July 23, 2013

An Abuser Is Still an Abuser Even if She’s a Woman.

I cannot help but notice a double standard here.

In the weeks since I wrote a post on domestic abuse and specifically, the incident in London involving an altercation between celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her now-estranged husband, Charles Saatchi, another celebrity couple has supposedly been involved in an episode of domestic abuse.

Unlike Lawson’s situation, though, the alleged abuser was arrested because someone called the police to report a fight. Per police reports, the victim had a bloody nose and visible teeth marks on the body. There were also a couple more things that made this situation different from Lawson’s: the victim, Evan Peters, was male and his supposed abuser, actress/celebrity off-spring, Emma Roberts, was female.

Comparing and contrasting the media reports following Roberts’ arrest and the Lawson incident has been eye-opening when it comes to how the public in general views domestic violence at the hands of a woman. In contrast to numerous articles and editorials on both sides of the Atlantic urging Lawson to leave her husband and branding him as an abuser, the stories following the former have been largely reports from “friends” claiming that they are “worried” about Roberts’ supposed party girl behavior and the effects that it may have on her rather than Peters and that she and Peters have an “extreme” and “passionate” relationship. Representatives for both made it clear the couple has no plans to split and are “working to move past it.”

As a feminist and a survivor of domestic violence, I cannot help but notice a double standard here. Given the violence that supposedly took place, which arguably appears more extreme than the abuse doled to Lawson, the only reason I can think of that the media is not jumping on this and demanding Peters leave his abusive partner is because Roberts is a woman: on a more worrying note, the media’s seemingly double standard of the two situations reflects the refusal by many to admit that 1. Men can be victims of domestic violence and 2. Their abusers can be women.

When many of us picture domestic violence, we often think of a woman hovering in a corner and/or running out of fear from her abusive spouse or boyfriend. Few think of a man in that situation even though some estimate that as many as one in three men may be victims of domestic abuse.

Like their male counterparts, abusers come from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds as do their victims. As I recently discovered, victims may even be people you know whom you never think would stand for domestic abuse.

Shortly after I wrote my piece, I reconnected with someone I knew many years ago at college. He had recently split from a woman I also knew back in the day. As we caught up, he shared with me that during their years together, he had been hit and slapped by this woman on a number of occasions, including in public.

I was horrified by this. I expressed my sympathy that he had been a victim of domestic violence, but he bristled when I said those words. He attempted to justify it saying that he “probably deserved it” by saying something objectionable and downplayed it by saying, “Well, you know what she was like. She was always passionate.”

As a passionate woman myself, I was not buying this excuse. I asked him point blank: If this was me or any other woman talking about her former spouse like this, would you deny it was abuse?

His answer was swift: No, he would not. He would call it domestic abuse.

Being a victim of domestic violence is humiliating for anyone of either sex, but being a man in this position can be even more difficult. He may be asked by other men: Why can’t he control “his” woman? Also, the fact that men usually tend to be physically stronger makes many men and women doubt their claims and ask why they didn’t fight back or protect themselves.

The sad fact that many don’t get is that abusers of both sexes operate on fear and control. Very few abusers start out immediately abusing their victim. Often it is a process in which they gain their would-be victim’s trust and affection before their true colors come out. Like women, male victims may come to believe that they cannot make it without the abusive woman in their life. The idea that men simply do not take break-ups as hard as women is false, especially given that men are actually much more likely to commit suicide following a divorce than women.

Therefore, if we are ever to even come close to a society where domestic violence is eliminated, we need to recognize that domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer for people of both sexes. We need to tell our children, starting when they are very young, that there is nothing “cute” or “funny” about hitting or slapping someone in anger even though popular culture often depicts men who get a slap across the face from an angry woman as somehow deserving it.

Lastly, we need to continue to say that love should never have to hurt regardless of the sex of people involved.



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Ed: B. Bemel

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