Why real men do hit women

Recently, a video was released by TMZ (who else?), apparently showing an American sports star knocking his female partner unconscious. I’m not going to be specific here – the woman involved doesn’t need any more Google hits to her name and, besides, even if you don’t know who I’m talking about, the situation could easily be a carbon copy of thousands of others, as far as domestic violence is concerned.

As the news broke, social media duly erupted and everyone seemed to be having their say. Reactions were, inevitably, mixed: once again, we were given unnecessary proof that victim-blaming and abuser-apologetics are still many people’s default response to such a story. Fortunately, however, a great many people also showed us a far better way to respond, by expressing sympathy, indignation and basic human kindness. While many of the responses falling into this latter category were a welcome antidote to the bile that was slowly filling the internet, courtesy of those in the former, I can’t help but feel like some of the critics of this sports star and his actions may have missed the mark a little.

This particularly felt the case as I read the White House’s statement on the matter, saying that ‘hitting a woman is not something a real man does’. While there’s a part of me that’s loathed to condemn any criticism of domestic violence, most of me feels that there is something seriously wrong with the President’s message in this case. 

Because, first and foremost, men do hit women. A lot. In fact, the Crime Survey for England and Wales from 2011/2012 estimated that 31 per cent of women had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. That’s around 5 million women between the ages of 16 and 59. The Survey from the following year revealed that around 1.2 million women were believed to have been abused by a partner or family-member in the year ending March 2013 alone. And, of course, if those are the estimates, you can rest assured that the reality is far, far higher.

The same survey found that around half of female homicide victims in that year were killed by their partner or ex-partner (that’s compared to 1 in 20 for their male counterparts), while Karen Ingala Smith, founder and curator of the Counting Dead Women blog, calculated that 143 women were killed by suspected male violence in the UK in 2013 – that’s an average of 1 woman every 2.55 days. The statistics are truly shocking.

But, of course, that wasn’t really the White House’s point, was it? They weren’t saying that men didn’t hit women. They were saying that real men didn’t hit women, which is a different point entirely – although equally worrying, I’d say. The problem is that, as the above statistics go some way towards showing, domestic violence is already a heavily gendered issue. While, of course, female-on-male abuse does happen – and I wouldn’t want to trivialise the experience of such victims in any way – it is considerably rarer. It is not an accident – no coincidence – that there are far more female victims than male, and far more male abusers than female. That is a clear, irrefutable pattern and there are reasons behind it.

Domestic violence lies at the more extreme end of a scale that encompasses men catcalling women in the street, uploading naked pictures of women to the internet without consent, and supporting a porn industry which routinely demeans and exploits women. These are far from isolated concepts and the connection between them is clear: we live in a society in which unhealthy gender stereotypes, portraying women as the weaker sex, prevail. This culture, which glorifies an ideal of male dominance, is responsible for a society which sees women routinely experience the unimaginably harmful – and, sadly, often fatal – consequences of this ideal.

That is why suggesting that ‘real men’ don’t hit women is so damaging: it is fighting a problem with the very problem itself. It’s flawed, cyclical logic which is never going to fix the problem. If we really want to see off domestic violence, we need to dispense with the gender stereotypes, and open up a frank – and likely uncomfortable – debate about the role that gender has to play in its continued existence.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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