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Author Topic: Linda Mills: Public heaps scorn on male victims of abusive women  (Read 1762 times)

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Public heaps scorn on male victims of abusive women
By Linda G. Mills

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2003-11-30-opcom_x.htm

There has been much public snickering about David Gest's $10-million lawsuit against his estranged wife, Liza Minnelli, in which he claims she beat him. Whether the suit is rooted in truth or in greed, its existence opens the door for a public discussion about our society's disquieting and pervasive problem of abusive women.

Most people's first reaction to the term "abusive women" is disbelief. Who would believe the so-called weaker sex can be as guilty of abuse as men can be? But consider these facts: In a 1975 national survey, researchers Richard Gelles and Murray Straus found that nearly equal numbers of husbands and wives committed violent acts against each other. These findings were confirmed 10 years later and in more than 100 additional studies. So, women have a long-established record as abusers.

What clearly emerges from these studies is that abusive women get away with their sins. Abused husbands either refuse to admit they are abused — and why should they, considering the scorn heaped upon Gest? — or, in a chronic state of fear or denial, refuse to recognize or even understand that they are being abused.

A striking feature of women's violence is that it can be both physical and emotional. Suzanne Steinmetz, now a sociology professor at Indiana University, called "husband beating" the most unreported crime in the United States. According to a 1997 study of New Zealand young adults, women admitted committing severe physical aggression at three times the rate of men. Kicking and hitting with an object were typical examples of severe physical violence inflicted by women.

Emotional antagonism

Violence researcher Victoria Burbank found that women also are guilty of emotional abuse, such as locking a partner out of the house or belittling him. Those who are quick to minimize emotional abuse should know that these tactics have been found to predict physical aggression in marriage. In other words, a woman's emotional abuse can be a catalyst for a physical reaction from her partner.

The fact is that taking Gest's accusations seriously challenges our core assumption that women always are victims. In another recent high profile case, actor Christian Slater received several stitches to the back of his head after being struck with a drinking glass. According to news reports, Slater initially told the police that his wife threw the glass at him. Later, after learning about Nevada's strict domestic violence laws, he changed his story and said the glass accidentally slipped out of her hand while they were joking around.

Not as simple as it may look

The picture of a violent couple is always complicated. Although it is important to note that men tend to harm women at greater rates, what's most often occurring is a nuanced, even imperceptible dynamic between a man and woman in which they provoke each other. Minnelli's divorce papers, which were filed one day after Gest's lawsuit, claimed "cruel and unusual treatment." Five years ago, Christian Slater served 90 days in jail for slugging a girlfriend.

Sorting out exactly who is doing what to whom is a matter for a Solomon to decide. But until the American public recognizes and begins to grapple with this interwoven dynamic, the true causes of intimate abuse never will be understood nor its sad consequences adequately addressed.

Beliefs about men's and women's violence are so sacred and arouse such strong feelings that the thought of questioning them can sometimes evoke violence. After Steinmetz published her groundbreaking book, The Battered Husband Syndrome, in 1978, she was not only derided and denounced, but her children's lives also were threatened.

We must begin to revise our views on men's and women's violence, especially as it relates to the insights that a great body of research already reveals. Failing to do so will compromise all victims, men and women alike, in their efforts to gain the peace and justice that they deserve.

And lastly, perhaps it is time to stop snickering over David Gest's dilemma and begin to appreciate the sadness and complexities of his situation.

Linda G. Mills is a New York University professor of social work, an affiliated professor of lawand author of Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse.


 

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