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If Your Man Knew What to Say, Here’s What He Might Say If He Knew You Feared His Potential For Violence...

Excerpted from Warren Farrell's Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say.

(Permission to reprint granted by Warren Farrell.)
See www.warrenfarrell.com and www.warrenfarrell.info.


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It is also important to know that I contacted the national NOW headquarters and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund to ask them if they knew of any two-sex domestic violence studies that showed any study I had not included in the Appendix. They could not cite a single one. They had relied on crime statistics from the National Crime Victimization Survey 17 to say that women were battered more.

The National Crime Victimization Survey is not a survey of domestic violence, but a survey of crime (as the title indicates). That’s a big problem. Why? When a man is asked, “Have you ever been hit,” or “kicked” and the context is his wife, his answer has his wife in mind; if we ask him if he’s ever been hit in the context of a crime, he thinks of whether he’s been hit by someone other than his wife. How do we know this? By comparing crime surveys to domestic violence surveys. In all domestic violence surveys the men are much more likely to say they’ve been victims of violence from their partner.

What creates this difference? We have educated women to think of being punched or kicked by a man as a crime, so a crime survey can get women to report that as a crime; we have not yet educated men to think of being bitten, punched, kicked, or hit with a frying pan as a crime, so a crime survey fails to get men to report these behaviors as a crime. A crime survey can not hear what men do not say.

Another important consideration leads to men not seeing domestic violence as a crime: the devaluation both sexes place on men’s injuries – even when those injuries are equal to their wife’s. For example, a US Department of Justice survey finds that Americans consider it 41% less severe when a wife stabs her husband to death as they do when a husband stabs his wife to death.18

Both sexes evaluate it more seriously if a woman is being hurt than a man on the less-severe level as well, as when a man or woman hit, bite, or throw something at their partner.19 When we add this to the male mandate to not “air their dirty laundry in public,” we can see why crime surveys do not uncover domestic violence to the man, just by the man.

The second key to eliciting accurate information from men is “be specific.” If we ask a man a vague question, like, “have you been battered,” the answer is likely to be “no” even if he’s been repeatedly hit with a frying pan or repeatedly stabbed. But if we ask him specifically, “Have you ever been hit with a frying pan,” he’ll be more likely to say “yes.” (Also, the word “battered” connotes using the fist, which is the male method; it does not imply using an object, the female method. The word “battered,” then, holds an implicit bias against men; “domestic violence” is gender neutral.)

When I first became aware of these studies , I mentioned them to a woman friend, Liz, who was the chair of her high school math department.20 At first, she looked incredulous. But when I asked her to think of what she saw at school, she smiled, “Well, it is true that I do see a lot of the girls hit the guys, but I can think of only one or two cases of guys hitting girls.” Then she laughed, “But we sent only the guys to the vice-principal’s office, so they got all the attention – including, it seems, my attention. I guess that’s an example of why it was hard for me to believe you at first.”

Not one to let a math teacher get away with a subjective observation, I asked if she would keep track of the frequency with which the boys and girls hit each other the first time. She agreed, but not one to miss a potential math lesson, she asked one of her classes to “do a survey,” to keep track of all the times the boys and girls initiated a slap or punch of a member of the other sex on the playground or in their classes.

When Liz reported the results, she was a tad embarrassed, “Well, it was almost 20 to 1 when I first started keeping track – mostly girls hitting guys on the arm, occasionally slapping them. But I’m afraid I screwed up the survey. I got so furious at the girls for ‘beginning the cycle of violence,’ as you put it, that I began to do mini-lectures in class, and the girls and guys doing the survey started lecturing the people they were observing, and soon there weren’t nearly as many girls hitting guys.... I contaminated the results!”

I assured Liz that stopping violence was more valuable than surveying violence, but it made me wonder whether Liz’ quasi-survey held up in real surveys, once high school and college students started dating. The answer? To some degree. Female high school students are four times as likely as male students to be the sole abuser of the other sex (5.7% vs. 1.4%).21

Of course, we have much more information on college students, since academics teach college and their students are captive! The average study showed college women being about 40% more likely to be violent than the men. But when the questions were very specific, both sexes acknowledged the women hit, kicked, bit or struck their partner with an object between two and three times as often.

Surveying college women and men, though, may be a bias against men, since it seems that among women and men who have not gone to college, women hit men proportionately even more than among those who have gone to college. (Currently, the tendency of less educated females to hit less educated males more than vice versa can be observed anecdotally on the Jerry Springer show every weekday. So far, I’ve never seen a man hit a woman, but about 80 women hit men. That was as much of the show as I could stomach.)

Among all populations, most violence was mutual. But when it was unilateral, it was more likely to have been initiated by the woman. For example, in a study of over 500 university students, women were three times as likely (9% vs. 3%) to have initiated unilateral violence.22

17 US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1993 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995), p. 10.

18 US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Survey of Crime Severity (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1985), #NCJ-96017; conducted by Marvin E. Wolfgang, Robert M. Figlio, Paul E. Tracy, and Simon I. Singer from the Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

19 Ileana Arias and Patti Johnson, “Evaluations of Physical Aggression Among Intimate Dyads,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 4, September, 1989, p. 303.

20 Liz Brookins, Chairperson, Math Department, El Camino High School, Oceanside, CA; currently on leave, teaching at the University of California, San Diego.

21 June Henton, Rodney Cate, James Koval, Sally Lloyd, and Scott Christopher, “Romance and Violence in Dating Relationships,” Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 4, September, 1983, pp. 467-482. Sample size: 644. The smaller survey was by Nona K. O’Keefe, Karen Brockopp, and Esther Chew, “Teen Dating Violence,” Social Work, Vol. 31, 1986, pp. 465. Two hundred fifty-six high school students reveal that more girls than boys were perpetrators of abuse (11.9% to 7.4%).

22 R. E. Billingham and A. R. Sack, “Courtship Violence and the Interactive Status of the Relationship,” Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 1, 1986, pp. 315-325.


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