Since October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month," I'll mark the occasion by examining four of the most prevalent feminist myths about violence in families.

Myth #1: In violent heterosexual relationships, the aggressor is almost always the man.

Serious research on domestic violence overwhelmingly asserts that domestic assault is committed by both men and women and that, by using weapons and the element of surprise, women are abusing their male partners as often as vice versa. Only about a quarter of violent heterosexual relationships fit the feminist "man/aggressor, woman/victim" model – about the same percentage as fit the "woman/aggressor, man/victim" model. Roughly half of all other violent heterosexual relationships are mutually abusive, and domestic violence rates between men and women are comparable from small violence to serious violence, including murder. The mutual nature of domestic violence has been attested to in voluminous research. For example, veteran domestic violence researchers Richard Gelles, Murray Straus and Susan Steinmetz, who were once hailed by the women's movement for their pioneering work on violence against women, were initially surprised to find equal levels of male and female violence. Since then their studies have confirmed it repeatedly.

Cal State Long Beach professor Martin Fiebert compiled and summarized 122 different studies with over 77,000 respondents which found that women initiated domestic violence more often than men. Studies conducted by the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in 1975, 1985 and 1992 found that abuse rates were equal between husbands and wives. They also discovered that abuse of wives by husbands is decreasing while abuse of husbands by wives is increasing. Studies by researchers R.I. McNeeley and Coramae Richey Mann show that women are much more likely than men to use weapons and the element of surprise. These weapons often include scissors, knives, guns, boiling water, bricks, fireplace pokers and baseball bats.

Myth # 2: When women are violent, it is usually in self-defense.

As a general rule, neither men's nor women's violence is usually committed in self-defense. According to Straus, for example, roughly 10 percent of women and 15 percent of men perpetuate partner abuse in self-defense. Dr. David Fontes, author of "Violent Touch: Breaking Through the Stereotype," and the director of Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE), has also found that only a small percentage of female abusers are acting in self-defense.

Myth #3: Domestic violence is committed almost entirely by men, and lesbian relationships are gentler and provide women a refuge from male patriarchal dominance and violence.

Actually, the evidence is virtually undisputed that domestic violence is at least as common in lesbian relationships as it is in heterosexual ones. For example, a 1997 survey of 1,099 lesbians found that 52 percent of the respondents had been abused by a female lover or partner and that 30 percent admitted having abused a female lover or partner. Of those who had been victims of abuse, more than half (51.5 percent) reported that they also had been abusive toward their partners ("Lie and Gentle warrior: Intimate Violence in Lesbian Relationships," Journal of Social Science Research, Vol. 15).

In another survey of lesbians who had had previous relationships with men, 45 percent reported that they had experienced physical aggression from their most recent female partner alone, while only 32 percent had ever experienced any aggression from any male partner. According to St. Joseph's University sociology professor Claire Renzetti, lesbian batterers "display a terrifying ingenuity in their selection of abuse tactics, frequently tailoring the abuse to the specific vulnerabilities of their partners" ("Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships").

To their credit, even the X Project – whose Web site and public materials contain scores of questionable statements about men and domestic violence – cites Renzetti's research findings that "Violence in gay/lesbian relationships occurs at about the same frequency as violence in heterosexual relationships." Over the past 30 years feminists have often played an admirable role in pushing for societal acceptance for gays and lesbians. However, feminists have shamefully turned their backs on battered lesbians, and have stifled the attempts of activists to address lesbian domestic violence.

Myth #4: Mothers are children's "first line of defense" against child abuse.

In reality it is mothers, not fathers, who commit the overwhelming majority of child abuse, neglect and parental murder. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 70 percent of confirmed cases of child abuse and 65 percent of parental murders of children are committed by mothers, not fathers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adjusting for the greater number of single mothers, a custodial mother is five times as likely to murder her own children as a custodial father is. A study of confirmed child abuse cases published in the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect found that mothers abuse their children two and a half times as often as fathers. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1996) found that children are 88 percent more likely to be seriously injured from abuse or neglect by their mothers than by their fathers.

Twenty-five years ago feminists played a heroic role in advocating for abused women and publicizing the despicable crime of wife-beating. Today, unfortunately, their refusal to acknowledge violence by women stands in the way of eliminating domestic violence for everyone – not only women, but men and children as well.

I normally don't write response write-ups, but at the advice of an editor, and after attempting to contact the author of the above write-up...

Drake Mallard has made many insightful and important points in his node about domestic abuse. The sad fact about domestic violence is that it is not easily acknowledged in our society.

"It doesn't happen to people like us."

"It's none of our business. We shouldn't get involved."

"We don't know the whole story..."

Because of this secrecy, myths and misinformation about domestic abuse propagate freely. Education and information are the most important ways to prevent the continuing cycle of domestic violence.


To blame these myths on "feminists" is both unfair and inaccurate. Not once in his writeup does the author cite a quotation where a feminist propagates these myths. Instead, the author chooses to blame feminists as a group. I'm not saying that all feminists are well-informed about domestic abuse, or that no feminist has ever advocated one of the myths in this node, but to blame all feminists equally, while not providing supporting facts, is unjust.

A few suggestions for change:

1. Domestic violence shelters need to start accepting both sexes. Currently women's shelters are nearly ubiquitous, while equivalents for men are more or less non-existant. This will not change as long as the current administrations of these organizations remain in place.

2. Law enforcement needs to be willing to enforce domestic violence laws against women. Today, complaints are regularly laughed off.

3. Men need to get over their fear of being seen as weak for complaining about abuse from women. Many men feel that they should be able to take care of themselves, and solve their own problems without the government stepping in. Unfortunately, in today's political climate, any man who tries to defend himself (physically) is likely to be arrested himself; men need to be willing to got to the police as an alternative.

4. Women need to stop propagating the myth that it's okay to hit a man (after all, he probably deserved it). When a girl slaps a guy in a movie, you know he had it coming and she'll leave him for Hugh Grant before the end. When a guy slaps a girl, it's usually the director's way of letting you know that he's an evil bastard (generally he will end up killing somebody).

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