Of course women are batterers tooBy Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on April 14, 1999.
I'm reading Ann Landers, who reprints a list of warning signals to help women figure out whether they're married to a batterer.
Not to diminish the value of lists, perish the thought, but here's a clue: If he or she hits you, he or she is a batterer.
But Landers' column and list aren't about him or her; they're about him. For as everyone knows, men are batterers. Everyone knows that "the most dangerous place for a woman to be is in the home." Everyone knows that "men batter because they can." So go the headlines and billboards these days.
On the other hand, not everyone knows when she's being battered, according to Landers. Hence, the list of warning signs "to help women determine if a mate or date is a potential [or actual] batterer."
As I read the list, I kept thinking, why is this about men? Item for item, the warning signs could as easily be associated with female behavior.
Consider a few: jealousy of your time; controlling behavior; blaming of others; cruel, hurtful comments; sudden mood swings and unpredictable behavior; threats of "I'll kill you"; breaking of things in rage; use of force in arguments.
I'm sure you don't personally know any women who have mood swings or say hurtful things. I'm certain you've never known a controlling, jealous woman or one who, in a flash of anger, has thrown or broken something.
Why are these warning signs only of male batterers? Or is it that batterers are guilty unless proved female? With only one exception having to do with forceful sex -- rare is the woman who can rape a man -- not one item on the list is more likely to be associated with men than with women.
Even the sex item was laughably ambiguous, as in: Your mate may be a batterer "if he starts having sex with you when you're sleeping." If you're chuckling, you know what I mean. If not, talk to your personal physician about Viagra.
No one wishes to trivialize the horror of domestic violence, nor to suggest that women and children haven't suffered grievously at the hands of violent men.
But domestic violence, like all stories, has two sides. Are we willing to examine the whole cloth of hard data, or is it easier to piece together anecdotal scraps for greater effect?
The truth of domestic violence is that men kill and cause serious damage more often than women, according to the National Family Violence Survey. The truth also is that women initiate violence as often as men. Which is to say, batterers come in both sexes, and warning lists, if they're to be meaningful, should be gender-neutral.
What's discomforting about Landers' list and similar messages is that they continue to feed the public perception that men are violent creatures and women are passive victims.
That perception not only is false but poses serious, far-reaching cultural and policy repercussions, not the least of which is the demonization of men.
Domestic violence is an individual problem, not, as feminist theorists have championed, a patriarchal manifestation. By telling half-truths based on ideological dogma, we merely reduce the likelihood that the story of domestic violence -- potential or actual -- will ever change.
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