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The Irritable Male Syndrome and Domestic Violence
They are an interesting group of men. They range in age from 25 to 40. They come from all over the area and they are engaged in a variety of jobs. Most are married with children. The weather has been nice and we have been meeting around picnic tables behind the old firehouse. People walking by might conclude that this was a group of fire-fighters or perhaps Dads' planning the little-league schedule for the coming year.
In fact the men have all been arrested on domestic violence charges and are part of a year-long program I direct that is set up to teach the men better ways of dealing with their anger. When you talk with these men you wouldn't suspect that anger was a problem in their lives. They are generally soft spoken. They care about their families and say they wouldn't do anything to hurt them. Nevertheless, they were each involved in "blow-ups" that were serious enough to draw the attention of the police.
Mark is a twenty-seven year-old man who has been married for four years. He and his wife have a 3 year-old son. He is good-looking, full of energy, and talks easily. When asked what brought him to the program, like most of the men, he describes the incident as though it were quite minor:
"We'd been partying pretty good and Cary kept bugging me about my drinking. I told her I was fine. Later in the evening she started in again. She also said I was flirting with her girlfriend at the party. You're imagining things, I told her. She kept on in a loud whisper that I was afraid someone would hear.
"I've learned to go along with what she says when she's like this. Yes, uh huh, sure, I will, whatever you say dear. You're right. I won't drink any more tonight. I love you. I nod and smile. Her words go in one ear and out the other. I had a few more drinks. What the hell. I work hard and deserve to have fun on the weekends.
"The first thing that got me really pissed was that she wanted to drive us home. At first I wouldn't give her the keys. It's my car and I don't want her to mess it up. I wasn't drunk. I've driven home safely a hundred times like this. She kept bugging me and I finally tossed her the keys. Later when the police came, she said I threw them at her, but she's lying.
"As soon as we got in the door she checked on our son then started ragging on me again. "You're always doing this, you're never doing that...on and on," Mark does his imitation of his wife in a disparaging sing-song voice.
"I just wanted to go to sleep and I started for the bedroom. She said something to me that pushed me over the edge. I turned around and told her to shut. She made a smart remark and we got into it. A neighbor heard us yelling and called the police. That's about it."
When I pressed him about what he meant when he said, "we got into it," he was pretty vague at first. "I just blew up." When pinned down, he acknowledged that "I pushed her." What else, I wanted to know.
"She started hitting me and I just held on to her arms to defend myself. I pushed her away to keep her from hitting me more and she fell into the wall. Really, it was no big deal. By the time the police got there, things were settled down and would have been fine if they'd have just left us alone.
Points of Understanding
- Those involved in domestic violence are not out of the ordinary. They are, in many ways, just like us.
- Domestic violence is universal. According to the World Report on Violence and Health, "Violence against intimate partners occurs in all countries, all cultures and at every level of society without exception."[i]
- Men tend to minimize the extent or the affect of violent behavior. Although, not always obvious, they usually are quite ashamed of their behavior and want to deny that it happened.
- Domestic disputes often occur when one or both parties are intoxicated.
- Around the world, the events that trigger male violence in abusive relationships are remarkably consistent. According to the World Report on Violence and Health, they include disobeying or arguing with the man, questioning him about money or girlfriends, not having food ready on time, not caring adequately for the children or the home, refusing to have sex, and the man suspecting the woman of infidelity.[ii]
- The currently popular "feminist" approach to domestic violence which posits women as the victim and men as the aggressor may be misguided and actually be making the problem worse. According to Linda G. Wells, Professor at the New York University, and herself a feminist scholar, "Women are not merely passive prisoners of violent intimate dynamics. Like men, women are frequently aggressive in intimate settings."[iii]
- More than twenty years ago, Murray Straus, Richard Gelles, and Susan Steinmetz published their first landmark study and Erin Pizzey wrote Prone to Violence, both documenting the dreadful truth that women and men commit violence against their spouses with roughly equal frequency at all levels of severity. Yet, nearly all Americans still believe that domestic violence nearly always involves men as the aggressor and women as the victim and rarely or never involves women as the aggressor and men as the victim.
- Men are much less likely to report abuse. It is not seen as manly to be abused by a woman. Our social perceptions that women are "good" and men are "bad," often blinds us to these realities.
What's been your experience? Do you think domestic violence affects women and men equally? I'd like to hear from you at Jed@TheIrritableMaleSyndrome.com
[i] Ibid., p. 15.
[ii] Ibid., p.15.
[iii] Linda G. Mills. Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 8.
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This article first appeared on Gordon Clay's MenStuff Web site, http://www.menstuff.org/