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Why Men Batter

From “Understanding Domestic Violence” by Barbara Corry, M.A.

Another question that we are often asked is “Why do men batter?’ Like the issue of “why women stay,” the answer is complex...and it is rooted in our culture (Walker, 1979: x-xi):

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE IT IS LEARNED AS NORMAL BEHAVIOR

Most batterers were abused as children, and abuse was literally “in-bred” in them. They were carefully taught how to hurt others without caring, because as children they were beaten and emotionally devastated, and their feelings were ignored. Batterers also learned that they could gain control by throwing things or by raising their voice. Violence was seen as an acceptable way to express emotions or to get what they wanted, and it became a normal, taken-for-granted way to behave.

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE BATTERERS HAVE NOT HAD HEALTHY ROLE MODELS FOR RELATIONSHIPS

Men who batter have had poor role models for problem solving, conflict resolution, and for establishing intimacy with a partner. Without intervention, they tend to repeat destructive patterns which they observed in their respective families.

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE BATTERERS ARE UNABLE TO EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS APPROPRIATELY

Our society literally trains men not to feel. From the age of five, we tell boys, “Don’t be a crybaby! What are you a wimp? Take it like a man!”, etc. As a result, men don’t get permission to feel the full complement of human emotions. Men are especially not “allowed” to express hurt/pain, terror, indecision, or powerlessness. Their “manhood” is more important than their person-hood! In addition, batterers have particularly poor communication skills and they have great difficulty identifying their feelings. Without good coping skills, they react to difficult feelings (e.g., sadness, fear, disappointment, rejection, and humiliation) with the only outlets they have learned - rage and violence.

MEN WHO BATTER OFTEN BECOME ADDICTED TO VIOLENCE/EXCITEMENT

Many individuals who grow up in violent homes become used to a state of excitement or physical arousal. In addition, for some men violence becomes an addiction. It gives them a feeling of power so strong that they come to crave the adrenaline rush and sensation of the release. Eventually, these men may provoke disputes to get the “fix and thus violence becomes a way of life.

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE MANY MEN AND WOMEN STILL BELIEVE IN TRADITIONAL SEX ROLES

Battering also occurs because of the traditional sex roles which still exist in our society. Traditionally, men have been trained to be active, dominant, and aggressive. Men learn to “be in control of the situation,” and to “win at all costs.” On the other hand, women have been trained to be passive, submissive, and accommodating. Women are taught to “do as you are told,” and that “when you’re a good girl, you don’t ask questions or talk back.” Women are not encouraged, as men are, to take risks and to take action.

Often, both batterers and abused women hold to these traditional beliefs about male and female roles. Abusers talk about their “rights” as husbands, their role as “head” of the family, and their wives as “theirs to do with as they wish.” They hold attitudes consistent with abuse such as, “I’ll show her who’s boss” or “A little slap is good for her.” We also see these attitudes in jokes about wife beating (e.g., “My husband doesn’t love me anymore; he hasn’t beaten me recently.”) and in ancient proverbs (e.g. “A wife, a dog, and a walnut tree; the more you hit them the better they be.”) (Levy, 1984:42).

All of these attitudes serve to “keep the woman in her place” and they support the belief by many women that it is okay to be beaten. Thus, wives are seen as “appropriate” victims, and the family is seen as a private place where the husband has control and outsiders have no business - even when the man has a serious problem with anger and the woman’s life is in danger (Levy, 1984:42).

MEN BATTER BECAUSE THEY LEARN TO DENY, MINIMIZE, OR BLAME OTHERS FOR THEIR VIOLENT ACTIONS

Batterers will BLAME others for their actions and say things like: “I was drunk,” or “I just snapped,” or “I couldn’t help myself” or “She made me do it,” or “If I don’t control her, she’ll control me,” or “If she didn’t want a beating, why did she interrupt me while I was on the phone?” or “She knew not to disrespect me in public.”

Batterers also will DENY hurting someone they love with comments like: “She tripped

and fell,” or “She ran into the wall,” or “I was swinging at the air and she walked into it,” or “I was just trying to push her away,” or “She’s fair-skinned and bruises easily.”

Finally, batterers will MINIMIZE their violent actions with excuses like “The injury wasn’t so bad,” or “I didn’t hurt her that bad,” or “It was just a bump,” or “I just twisted her arm a bit,” or “Compared to what some other men do, it wasn’t so bad.”

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE VIOLENCE IS AN EASY WAY TO CONTROL EMOTIONALLY DIFFICULT SITUATIONS

Violence is purposefully controlling behavior by someone who wants absolute and total control. Violence puts a quick stop to an emotional argument or a situation that is getting out of control. Batterers tell us that their violence is a convenient tool to get what they want and to make things go the way they want. Physical beatings are a way to control one’s spouse: to MAKE your spouse stay, MAKE her do what you want, or MAKE her hurt as much as you are hurting inside. Simply put, violence works.

MEN BATTER BECAUSE THE VIOLENCE OCCURS IN THE PRIVACY OF ONE’S OWN HOME AND BECAUSE SPOUSES ARE EASY TARGETS

Men would not think of doing to other men what they do to their spouses. A man would not go up to a stranger on the street and punch him in the mouth when he is angry. He knows that if he does this, he probably will be arrested and/or injured by another man. On the other hand, he knows that he can easily vent his anger on his spouse in the privacy of his own home, and that she probably won’t tell anyone. A female partner is most likely someone smaller and weaker, someone who is economically dependent on him, someone who cares about him, and someone whom he can bully into not going to the police. Ironically, the batterer may not even be mad at his spouse, specifically. There may be other things going on in his life (e.g., problems with a boss at work), and he simply lashes out at the person(s) nearest and closest to him.

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE CULTURAL ATTITUDES WHICH FAVOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN STILL EXIST

Battering occurs, in part, because there are still traces of the old English Common Law tradition in which women were considered property and men were allowed to beat their wives. Later, English law was changed to allow the husband to “discipline” his wife provided that he used a switch no bigger than the width of his thumb - hence the expression “Rule of Thumb” (Martin, 1976). Similar beliefs have existed in Asian cultures and in Muslem tradition, and similar laws existed in America until 100 years ago. Even today, our society still does not take the battering of women seriously. Our courts still hesitate to interfere in “private, family matter,” and the police hesitate to step in until the situation has become dangerous for the woman. Moreover, our society still asks the wrong question: we still ask the woman, “What did you do to provoke him?”, instead of asking the man, “Why did you respond in such a violent manner by kicking, punching and choking her?”

BATTERING IS ROOTED IN THE MALE-DOMINATED SOCIETY STRUCTURE

It is important to recognize that battering is not an individual fate, and that it can’t be abolished individually. The roots of battering are found in the very structure of our patriarchal (male dominated) society. Battering is rooted in the narrow roles society assigns to men and women. Its roots lie in the issues of power and control. When it comes to politics, the military, big business, and international affairs, men have been (and still are) in control. In addition, men and women are taught from an early age that men should be in control at home too. Until such time as there is greater equality between the sexes, the potential for battering and the oppression of women will continue to exist; and, men will remain trapped in restrictive roles. It is going to take more than innovative counseling programs to end abuse; it will take broad changes in men, women, and society.

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE BATTERERS GET MESSAGES FROM SOCIETY THAT AGGRESSIVENESS AND VIOLENCE ARE ACCEPTABLE

Boys are exposed to physical sports and they are encouraged to “roughhouse”. They learn how to hit each other as hard as they can to see who can “take it the longest”. Boys also learn they must be “tough”, and they learn to challenge each other to “take your best shot”. Violence even becomes a way to release tension and express friendship!

Moreover, aggression and violence are glorified on TV and in films such as RAMBO, THE TERMINATOR, DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON. From such films, boys and men learn that they get to “kick butt’ when hassled, pushed, or stressed.

In addition, there is a link between violence and the expression of men’s power over women. We are all exposed to images such as Jimmy Cagney pushing half of a grapefruit in his mate’s face in the film PUBLIC ENEMY. From such scenes, men and women learn that the mistreatment of women is acceptable. We learn that violence is a legitimate part of relationships - and that “it’s a woman’s place to take it.”

BATTERING OCCURS BECAUSE OF THE “FAILED MACHO” COMPLEX

Finally, Gondolf (1989) suggests that a man becomes violent in order to live up to a distorted ideal of manhood. He notes that most batterers are unhappy with who they are, and they see themselves as falling short of their image of “manhood”. Most abusive men either had an abusive or neglectful father, or they had a father whom they could never please. Without a strong, positive father figure as a role model, they turned to the images of manhood they saw on TV or in films, e.g., “men have to be tough”; “men must always be in charge”; and “real men must never show their feelings, or admit they don’t know what to do”. This distorted “Rambo-like” image of manhood is unrealistic and impossible to fulfill. It leaves these men frustrated and struggling to be something they’re not.

Violence against women thus becomes a way of taking out their frustration and self-doubt. The abuse also serves to put the man “on top” where he feels he belongs. In short, hitting or putting down a woman is an easy way for an insecure man to feel like a “man” (Gondolf, 1989:22-25). However, the trouble with this “quick fix” is that physical abuse always violates trust, damages the relationship, and lowers the man’s self-esteem even further.

Gondolf also states that the “failed macho complex” may best explain why some men get so violent and others are less violent: Men are more violent to the extent they see themselves not living up to the male sex role.

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