October is domestic violence awareness month, and nothing cries out for awareness so much as the misconceptions that have been constructed around this issue by politically correct feminists.
I was once beaten so badly by a boyfriend that I am legally blind in my right eye. In our culture, being a "victim" makes me an expert on domestic violence. The truth is quite different. Being on the wrong end of a hurled fist doesn't make me an expert on anything. The only insight I have on domestic violence comes from endlessly turning one question over and over again in my mind: Why did I stay?
Feminist explanations have been worse than useless. I was not oppressed by patriarchy — I was battered by one specific man. I didn't suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome — I simply refused to give up on a commitment.
The latter explanation I find particularly galling. To suggest an emotional interdependence between captor and captive is insulting. What I did was assume personal responsibility. I simply worked harder at the relationship and hoped for the best.
Clearly, I made a mistake.
Battered women are not generally portrayed as responsible adults with free will who strike a bad bargain or misjudge a situation. But that scenario is probably as common as any of the ones sketched by mainstream feminism. For example, a growing trend among Latinas, for whom family and children are often paramount, is for couples to work out their relationships, often with the aid of a priest or counselor. These women are choosing to put trust in their relationships and stay.
Another popular misconception about domestic violence is that men are always perpetrators and never victims. Yet the frequency with which women batter men is less and less disputed in political circles. There is just too much statistical evidence. According to the Justice Department's 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey, some 1.5 million women and more than 800,000 men are abused by an intimate every year.
Another report, Behind Closed Doors: Violence in American Families by researchers Murray A. Straus, Richard Gelles and Suzanne Steinmetz, caused a sensation in 1980 by reporting that men and women initiate physical abuse at about the same rate but the abuse of men is virtually ignored.
It was a sensation because it was, and still is, politically incorrect to view men as anything other than perpetrators. Steinmetz's earlier research, The Battered Husband Syndrome Victimology (1977-1978), found that wives initiated attacks as often as husbands do but caused less injury. The politically correct backlash against her was furious. Steinmetz eventually left her field, alleging, among other charges, that radical feminists had threatened to harm her children.
Erin Pizzey, who founded the first battered women's shelter in England, had much the same experience with her book Prone to Violence (1982) which provided anecdotal support for Steinmetz's findings. Pizzey was met "with a solid wall of feminist demonstrators. 'ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS,' 'ALL MEN ARE BATTERERS,' read the placards. The police insisted that I have an escort all round England for my book tour."
Pizzey argues that domestic violence, as an issue, has been highjacked by advocates who have a political and financial interest in denying that men are battered.
In Los Angeles County, Marc Angelucci is running up against those political and financial interests. Representing the activist group Stop Abuse For Everyone (SAFE), he is lobbying to establish the county's first battered shelter for "men-only."
In an interview, Angelucci described to me how the county maintains over twenty shelters for "women-only" at taxpayers' expense. Only one is willing to admit men as well, and it had to fight to do so. That shelter, in the remote desert community of Lancaster, is 80 miles from downtown L.A., a 3-hour drive. This makes it virtually inaccessible to men who must work or live in the city.
"What L.A. County is doing is discriminatory and illegal, and ... it is leaving itself vulnerable to a class-action lawsuit," the shelter's former director, Patricia Overberg, told the Los Angeles Daily News last month.
Angelucci determined to fight against the battering of men after witnessing the abuse of a close friend whose wife became violent when drunk. Despite frequent abuse, the friend didn't leave because he would have almost certainly lost custody of the three children. He did not fight back because he had been taught since infancy that men do not hit women. He did not call the police for fear of being arrested himself.
Or being laughed at. The stigma attached to battered men is so enormous that many researchers believe the best statistics we have badly understate the situation. Like women who were raped in the '50s, men who report spousal abuse should expect to be further humiliated by the authorities, family, "friends," and co-workers. The silencing shame these men feel is one of the reasons that feminism has been able to ignore them while claiming to care about "victims."
By focusing upon victimized men and by suggesting that women who stay may be making a choice rather than exhibiting a syndrome, I will be accused of trivializing domestic violence. But when such critics wake up tomorrow, they will view the world through two eyes. Because of domestic violence, I will never see the world completely again.
It is because I take domestic violence so seriously that I want October to bring "awareness" and not just politics as usual.
McElroy is the editor of www.ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada.