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A Reply to Mike Dash

by Jon Pielemeir

Mike Dash’s call for "pro-feminism to stop attacking and begin building bridges" is certainly a welcome and appreciative change from the recent past. Perhaps a beginning would be for Seattle N.O.W., an organization Mr. Dash belongs to, to publicly apologize for recent past president Louise Chernin’s statement on KING TV, that "men are the enemy." A bridge of freeway proportions would be for the current president to state that not only are men NOT the enemy, but that men are greatly valued and cherished for their contributions to humanity, and are loved as women’s equals, as many male activists feel about women. Another would be for Seattle N.O.W. to stop using sexually violent slogans such as "Stop Sucking and Start Biting."

I also appreciate his assertion that men’s "inner work" needs to be balanced by "outer work." I disagree, however, with his belief that we should focus our attention toward violence against women, as opposed to violence in general. Males -- especially young males, are overwhelmingly the victims of violence in our culture (as well as the perpetrators of violence).

To support his view, Mr. Dash states that "women are murdered by men at about ten times the rate that men are murdered by women." There is no citation for this figure, but it is inconsistent with any of the dozens of studies on domestic violence that I am aware of. The FBI reports that 14 percent of all homicide offenders are female (most homicides are male against male). In domestic violence situations, however, Straus in 1986 and Browne and Williams in 1989 separately estimated that women murder male partners at a rate that is 56 percent and 62 percent as great as the rate of husbands.

Mr. Dash rightly asserts that most violence outside the home is done by males. Most frequently, against males. Inside the home, however, there are many arenas in which females perpetrate violence. Child and elder abuse is more commonly perpetrated by women than be men. (Suzanne. K. Steinmetz, "Women and Violence: Victims and Perpetrators," Am. J. Psychotherapy, 34 (1980), p 339).

There is much conflict regarding domestic violence. Many advocates for female victims of domestic violence assert that females are the overwhelming victims. Generally, they rely on police statistics, the National Crime Survey or self-selective studies using battered women’s shelters to support these assertions. There is a weakness, however, in using police statistics. Males rarely report violence done toward them by females, often because males are socialized to absorb pain and violence, to be self-supporting, to be strong and not to admit weaknesses. Men are often too ashamed to admit that someone significantly weaker than they might be beating on them. They fear that they would not be believed by police or the courts because of the stereotypes and social beliefs of male victimizers and female victims.

The National Crime Survey (NCS) is better, but is much criticized by researchers because it is not oriented toward domestic violence, but toward crime in general. Many people think that "slapping" is wrong but not a crime, therefore researchers believe that domestic violence is severely under-reported in the NCS. Further, ones' partner may be present while being interviewed, increasing the probability of under-reporting. The Justice Department has acknowledged these weaknesses and is in the process of redesigning the NCS.

A more appropriate method is to use national random surveys that are oriented strictly toward the problem of domestic violence. Murray Straus, one of the most respected researchers in domestic violence, in 1975 conducted the first comprehensive national survey on domestic violence. To his surprise, Straus found that female violence was every bit as prevalent and severe as was male violence. In 1985, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Straus, along with researcher Richard, J. Gelles, conducted an even larger and more comprehensive survey, the National Family Violence Resurvey.

The 1985 survey consisted of 3,520 married or cohabiting couples. In about half of the cases, the data were obtained by interviewing the female partner. Of all 3,520 couples, 445 were identified by female respondents as violent -- either the husband, the wife or both. Straus and Gelles found that 50.1 percent of these violent couples were mutually combative -- that is, both partners inflicted violence upon the other. In the other half of violent couples, husbands only violence consisted of 24.9 percent of the couples while female only violence consisted of 25.1 percent. Husbands perpetrated 35.2 percent of the severe assaults (severe assaults range from slapping to using a weapon), wives perpetrated 29.6 percent, while the remaining 35.2 percent were severe assaults done by both partners. It is important to point out, that these are incidents as reported by female respondents (male respondents reported slightly higher incidence of female violence).

Straus also notes that in "every study among more than 30 describing some type of sample that is not self-selective has found a rate of assault by women on male partners that is about the same as the rate of assault by men on female partners."

Most feminists considered Straus an important and respected researcher until he published his results of these studies.

If considering males to be victims of domestic violence is difficult, it may be instructive to look at battering amongst lesbians to better appreciate male victimization. Blair Northwood, in the book Naming the Violence: Speaking Out About Lesbian Battering, writes:

"Anywhere we spoke about battered lesbians, just as when the topic of "wife" abuse was first coming to public awareness, people did not believe it was happening, or thought it couldn’t be very severe or serious. The responses were the same incredulity, jokes and offhand dismissal that heterosexual battering had received."

Barbara Hart, researcher in Lesbian violence adds (from the same book):

"Many battered lesbians are women of substantial physical prowess and power; women who are objectively very much more powerful (emphasis added) than their assailants. They are women who choose not to use this power to control the perpetrator or would do so only to protect themselves or to stop the batterer. It is particularly hard for these women to acknowledge to themselves and to others that they have been battered."

Mr. Dash asserts that violence against women is a "colossal and epidemic problem." That is true, but only a partial truth. Closer to the whole truth is that violence in America is a "colossal and epidemic problem." Mr. Dash asks that the Mythopoetic men step out of denial and spring into action regarding violence against women. Using the bridge that Mr. Dash has built, I suggest that ALL people, feminists and masculinists alike, act against ALL violence, no matter who the gender of perpetrator or the victim is.

This should not be read as callousness towards female victims. I condemn violence directed towards women and support the work that is being done to help female victims of violence. I believe that we need to augment the work being done by supporting male victims as well.

R.L. McNeely and Gloria Robinson-Simpson, researchers and writers in domestic violence contend that, "The socially constructed ‘ownership’ of domestic violence by a single gender group ultimately serves to fragment the array of resources, human and otherwise, needed to address the problem successfully. More importantly, it perpetuates the divisiveness so common in our society...Insofar as male victims are concerned, it seems difficult to argue that they, too, are not deserving of human services."26

Mike Dash has done a great service by building the foundations for bridge building. I am ready to walk to the center of the bridge to denounce violence against all and to work to stop it. May I meet you there?

Jon Pielemeier, a former Board member of Seattle M.E.N., now heads the Men’s Information Network. MIN maintains a computer bulletin-board on men’s issues, at (206) 328-0356.

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