Public Discourse about Domestic Violence Against Men

face of a prisoner

Public attention to domestic violence against men typically has generated not compassion for those victims, but indifference, ridicule, and hostility. Domestic violence against men gained U.S. public attention in 1978 with the publication of a scholarly article on battered husbands. Responding shortly thereafter to a personal letter describing a battered husband, nationally syndicated newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers declared:

I’m sure more men beat up their wives than the other way ’round, but if you think there is a need for a Shelter for Battered Husbands, gather together those of like mind and get one going. I’m working the other side of the street, Mister.^

A columnist for the Afro-American (Baltimore) described himself as a fighter for the underdog who had fought the Nazis and marched in the south against the Ku Klux Klan. He ironically mocked the possibility of a wife physically abusing her husband:

It shocks me to realize that on the very day that Martin Luther King defied heaven and hell and a big belly redneck sheriff at Selma, Ala. that he might have gone home that very night and got the hell whipped out of him by his sweet wife, Coretta.

I tell you, man, it’s a terrible thing to think about. …

And what about Rosalynn Carter? Do you think she would have the nerve to take a swing at President Jimmy? Yes, yes, I know the secret service are there at the White House — but man, they’ve got to be alone SOMETIMES!^

The columnist said he was thinking of starting a new organization to be called the “National Organization to Protect Battered Husbands from Belligerent Wives.” But that was only his first thought:

On second thought, however, that would be just another one of those useless organizations, because the husbands who are able to whip their wives in physical combat won’t need to join the organization — and the husbands whose wives can whip the hell out of them, will be AFRAID to join!^

The columnist should have given a third, sober thought about Abraham Lincoln:

After unwrapping the meat, Mary Lincoln “became enraged at the Kind L{incoln} had bought” and “abused L{incoln} outrageously and finally was so mad she struck him in the face.” He wiped off the blood and returned to his office with Dubois. As the Civil War drew to a close, a White House steward observed Mary Lincoln assault her husband; she allegedly “Struck him hard – damned him – cursed him.”^

In her viciously misandristic book on women who kill men (first published in 1980, subsequently republished in 1991, 1996, and 2009), the author gleefully observed that the unusual scholarly article on battered husbands produced no compassionate help for men:

although some community-based wife-abuse centers decided to offer services to men too, the “movement” for battered men produced not a single shelter or program; it recruited not a single volunteer.^

With respect to social communication and social mobilization to address domestic violence, men are stereotyped as criminals, not as persons who could be victims. One result is that services for men who are victims of domestic violence lag far behind such services for women.

Leave a comment (will be included in public domain license)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *