…and against men, but since nobody is terribly concerned about them, we’ll set that aspect aside for the sake of rhetoric.
Being that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Facebook has been awash with links to articles on the subject, and many of these are simply terrible. Now, just to be clear up front: domestic violence is bad, mmm’kay. Nobody’s claiming otherwise. However, many of the ways of combatting it that are being trumpeted this month are entirely counter-productive (and utterly unjust towards men, but again, nobody is terribly concerned about them.)
The tactics that I see most often are attempts to expand the scope of how we understand abuse in order to extend protection to more women. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that motivation. However, many of these expansions are gross exaggerations that actually trivialize domestic abuse in the name of combatting it. Take this guide to discerning emotional abuse, for example:
When people think of domestic abuse, they often picture battered women who have been physically assaulted. But not all abusive relationships involve violence. Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse, which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked—even by the person being abused.
The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.
Now take a moment to really think about some of the criteria that’s being offered up here. Blaming: “I can’t believe you forgot to mail in the payment for the credit card bill.” Simple statements like this now amount to domestic abuse. Oh, and if you put an exclamation point on the end, it’s now doubly abusive because yelling is also on the list. There’s also shaming: “Are you really going to wear a brown belt with black pants?” Statements like this also fall under the vague heading of “controlling behavior,” seeing as how it’s clearly intended bring about behavioral change and prevent self-expression. Granted, this may not be model behavior in many cases, but abuse? Really? With criteria like this, literally every relationship that has lasted more than a few months is categorized as abusive.
If one goes a little further in the guide, one will encounter another subtle form of emotional abuse: “economic abuse.” The criteria here aren’t even coherent. One bullet point calls a partner abusive for “withholding money” while another does so for “taking your money.” That’s right, it’s abusive for your partner to withhold money and also abusive of them to prevent you from withholding money. But then, that must mean that you’re abusing them right back as long as any money either does or doesn’t change hands. Do the two abuses cancel each other out, or should both partners be locked up?
It’s also worth mentioning that one of the key touch-stones for a healthy relationship that the guide offers up is “independence.” Far from being key, independence isn’t even terribly desirable within marriage. When a man and a woman become one flesh, independence flies out the window. It’s like the intestine trying to be independent of the stomach: if either one tries to be self-sufficient at digesting and excluding the other from the process, both will come to harm.
The only service such a list provides is easy entry into the cult of victimhood and the sense of entitlement it provides at the expense of one’s spouse. This does not help women (or men, but who cares). This merely sends them on relational witch-hunts whenever conflict arises. What could be more destructive to marital happiness? Furthermore, it denegrates victims of real abuse. If all domestic abuse amounts to is some yelling and name-calling, how long until people start concluding that “domestic abuse” is not a big deal and its victims are unworthy of our sympathy? Worst of all, it provokes a paranoia that sees abuse hiding behind every bush and a hysteria that wants to stop it at any cost.
The further this kind of poisonous philosophy spreads into our social institutions, the more harm it causes. No discussion of domestic violence awareness would be complete without noting the ways in which these stilted approaches to the subject make their way into the legal system. Consider the tragic case of Joseph Kerr, a victim of real abuse.
She kicked my head into the solid wood base. I blacked out, came to, stood up, bleeding. My daughter was screaming, “Stop hurting daddy!”
It was over. We were over. I headed out the door to the police and then the hospital. My daughter stopped me. “Daddy, you need to go to a doctor, here take this,” she handed me a bandage. “I love you” was the last thing I said to her. It’s been almost a month.
I walked into the police station falling apart. What happened? What will I do next? What happens on Monday? What happens for the rest of my life? How will I explain what just happened to my kids? My head was spinning as much from the injury as from the complete collapse of my home life. I knew the officer, I had came by the night before suspecting that my wife was leaving with the kids, he assumed why I was crying, “hey man, it’s alright, you knew this was going to happen….”
I pulled off my sunglasses and revealed my bloody face. “Whoa, what the hell happened?”
I started piecing together what happened. The argument, her throwing the breakfast I was making for the kids on the ground, grabbing my laptop, the stairs, my kids, screaming. I pulled out the Band-Aid and broke down again.
“Is she hurt? Did you hit her…?” No. Never. I waited.
“We’re sending a car over there to talk to her.” I waited some more.
“You wife is telling a bit of a different story, as happens a lot in these situations, she says you threatened her.”
“We’re going to take you into custody now.”
“Stand up and put your hands behind your back.”
An hour later I was handcuffed to a hospital bed waiting for CAT scan results to know if my head was bleeding. I looked at the officer.
“What do you do when a woman hits you?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, man” he confided. “We don’t like doing these things, but our hands are tied.”
This is where domestic violence hysteria leads. Joseph Kerr was treated as a criminal because “the most telling sign [of abuse] is fear of your partner” and his wife said she was afraid. She might even have been telling the truth. With only nonsensical criteria to identify abusers, the laws that were intended to halt abuse are turned against the victims of abuse. When everyone qualifies as guilty, it is only the circunstantial nuances of the system that determine which of the guilty get punished.
Now, it’s true that Joseph Kerr was a man, and that nobody is terribly concerned about men. However, this situation is going to turn very ugly for women as well. As Vox Day points out on one of his blogs, this kind of legal regime creates a no-win scenario for many people, and a no-win scenario is ultimately a carte blanche. Once a person really realizes that he has nothing to lose, there are far fewer limitations on his options. Vox, for example, answers Joseph’s question about what to do when a woman hits you thusly:
If a woman physically attacks you in a manner that indicates her serious intent to harm you, then you beat the living shit out of her. Beat her so badly, so painfully, that she fears for her life. Afterwards, calmly explain to her that if she calls the police or tries to press charges after she attacked you and forced you to defend yourself, you’ll simply do your 30 days or whatever and then you’ll come back and do it again. Only this time, you won’t be merely defending yourself. You’ll be looking for payback, and payback is a serious bitch. And remind her that the police won’t be there until after the fact.
This solution is the quintessential picture of real domestic abuse. I’m certainly not convinced that this is a moral solution, but it’s hard to deny that it’s an extremely practical one. And the more severe the social and legal consequences a woman is able to bring against a man for telling her that if she doesn’t stop running up the credit card then he’ll cut it up (“economic abuse” according to the guide), the more incentive he’ll have to turn to the brutally violent solution. The absurd exaggerations of the scope of abuse that are being thrown about to prevent domestic violence are actually creating incentives to engage in the worst kind of domestic violence.
This irresponsibility of the domestic violence industry has created a situation that is now encouraging the very kind of behavior they’re ostensibly fighting against. If you want to truly help advance the cause of women this October, stop promoting the hysteria and feeding the paranoia. Take the domestic violence industry to task instead of promoting it. And who knows, you might even help some other victims you never knew existed.