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Behind the Column: Novel Program Treats Women Who Batter Men
February 22, 2006
by Wendy McElroy, wendy@ifeminists.net

I may have written more columns on domestic violence for FOX News than on any other single subject that falls within the purview of feminism.

The reason is personal. For years now I have tried to come to terms with my own experience of DV, which haunted me even though it occurred over twenty years ago. Like many women and men who stay(ed) in long term abusive relationships, I asked myself over and over: "Why? Why did I stay?" For me, the abuse was so harsh that I permanently lost vision in my right eye after being punched repeatedly in the face. To be precise, I suffered a hemorrhage in the central line of sight which left a scar so large that it blocks all but peripheral vision and cannot be corrected through laser surgery. I am what is called "legally blind" in my right eye.

The story of how I came to terms with the abuse and answered the question "Why did I stay?" is a fascinating one. For example, it led me to form a fast friendship with the woman who 'replaced' me in the abusive fellow's life and bed. Conventional wisdom says we should hate each other and, certainly, the fellow set up that scenario by playing us off against each other. But once we started talking, we had exactly the same reaction. It was such a relief to speak out loud about experiences that were sometimes nearly identical, down to the words he said to both of us. It was even more of a relief that someone understood.

In short, for the last few years I have thought about every aspect of DV: personal, political, and cultural. I needed to think it out for myself not only to make sense of my own reactions but also because the explanations of DV I encountered were so deeply flawed as to be useless or harmful. Most of them came from mainstream or radical feminism, which views DV as an expression of man's oppression of woman. But what happened to me had nothing to do with men as a class. I was battered by one very specific man; he alone deserved blame and my rage. In fact, if a general statement is possible to make about men and DV, it is this: most men I know are horrified by hearing of my abuse and I believe they would have helped me leave the situation had I asked them.

As well as rejecting the basic premise of most DV theories, I rejected their specific remedies. For example, I didn't and don't believe that it is always proper for the battered woman or man to leave. I should have left but what is proper for me and my circumstance is not an immutable rule for everyone else. There is no "one size fits all" solution for a complex human problem. If the battering starts with and stems from substance abuse, for example, it may be reasonable for the battered party to stick out the relationship as long as the abuser commits to purging his or her substance problem. This does not excuse the abuse: nothing excuses physically attacking another human being let alone someone you are supposed to love. It is merely to say that the decision to stay is sometimes a reasonable one. And a woman or man who makes that choice should not be automatically stigmatized.

Writing "Novel Program Treats Women Who Batter Men" (title chosen by editor) was particularly interesting because it was the first column on DV in which I did not stumble over my own experience. That is to say, it was the first time I didn't have to push away my own emotional reactions to give preference to what I thought rather than what I felt. That's a good sign, a sign that I am close to closing this door on this episode of my life and no longer dwelling upon it.

What held my attention about this column was not just the shift toward recognizing men are victims of DV but the possibility that men would start being viewed as another class of victims, the latest oppressed group.

I've been advocating men's rights for about five years now -- long before it was the popular cause it is now becoming. When I started, colleagues with whom I discussed men's rights often responded, "But aren't you helping to create another class of victims? Don't we have enough victims already?" I didn't think so. As long as I argued against all laws that differentiated between the sexes in their language or their application, then I would be arguing against the very idea of class victims and class villains. Of course, quite apart from removing gender from the legal system, I would also argue against the many and specific laws that intrude into the lives of peaceful individuals and dictate arrangements like the terms of divorce.

I no longer dismiss the possibility that a new class of victim is being created, along with new cries for "gender justice" and appeals to government for even more legislation. For example, I never seem to hear a call to repeal laws from the men's movement. Even when the Violence Against Women Act was being hotly contested, I had little company in calling for its defeat. Most men's rights advocates called instead for the inclusion of the word "male" into that terrible and fundamentally unjust piece of legislation.

Only time will tell whether the men's movement will become a politics of rage as the feminist movement did in the mid-70s when liberal feminism lost ideological dominance to the radical feminists. Only time will tell whether men will become the next group to use government force to seek restitution...not for wronged individuals (which is just) but for an entire class of people.

Copyright © 2006 Wendy McElroy.

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