Men who get hurt

From media portrayals of women slapping up men as comedy to cops who don’t arrest the chicks, some men’s rights groups have had it with a biased view of domestic violence

Photo by David Robert

“This idea that males are physically aggressive and females are not has distinct drawbacks for both sexes. Defining men as the perpetrators of all violence is a viciously immoral judgment of an entire gender. And defining women as inherently nonviolent condemns us to the equally restrictive role of sweet, meek and weak.”
—Katherine Dunn, author and feminist

He was hurt. He was the victim. And he says he can prove it.

“One night I was sleeping in bed and she got mad,” John says. “Hit me over the head with a pan. The next day she sent me flowers at work. I bet she sent me flowers eight times or so over the few years we were together. It’s weird, being a guy and getting flowers at work. It’s even weirder when you have a black eye.”

John’s wife seems, by his accounts, to fit the profile of a batterer. She used her anger to control John’s behavior, to control his reactions to her behavior. She took charge of family finances and harangued John about his ability to provide for his family. She lied to John, to other family members, to the police.

John met Diane (not their real names) in 1997.

“It was a nightmare from the very beginning,” he says. “I should have learned.”

After knowing each other for about two weeks, the two ended up in bed.

“It was the first time we made love, and afterwards, for the next 30 minutes, she cried hysterically. Now, this is not a typical reaction. I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. I tried to get her to calm down.

“Finally, she told me the problem. She told me she had a sexually transmitted disease, and that she’d had a breakout. She’d given it to me.”

The 41-year-old financial analyst pauses and takes a deep breath.

“Now who was the victim here? She gave me herpes, absolutely.”

In domestic frays, it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth. When men and women are asked whether they’ve been abused, both say they have been victims—at fairly equal rates. From this, some infer that women use violence in relationships as much as men—sometimes more. That’s not something you hear much about. Most calls for help come from women. Arrest records tend to show that the majority of those being arrested for domestic violence are still men.

It’s one of the many issues bugging some men’s groups, who’ve banded together to counter what they consider the unfair effects of feminism on society. Some of these groups say that the legal system treats men—husbands, partners and fathers—like second-class citizens.

“Some guys kill themselves, some snap and go out and kill others,” Lowell Jaks, the president of the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights, told reporters in late November. “You can dismiss them as crackpots, you can say we need more protection for women, but it’s not going to take away the problem.”

These men feel like victims of female violence—a violence that challenges their parental rights, that forces them into making outrageous child support payments.

Some say this violence begins in their own homes.

After less than a year together, John decided he’d had enough of Diane’s behavior. But right about then she became pregnant. She began to urge John to “do the right thing” and marry her while, at the same time, accusing him of manipulating her into getting pregnant.

“She accused me of keeping track of her menstrual cycle and tricking her into getting pregnant,” John says. “Have you ever heard of a guy accused of that? If anyone knows her menstrual cycle, it’s her.”

But he was already starting to feel like a father. And he also considered himself a problem solver. When Diane was about six or seven months pregnant, the two married. His life settled into a cycle of domestic violence, what he calls “continual mental gymnastics.”

Sometimes she’d physically hurt him or break something of his. Then she’d apologize and send him flowers and cards. During their relationship, John estimated that Diane sent him more than 70 cards, which he still has. In them, she’d refer to John as “absolutely wonderful” and her “reason for living.”

“It was absolute hell,” he says. “Every day was another nightmare with the hate and the abuse. Then, ‘Oh, I didn’t do that,’ and she’s trying to convince you that something else happened, that things were not what you saw. Then she would do wonderful things.”

Help for men?

In the past year, the Committee to Aid Abused Women received more than 12,000 client contacts. Of those, only about 500 were with men. And not all of those were contacts with men who had been victims of domestic violence, says Marge Littlejohns, director of community relations for CAAW in Reno.

“Most of the calls we get are from men who are trying to locate their partners,” she says. “Or calls from men who a judge has court-ordered to get counseling.”

Men just don’t need the kind of help that women need, Littlejohns contends. Though a guy may be physically hurt, it’s rare that a man would call CAAW seeking the kind of emergency shelter that women victims need to flee an abusive situation.

“Most of the time, men are working. … There isn’t a high percentage of men who are unemployed and the family’s primary caretaker,” Littlejohns says. “If the home is theirs, why should they leave it? They deal with it in a different way. … Men who are victims get protection orders.”

Littlejohns recalls an employer once bringing in an individual who worked for him, a male who was a victim of domestic violence. CAAW couldn’t house the man in its emergency shelter, which is solely for women. But the agency did provide the man with emergency housing in a hotel.

Women do need help, she says, in such areas as housing, getting a job, filing for welfare. About 65 percent of the women seeking help from CAAW are unemployed with no place to go.

“Their only recourse is to stay in that situation or get help to leave it,” she says.

Are women becoming more aggressive? Littlejohns doesn’t think so.

“You see the [domestic-violence] pattern you’ve always seen,” she says. “The woman struggles to keep the family together. The woman wants the abuse to stop, seeks counseling, doesn’t want her partner arrested. You saw that 20 years ago, and you still see that today.”

Littlejohns gets tired of hearing about male battering. She can think of many better issues to explore.

“Why not just look at the basic things people need to start looking at themselves as adults?” she asks. “Generation after generation, we’re raising more batterers. No matter who’s doing the battering, we’re still raising batterers because that’s what the kids are seeing.”

What studies show

“People hit and abuse family members because they can,” begins a paper titled “Controlling Domestic Violence Against Men,” authored this year by researchers Charles Corry, Martin Fiebert and Erin Pizzey. The paper notes that primary aggressor laws usually result in the arrest of the man in spite of evidence that shows 50 percent of domestic assaults are mutual combat. Women use weapons more often in assaults than do men—80 percent for women, 20 percent for men. Though the paper is well-circulated online, it hasn’t been published yet.

Though Fiebert, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, says the study of domestic violence is not his “primary professional identity,” he has delved into battered-men studies several times over the past decade. He’s co-authored papers such as “Why Women Assault,” published in Psychological Reports. His interest in the topic was piqued after he was asked, years ago, to appear on a TV talk show. It was Domestic Violence Week, and the show featured a panel with women who were victims of domestic abuse, counselors or legal experts.

At the time, Fiebert taught a class called Psychology of Male Roles, and he’d found information showing that men were victims of female aggression as well.

“I presented the information, but [the participants] doubted the validity of the studies,” Fiebert recalls. “They doubted that the findings were representative of what went on.”

He began to assemble studies that proved his point. In the late 1990s, he published a paper that summarized the findings of 85 studies that backed up his take on male-female aggression. Now his list of studies has grown to 132 studies and reviews.

Here are just a few recent research samples:

• A 2000 study published in Psychological Bulletin showed evidence that women were more likely than men to use physical aggression, though “analyses reveal that 62 percent of those injured were women.”

• A 1999 study found in Behavioral Sciences and the Law reviewed studies that “clearly demonstrate that within the general population, women initiate and use violent behaviors against their partners at least as often as men.”

• A 1998 study of verbal and physical abuse in dating relationships presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association examined a survey of college students that showed “women were significantly more physically aggressive than men, particularly in the areas of pushing, slapping and punching.”

These days, Fiebert says his work is accepted by a broader scope of parties, from abuse victims to young researchers.

“[Years ago,] there was a strong reaction, with some thinking that I was betraying feminism by presenting this information,” he says, “but not anymore.”

Some things, though, haven’t changed, such as the cultural taboos against men’s aggressiveness toward women, he says. And that the reverse—women hitting men—is somehow seen as acceptable.

“Women being aggressive to men is seen as, ‘So what?’ So what if she throws something and hits him? There are no major sanctions. If adult guy hits his partner, he could be thrown in jail or lose his kids.”

Men’s Rights Inc.

Frederic Hayward, Men’s Rights Inc. founder says the media encourages biased gender stereotypes.

Photo by Deidre Pike

“If two people started fighting over there,” the man says, gesturing across the cafe to half a dozen busy tables, “and I saw a knife or a gun lying nearby, the first thing I’d do is pick it up and put it away so that no one could use it.”

A longstanding domestic dispute is similar, he says. Only instead of removing weapons, some agencies are adding them to the fray.

“Two people are fighting, and the system goes up to one, the woman,” he taps his hand on the table, “and says, ‘Here are some weapons you can use. We trust you not to misuse them. And if you lie in court, we will not prosecute you for perjury.’ “

Domestic-violence laws protect women, he says. Shelters are created for battered women. Women’s domestic-violence aid agencies believe women’s stories—and not those of men, contends Frederic Hayward, who founded Men’s Rights Inc. in the 1970s.

“I’ve been to the police bleeding, and they won’t make an arrest,” Hayward says. But he doesn’t want this story to be about his personal experiences.

Hayward, who lives in Sacramento, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show three times—the first time getting kicked off for what he says was “pointing out her hypocrisies on sexism and men.”

Some years ago, he learned that CBS was running a made-for-TV movie, Men Don’t Tell. He called an affiliate station to see if they wanted to do a local story on men who’d been abused. He asked six men to come with him to the station. At the last minute, the station changed the time, and none of the men could make it. On a whim, he asked men at an unrelated meeting: “Have any of you been slapped by women?”

“Every single heterosexual man raised his hand,” Hayward recounts. “Almost every man I know has. … It’s so common that we don’t notice it. It’s a staple of comedy.”

Hayward took the new recruits to the TV studio. After the broadcast of the panel discussion, Hayward received about 60 calls within a few hours, he says. He started a men’s support group based on the phone calls. The movie, he says, pulled in calls of a different kind.

“The producer of the movie got a lot of heavy flak with people who did not want this to get out,” Hayward says.

These days, Hayward’s been minding his own business and enjoying shared custody of his 8-year-old son. It’s been awhile since he’s been in people’s faces about unfair attitudes toward men. He says he fears retribution from the legal system for speaking his mind.

But that doesn’t keep him from being observant. Hayward, who makes his living as a videographer of weddings and special events, has lately been tracking male bashing.

One common toast at weddings, he says, involves placing the man’s hand over the woman’s, then saying, “Enjoy this. It’s the last time you’ll have the upper hand in this relationship” to the man.

“They say things like, ‘Men are like grapes, you have to stomp on them and hope they mature into something you want to have dinner with,’ “ Hayward says.

People learn this kind of behavior from the media. Hayward’s collected eight hours of clips from television sitcoms that show female-on-male violence. He’s been able to find only about 30 seconds of male violence toward women.

“Our society condones this, encourages it. We are horrified by violence against women, horrified by it. But when a man gets hurt, we are applauding like it’s the funniest thing in the world. … What planet do the media live on?”

Combat patriarchy

Looking for stories about battered men? Sure. There are plenty of guys who feel like victims of women, who are looking for someone to blame, who need to start taking responsibility for their actions, says Pete Giannini, director of ManAlive programs in northern California.

ManAlive is a year-long counseling and accountability program for men that helps them acknowledge their role in family violence.

“ManAlive was created by men for men to stop our abusive behavior to ourselves and our families,” the Grass Valley resident says. He says that traditional patriarchal attitudes that men should control and women should sit back and be controlled work fine—as long as the controlled party accepts this system.

“The problem is you’ve gotta be a second-rate citizen,” he says. “And who’s sick of being a second-rate citizen?”

That’s right—women.

Yes, ManAlive is a feminist group that acknowledges that power and control have long been in the hands of guys, who’ve been taught that they need it.

“Everybody’s taught that the one with the biggest club wins,” Giannini says. “We’re not taught to validate ourselves or anybody else. That’s why I’ll do whatever the hell it takes to win. … It’s all about control. We believe if we don’t have control, we are pretty much useless.”

But battered men? Victims?

“Me and every other man I’ve met. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a victim.”

Giannini was turned on to ManAlive himself after his wife ended their 15-year marriage.

“My wife opened the front door and suggested I relocate,” he says. “She wasn’t mad. She just said, ‘You stop screaming at me and the kids or you get out.’ “

By that time, he’d tried just about everything: anger management, counseling, therapy, Al-Anon.

“I was heavy into blame. Everybody else was responsible for my behavior. I was filled with rage and straight-up bullshit blame.”

He went through the ManAlive program in San Rafael, Calif. It took a year for him to break the cycle of anger and blame. It took another two years for his family to believe that he had really changed.

ManAlive is not about men becoming less, well, male.

“It’s not about rolling over and becoming a victim,” Giannini says. “Some guys come in and say, ‘Now what am I supposed to do, be led around with a ring in my nose?’ No. We believe that victims eventually persecute. When we are doing controlling behavior, we are absolutely convinced that we are the victims, until we realize that we victimize the hell out of everyone.”

Giannini doesn’t see a gender bias against men in the way the system handles domestic violence. If anything, men are still protected far too often.

“Unless I rip your head off, I haven’t done anything wrong,” he says. “Finally, after years, if I threaten to kill you, that’s against the law. I told my son I’d kill him about four times a week.”

He’s seen many instances of a man, who’d “slapped the holy hell out of his wife,” ending up in front of a judge, plea bargaining the offense down to disturbing the peace.

“If I hit a bartender, do you think I could plea bargain down? But I own the Ford, the Chevy and the wife.”

The breakup of John and Diane

Before Diane, John had been married for eight years. The marriage ended, he says, when his first wife decided that she wanted to “go back to school and be a teenager.”

“I wanted to have children,” he says. “We had different goals. We’re still good friends, and we parted amicably.”

John speaks via phone from his home in Colorado. After spending tens of thousands in legal battles in what’s so far a losing battle for custody of his son, who’s now 4 years old, he feels like an activist. He’s told his story to Charles Corry, a colleague of Fiebert’s who seems much more involved in the men’s movement than the Long Beach psychology professor. Corry’s doctoral degree is in geophysics. Before becoming interested in domestic violence against men, he was writing papers like “Investigation of Ferroelectric Effects in Two Sulfide Deposits” for the Journal of Applied Geophysics.

“Mainly it is the legal system that destroys men,” Corry says. “The abuse from their wives or girlfriends is almost minor in most cases.”

John’s story is an exception, Corry says. He’s written about John and Diane in a case study titled “The Face of Battering,” for the Equal Justice Foundation. The article tells of the fight that ended John and Diane’s marriage, examining only John’s point of view. Corry tells how Diane reacted to being awakened in the middle of the night by a newborn—"Diane would throw the covers back and scream ‘F##k’ or ‘G#dammit’ and call the baby a ‘S##thead.’ (Pound signs are Corry’s.)

Things finally came to a head one day in the middle of June 1999. John says that Diane picked a fight with him, swearing and screaming at him to unload their truck so she could drive to town. While he unloaded the truck, he heard a loud bang in the house. After Diane had left, John realized that the sound he had heard was that of the entertainment center being tipped over. The shelves had held a TV, his trophies and other “valued possessions.”

“Many of the things were smashed,” Corry writes. John stood the cabinet back up and then Diane called. She told John she was leaving, taking his son and making sure that John “would never hunt or fish with [the boy] or be a part of his life. ‘I will teach him to hate you,’ she told John.”

Corry writes: “The only glue that had been allowing John to continue trying to find a solution was his son. When Diane took that away from him … John lost it.”

Since the TV remote was in his hand, he threw it through the TV. He knocked over a china cabinet and a curio cabinet, threw several items, then collapsed, crying, in the middle of the room.

The collapse, Corry relates, allowed John “to look deep inside himself for the strength to go on … and to never allow another person to take so much from him. … By publishing this, he hopes other men can learn and escape such horror.”

Diane called the police. She told them John had gone on a rampage. He had guns and she feared he would commit suicide. Police surrounded the house. John refused to leave the house unless Diane would come and explain what had happened.

When she arrived and he left the house, he was “immediately swarmed over by a SWAT team, knocked to the ground, kicked and dragged across the parking lot handcuffed.”

He spent the next three days in jail. Diane took out a restraining order. He did not see his son for more than six weeks, and then only saw the boy during supervised visits.

Corry writes: "Foolishly, John pled guilty to a charge of criminal mischief and was given a deferred sentence. And finally he had sense enough to get out of the relationship. … Diane filed for divorce."