Paul Day is the brilliant mind behind Billy Bob Neck, but he also happens to be the most interesting person on my Google+ feed. And sometimes, he sends out links to very serious stuff. Thus it was today when he alerted me to what is an important but typically trashy Buzz Feed article, This Is What Happens When the Public Sees a Woman Abusing a Man. What they did was get a male and female couple and had them get into a fight in public. The first time, the man was abusing the woman. Nothing terrible, but clearly unacceptable and likely leading to much worse. Strangers intervened, and even threatened to call the police on the man. They made sure that the woman was fine and everyone went on their merry.
Then, some time later, the same couple did the exact same thing. Except the woman was the abuser. Actually, the woman is more violent than the man had been. Strangers right next to them completely ignored the situation. Those that reacted at all seemed to think that it was amusing. Here is the video:
Now the caveats. It isn’t that people don’t think that the woman is misbehaving. But most of them figure the guy can handle things for himself. What’s more, they likely think that it would be rude to defend him—like it would make him a sissy. And let’s not forget that regardless of the fact that 40% of domestic abuse is against men, much more damage is done to women and that is the primary problem. So let’s grant all of that.
Having been the victim of domestic abuse that goes far beyond what is shown in this video, I think that I have some insights. There are really screwed up men who have never learned the rules that we were all taught as boys. But most men have internalized “never hit a girl” even more fully than “never cry.” So when we are confronted with a woman who is punching us, we parry, we weave, but we don’t counter punch. Just the same, we tend not to cower. And so it seems like nothing is especially wrong. But that is a mischaracterization of what is going on.
I had a wife who was always a bit marginal, but lots of fun. But later in the marriage she got into meth and alcohol and went full tilt schizophrenic on me. From my perspective, the worst point was when she was strangling me with speaker wire, screaming, “I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill you!” That was the moment that I realized that she really was going to kill me. But did I hit her? Scratch her? Kick her? No. I simply got control of the wire and retreated. But I didn’t leave.
Months later, she got very angry at me. And she battered my face so badly that I looked liked the hero at the end of Rocky. It didn’t really hurt that much, but it looked bad. The Neighbors had called the police. By the time they showed up, my wife was passed out, and although I tried to stop it, they arrested her. I didn’t press charges (the police didn’t want me to anyway), but I did use it as an opportunity to disappear.
This behavior had been going on for a couple of years. And just like women in the classic stories, I made up excuses about all the signs of abuse. That’s easier being a man, because guys get in fights. No big deal. Although the same psychological dynamic goes on. We all feel as though there is something we are doing wrong. We aren’t saying the right thing or we are saying the wrong thing. This is how humans think: it’s all about us. We don’t like to think that stuff just happens to us. In this case, I fell in love with a beautiful, sexy, fun, and (sadly) crazy woman.
But until I had that experience, I always wondered about abused women, “Why don’t they just leave?” And while I was living through it, I was thinking, “Why don’t I just leave?” With many women, it is much worse because there are children and financial dependence. But I think it is much deeper than that. The abuse doesn’t happen all the time. It’s like the new Cookie Monster, “A now and then thing.” And there’s inertia. It’s easy to keep on keeping on. Hey, you’ve survived thus far! Until you don’t. And there is the feeling that you can finesse it—that you can figure out what sets them off. (For the record: sex is part of it too. These violent incidents do tend to eventually lead to really great sex. So there has got to be something of a conditioned aspect to it.)
Of course, in the end, you realize it isn’t about you. You might be the most annoying person in the world. But they ought to leave you then. There are an endless number of people who annoy me and I don’t hit them because of it. The abuser needs help and regardless of how loving and brilliant and lucky the abused is, he or she is not the one to provide that help.
But the smirking and the laughing in the video is a big problem. Because a woman acting that way isn’t just girls being girls. It often leads to men turning violent. It is not right that a woman’s slap on the face leads to the man pummeling her. But women should not be encouraged to slap men in the face as though it were cute. It’s not. It’s violence. All the time I was being brutalized, my lack of response was not just having learned that boys don’t hit girls. It was also my firmly held belief that if I gave my wife as good as I got, she would have gone around calling me a wife beater. And that’s a term right up there with “child molester” in my mind.
I don’t want to make too big a deal out of any of this. This is still primarily an issue of man on woman violence. But as a society, it protects us all (And women more than men!) to not turn a blind eye to female domestic violence.
Although I was always worried that people would see me as a sissy man (not that they didn’t already), I always saw myself as the male ideal. I was always strong—never brutal. I did my best to make the situation better. Those who are abused are the strong ones—just unfortunately in weak positions. But if they can get out of those positions, they will do well. I’ve been remarkably happy since ending that relationship. Of course, I haven’t had another since.