Hollywood actor Emma Roberts was recently arrested in Montreal on domestic violence (DV) charges. She and her boyfriend had gotten into a heated dispute that attracted the attention of other guests in the hotel where they were staying. Police were called and found Roberts' boyfriend, Evan Peters, with a bloody nose and bite marks. Ms. Roberts was then arrested and taken into custody, but later released when Mr. Peters declined to press charges. Her publicist referred to this as an "unfortunate incident and misunderstanding." (Source: The National Post) Gossip reports, like those referenced in this article, cited unnamed "insiders" as saying that the couple's relationship is very "passionate" and that Ms. Roberts is very "dramatic."
Imagine now if the roles had been reversed; that Ms. Roberts had sustained a bloody nose and bite marks. Would anyone say that Peters was passionate and dramatic or that the incident was just a misunderstanding? Or would they say that authorities should lock him up and throw away the key?
The reporting on this incident is an example of the double standards and stereotypes associated with domestic violence, a crime that many people believe is committed overwhelmingly by men against women. The reality is quite different. In Canada, men and women commit acts of domestic violence--both physical and psychological--in about equal numbers. In the U.S., some 835,000 men are victims of domestic violence each year, compared to 1.5 million women--not the equal numbers reported in Canada, but still a significant number of men. Experts say the number of male victims might even be higher, since many men do not report the crime for fear of being stigmatized as a man who cannot stand up to a woman. It's a vicious circle. Men are reluctant to report but if they don't, the impact on them is not recognized.
Why is it so hard to imagine men as victims of domestic violence? The fact that they commit the majority of other violent crimes is certainly one reason. The high rates of assaults, murders, armed robberies and other such crimes committed by men make it seem like men are inherently violent, a fact noted by Jennifer Gaboury in a Feminist Wire article. But Ms. Gadboury also points out the flaws in that assumption and the stereotypes behind it:
Discussion of domestic violence as something that men do to women, even where this is predominantly the case, obscures the roots of the problem, thus treating violence as if it’s something natural – even biologically – associated with men, rather than something that is learned, bound up with the norms associated with masculinity, and often part of cycles of violence that need to be healed. Connecting men with violence also makes it difficult for people see men as victims who deserve support.
I do not want to dismiss the impact of domestic violence on women, nor do I want to turn this into a male vs. females discussion (a fear of DV advocates, born of the reality that many anti-feminist men's rights advocates have taken up the cause of DV against males). I have volunteered for years with an organization that helps women who have left abusive relationships and I know how women suffer in domestic violence cases. Women are more likely than men to sustain serious injury and far more likely to be killed by their partner. But men suffer too, experiencing psychological abuse, and, according to Stats Can, being hit, slapped, kicked, bitten or having things thrown at them. Yet there is very little acknowledgement of this fact.
For this to change, we must recognize that women and men are both capable of relationship violence, an uphill battle against traditional notions of gender, also noted in the Feminist Wire article:
Framing domestic violence in the way it’s currently understood means that some victims remain in the shadows. This makes it difficult for men, women, and children who are abused by women to be understood and receive help. ...The reconceptualization of domestic violence that takes stock of women’s acts requires giving up romantic ideas of woman-partner-mother-sister (namely white women) as a uniformly innocent figure; a source of safety and care who is incapable of monstrous acts and cruelty outside of profound illness.
I talk a lot on this blog about the harm done by gender stereotypes. Domestic violence is one area where men feel the impact of these stereotypes more than women.
Violence is violence whether it is committed by a man or a woman. Media reports that dismiss a violent act by a woman as a "misunderstanding" or justify it as a sign of a woman's passion serve only to further entrench the notion that women's violence is somehow different from men's. This is a notion that I would like to see challenged more often, as we move toward a realization that domestic violence takes many forms and all victims deserve equal support and attention.
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