Column

4 Feminist Myths about Domestic Violence

By Glenn Sacks

Since October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month", I’ll mark the occasion by examining four of the most prevalent feminist myths about violence in families.

Myth #1: In violent heterosexual relationships, the aggressor is almost always the man, and the victim is almost always the woman.

Serious research on domestic violence overwhelmingly asserts that domestic assault is committed by both men and women and that, by using weapons and the element of surprise, women are abusing their male partners as often as vice versa. Only about 1/4 of violent heterosexual relationships fit the feminist "man/aggressor, woman/victim" model—about the same percentage as fit the "woman/aggressor, man/victim" model. Roughly half of all violent heterosexual relationships are mutually abusive, and domestic violence rates between men and women are comparable from small violence to serious violence, including murder.

The mutual nature of domestic violence has been attested to in voluminous research. For example, veteran domestic violence researchers Richard Gelles, Murray Straus, and Susan Steinmetz, who were once hailed by the women’s movement for their pioneering work on violence against women, were initially surprised to find equal levels of male and female violence. Since then their studies have confirmed it repeatedly.

Cal State Long Beach professor Martin Fiebert compiled and summarized 117 different studies with over 72,000 respondents which found that women initiated domestic violence as often as or more often than men. Studies conducted by the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in 1975, 1985, and 1992 found that abuse rates were equal between husbands and wives and that abuse of wives by husbands is decreasing, while abuse of husbands by wives is increasing.

Studies by researchers R.I. McNeeley and Coramae Richey Mann show that women are much more likely than men to use weapons and the element of surprise. These weapons often include guns, knives, boiling water, bricks, fireplace pokers and baseball bats.

Myth # 2: When women are violent, it is usually in self-defense.

As a general rule, neither men’s nor women’s violence is usually committed in self-defense. According to Straus, for example, roughly 10 percent of women and 15 percent of men perpetuate partner abuse in self-defense. Dr. David Fontes, author of Violent Touch: Breaking Through the Stereotype, and the director of Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE), has also found that only a small percentage of female abusers are acting in self-defense.

Myth #3: Domestic violence is committed almost entirely by men, and lesbian relationships are gentler and provide women a refuge from male patriarchal dominance and violence.

Actually, the evidence is virtually undisputed that domestic violence is at least as common in lesbian relationships as it is in heterosexual ones. For example, a 1997 survey of 1,099 lesbians found that 52% of the respondents had been abused by a female lover or partner and that 30% admitted having abused a female lover or partner. Of those who had been victims of abuse, more than half (51.5%) reported that they also had been abusive toward their partners.

In a survey of lesbians who had had previous relationships with men, 45% reported that they had experienced physical aggression from their most recent female partner alone, while only 32% had ever experienced any aggression from any male partner.

According to St. Joseph’s University sociology professor Claire Renzetti, lesbian batterers "display a terrifying ingenuity in their selection of abuse tactics, frequently tailoring the abuse to the specific vulnerabilities of their partners" (Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships).

To their credit, even the UCLA Clothesline Project, whose website and public materials contain scores of discredited lies about men and domestic violence, cites Renzetti’s research findings that "Violence in gay/lesbian relationships occur at about the same frequency as violence in heterosexual relationships."

Over the past 30 years feminists have often played an admirable role in pushing for societal acceptance for gays and lesbians. However, feminists have shamefully turned their backs on battered lesbians, and have stifled the attempts of activists to address lesbian domestic violence.

Myth #4: Mothers are children’s "first line of defense" against child abuse.

In reality it is mothers, not fathers, who commit the overwhelming majority of child abuse, neglect, and parental murder. According to the US Department of Justice, 70% of confirmed cases of child abuse and 65% of parental murders of children are committed by mothers, not fathers.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, adjusting for the greater number of single mothers, a custodial mother is five times as likely to murder her own children as a custodial father is. A study of confirmed child abuse cases published in the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect found that mothers abuse their children two and a half times as often as fathers. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1996) found that children are 88% more likely to be seriously injured from abuse or neglect by their mothers than by their fathers.

Twenty-five years ago feminists played a heroic role in advocating for abused women and publicizing the despicable crime of wife-beating. Today, unfortunately, their refusal to acknowledge violence by women stands in the way of eliminating domestic violence for everyone—not only women, but men and children as well.

 

  • Daily Bruin
    10/12/01