, men and women are socialized to use different types of violence, one visible and one invisible. Men are encouraged to use their fists, knives, and guns. Boys are given action figures and they learn to go around beating and blowing up anybody defined as “the bad guy.” Girls, on the other hand, are given dolls and Care Bears. If a girl picks up an action figure it will be taken away from her. As a result, girls and boys learn a different form of violence. Consequently, the violence men perpetrate is more visible. If you hit a child the bruise is obvious. But if you call it names and make it feel small or hurt its feelings, no visible scars are left.
And let me be clear that female violence, for all its invisibility, is no less hurtful or damaging than the male counterpart. As the vice principle at my daughter’s school recently told me (and as any elementary or middle school teacher will confirm) girls, after they have absorbed the hierarchical ranking behaviors that are taught by our schools, are far more cruel and vicious than boys are. Boys, says the principle, beat each other up in the school yard and then it is over, but girls go on constant, subtle, often coordinated, and deeply vicious attacks
Boys use their fists; girls use their emotions and their words.
It is just a different type of violence.
As a society we simply haven’t learned to register the type of violence and abuse that females engage in, but it is still profound and damaging. As one little boy who had a really violent childhood experience can attest (i.e. me), I’d have rather been beaten by a male than subjected to the ongoing emotional horror of the females in my life. At least with the beating, the pain goes away. At least if I had been beaten by a male, some social worker or psychologist or teacher may have noticed it, and I and my brother may have gotten the help we needed instead of, like the children of our St. Albert family, having to bare the abuse in silent obscurity for the decades of primary socialization we all go through.
Of course, there are other reasons for the invisibility of female violence besides the media’s ignorance or the quality of violence. A third reason is that we, and by “we” I mean those who experience that violence, often hide it out of fear of being further abused. As a younger male I could never tell anybody about what my girlfriend did to me because if I had I would have been laughed at. I know what the reaction of my friends would have been. They would have told me to slap her back and then they would have laughed at me and thought me less of a man because I got beat by a woman. And God forbid I went to the police station to report the assault. I’m not sure that my young and fragile male ego could have handled the total ridicule I would have experienced and so I, like so many others, remained silent about it.
Fourth, we aren’t aware of the violence that females perpetrate because “we” I mean everybody, minimize what females do. If you hit someone it’s obviously violent, but if you exclude someone from your social clique because you don’t like their looks and personality, or because they come from the wrong “demographic,” or because they aren’t “perky,” if you call them names or make them feel like shit inside, if you point your finger and laugh, that’s not violence. It’s the boys fighting in the yard that are violent. The girls engaged in psychological and emotional abuse simply aren’t on the radar.
Finally, we also have serious gender biases to contend with in this regard., especially around the emotions and sensitivity of males. Boys are supposed to be tough, right? Boys aren’t supposed to have emotions. Boys aren’t supposed to feel. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Boys aren’t supposed to show weakness. Boys are supposed to “soldier up” and tough it out. In short, boys are supposed to castrate themselves emotionally and if they don’t, then they are feeble, gay, pussies. So if a boy is being beaten by a woman, or if a boy is crying because his mother hurt him, then it is the boy’s problem because he’s weak. If he would just toughen up and act like a man, everything would be ok. Frankly that’s a primitive load of gender based bullshit. What you end up with when you raise your boys like this is a society of emotionally castrated men who can’t connect with anybody, who can’t empathize with other living beings, and who are far more likely to engage in violent acts than they would have been if their natural childhood sensitivity had not been socialized out of them. And just in case you are not making the connection here, let me make it for you. Women are just as responsible for the violence that men perpetrate as the men are. When you hand your child the violent action figures, when you give them the toy weapons, when you belittle them for having emotions, when you tell them that boys don’t cry, when you invalidate their emotions and tell them to toughen up, when you cut off their loving and expressive nature, when you scream, yell, and beat, you are creating the next generation of violent males.
Think about it!
Females are the primary caregivers, after all.
Take a look at the homes and the daycares and the schools.
Females are the ones who care and socialize the children in the first decade or so of life. So unless we want to chalk it all up to genetics (i.e. men are naturally more violent), an argument that only flies in sociologically naive circles, women (not to mention teachers, schools, the media, our paramilitary and military organizations) are going to have to step up and take at least some responsibility for the violence we all experience.
Now I could go on and talk about a biased statistical and criminal system, how emotionally castrated men are created to feed the requirements of The System, and so on, but I won’t because I think I’ve made my point. What I will say at this point is that if you’re really interested in stopping violence in the family, then stop perpetrating it. Take a look at how you treat people in your life, the boys, the girls, the children, and your spouse. Take a look at what you teach them and how you expect them to behave and quit pretending you’re not part of the problem. We’re all part of the problem and until we take our gender blinders off, until we stop organizing ourselves into groups, until we stop excluding each other from our clicky cliques, until we stop playing gender games, until we learn to stand together and face the problems we have created, we won’t be making any progress towards our goal of stopping the violence in our society. Instead we’ll just be perpetuating the myths and illusions, hiding the truth, and absolving ourselves of our responsibility .
p.s. Towards the goal of ending family violence I would like to invite males and females to share their accounts of the female violence they have experienced. Write it up and submit it to this journal where we will publish it. We won’t use your name (unless you want us to), and we may include your account in a future book on female violence. Help us end family violence by sharing with us the reality of your experience.
Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)