The story of inter-partner violence is inextricably to the story of gender relations. There has been an upheaval of masculinity in recent decades, with men over-represented in suicide, school drop outs and relationship failure. Fatherlessness is on the rise. While we rightly celebrate the tremendous empowerment of women, there remains a degree of reluctance to fully acknowledge the worsening vulnerabilities being exposed among men. Gender relations is often treated as a zero sum game with advocates fearing that speaking out for men may result in a corresponding loss for women.
In my view, the position that male violence towards women is driven entirely by patriarchy and male entitlement is increasingly bogus. Both the research and my own clinical experience suggests that male violence occurs for many of the same reasons violence occurs in others settings, varying from mental illness, substance abuse and poor regulation of rage. The ethnically diverse migrant nature of Western societies add further complexities regarding the effects of accelerated male disempowerment. Without acknowledging this, the well meaning advocates working to help female victims will lack effectiveness. They also help perpetuate the myth of the universality of male strength and female weakness, directly at odds with feminist demands of equality in other fields.
Women remain disproportionately affected by inter-partner violence but there can be little doubt that female violence towards men is on the rise, as is public awareness thereof. Women are also more likely to be abusive to their children. The issue has importance because male victims lack legitimacy. Worse, they are often figures for ridicule.
Inter-partner violence remains a scourge that diminishes not just the people directly involved, but the environments in which we raise our children. For anybody interested in relationships and wellbeing, the real causes must be highlighted beyond the dogma.
“John” was a U.S. marine who served his country in two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was considered by his peers and commanding officers as a brave and exemplary marine, someone who put the lives of others before his own. When he was discharged he returned to his hometown in Wisconsin, said goodbye to friends and family, and set out to begin the next chapter in his life, in Canada. John had married a Canadian woman and to be closer to her ailing mother, moved to Saskatchewan.
The first year went well. John and his wife “Sarah” were happy enough. But after a while, things began to change. Sarah had a temper. It became a daily routine for Sarah to verbally abuse John. If he came home from work late, or hung out with friends, she wasn’t happy. Pretty soon, that abuse turned physical. She started with slaps and hair pulling. Then the slaps turned into closed fists. Finally, she started to use whatever came to hand…
When Sarah was at a friend’s house for a baby shower, John went into the garage, put a rope around his neck, and hanged himself. He simply couldn’t take it anymore.
June 5-7 sees the return of the Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium. The event, now in its second year, will bring experts from around the world to discuss the issue of domestic violence—particularly as it pertains to men.
Among the featured speakers are:
Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, an Australia-based psychiatrist and politician. Dr. Ahmed will discuss domestic violence from a broad perspective in terms of how it affects families, and the role of the judiciary in understanding the issues.
Dr. Miles Groth, an American professor of psychology at New York’s Wagner University. Dr. Groth is editor of the International Journal of Men’s Health as well as the author of three books on German existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
Vernon Beck, a Canadian family conflict specialist and mediator. Mr. Beck is an expert on the Canadian family law system and will discuss the additional trauma that the system often inflicts on families.
One of the key aims of the TDVS is to undo the myths around domestic violence. Currently, the issue is broadly understood as one that mainly affects women, but decades of research shows conclusively that domestic violence is not a gendered issue—that it affects men and women almost equally. Unfortunately, men find it next to impossible to access services and help when they find themselves victimized. Speakers at the symposium will explain the roots of this misunderstanding and will argue for a system that is welcoming to both men and women and that understands the causes and effects of domestic violence for all people.
John’s story is tragic, but is also one that is repeated every night in homes across Canada. If more tragedies like his are to be avoided then the conversation needs to change. It is time to acknowledge men’s suffering as victims of domestic violence. It doesn’t help anybody if we keep ignoring the problem.
We are delighted to present Dr. Tanveer Ahmed as our 2015 TorontoDV Symposium keynote speaker. Ahmed is travelling from Australia to deliver what will be a spectacular presentation about the effect of Domestic Violence on men, women and children.
His comprehensive balanced approach will drive the direction of Domestic Violence to a closer end, where both men and women will be seen as significant victims and significant perpetrators thereof. Dr. Tanveer Ahmed will deliver insight aimed at our Judiciary as well as the public they officiate over. We desperately need to better understand the entire dynamics of DV and IPV.
Articles such as this one, authored by Ahmed are needed in greater numbers addressing the whole of DV and IPV, Intimate Partner Violence.
“There is too little acknowledgement of the importance of male disempowerment in debates surrounding domestic violence. Gender relations have changed dramatically in the past few decades, but discussions about family violence are stuck in the mindset of 1970s radical feminism.”
That article caught my attention and the backlash that it caused, was alarming. Why? Who would not want to include men as significant victims of Domestic Violence, when that is what science tells us? It was clear to me, Ahmed would be an integral speaker at the 2015 TorontoDV Symposium.
We look forward to having you in Toronto this June 5, 6 and 7, 2015.
Tanveer Ahmed’s short bio.
Dr Tanveer Ahmed is an Australian based psychiatrist, author and local politician. He is a general adult psychiatrist seeing patients in a range of settings, varying from hospital inpatients, doing legal reports for the justice system and seeing adolescents referred from schools. Tanveer has involvement in the media and writes on social and psychological issues in various Australian publications. He also appears regularly on radio and television. He is an elected local politician in a municipal area within inner Sydney. He is the published author of popular migration memoir “The Exotic Rissole”. He was once chosen by a Prime Minister’s committee as one of a hundred future leaders of Australia under the age of 40.
Tanveer has long held an interest in domestic violence issues, both from his experience in ethnic communities as well as the patients he sees within his practice. He was a White Ribbon ambassador in Australia for close to a decade, including helping to expand the campaign in Pakistan. He was forced to resign from his position after a feminist backlash when he wrote an article in the Australian newspaper arguing male violence can be an expression of underlying distress and male disempowerment was a growing factor in driving male violence towards women. Tanveer was born in Bangladesh but grew up in Australia. He is married and a father of two daughters living in Sydney.
For hundreds of years women were considered chattel, and in some cultures it was acceptable to beat your wife. Although there are some cultures today that still mistreat women it’s safe to say that as a society we have made some incredible gains. The reality is that we have not reached the goal of eliminating wife abuse and chances are, we won’t get there. Human beings as a whole can be outright foul at times and there is the element of not being able to keep anger under control. Women are not the only ones who have struggled in making positive changes, men have as well.
Battered husbands have historically been ignored or worse, they have been subjected to ridicule. In France, battered men in the seventeen hundreds were forced to wear “an outlandish outfit and ride backwards around the village on a donkey” (Steinmetz & Lucca 1988).
Throughout the centuries this topic has been largely ignored for obvious reasons; a man who was abused by his female partner was considered either a liar or he was laughed at. This contributed greatly to why researchers and authorities steered away from this topic as it was thought to be an exceedingly rare occurrence. Another reason this was typically ignored was that women were viewed as being the weaker of the two genders; the predominant attitude was that a diminutive woman could never have the ability to physically assault her 200 pound husband. (This view has somewhat changed over the years.)
The Men’s Movement
In the early 1970’s there were many cultural changes happening including the growth of the feminist movement. Most men’s movement historians date the men’s movement back to the early seventies. In 1970, according to Anthony Astrachan (author of “How Men Feel”), the first men’s centre opened in California and the magazine “Liberation” published an article by Jack Sawyer entitled “On Male Liberation.” In that article Sawyer discussed the negative effects of stereotypes of male sex roles.
Men’s discussion groups started popping up across the United States in 1971 as well as the formation of the National Task Force on the Masculine Mystique by Warren Farrell. Many of these discussion groups included men supporting women’s rights but there were groups that were created strictly for men to have their concerns heard. However, Warren Farrell is the one person who could be labeled as the individual who started the men’s movement. He supported the women’s movement in the late 1960’s and this led to the National Organization for Women’s New York chapter asking Farrell to form a men’s group.
Farrell became a sought-after public speaker as he was known for creating audience participation role-reversal experiences. This enabled the audience to see life through a clear glass from the opposite gender’s perspective.
It wasn’t until about the mid 1970’s that Farrell had a change of heart. The National Organization for Women spoke out against the presumption of joint custody in divorce cases. In a 1997 interview with Steven Svoboda, Farrell stated: “I couldn’t believe the people I thought were pioneers in equality were saying that women should have the first option to have children or not to have children–that children should not have equal rights to their dad.”
The seventies saw an increase of university researchers noticing that there may be some validity to the claim that men were being abused by their wives. Perhaps one of the most recognized of these researchers was Suzanne Steinmetz (1941-2009). She earned a B.S. in education from the University of Delaware in 1969 and after returning to school as a divorced mother of three children she earned her PhD in sociology in 1975.
Steinmetz was recognized world-wide as an expert in domestic violence making a plethora of important contributions to the field of family studies. She published almost twenty books and over 60 research articles. She established herself as a pioneer in the academic study of family violence with the publication of her co-edited volume, Violence in the Family (1974). That book marked the beginning of a remarkable career that paved the way for many scholars who sought recognition for the academic legitimacy for the study of family violence. She was credited with opening a field of research that established family violence as one of the major areas of study throughout the world.
Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family, is a book she co-authored and this book was one of the first to explore the entire range of family violence. This book received accolades and it was used as support for women’s groups opening shelters for battered women. Her later article “The Battered Husband Syndrome” in Victimology raised plenty of controversy.
In 1977, Steinmetz released results from several studies showing that the percentage of wives who have used physical violence is higher than the percentage of husbands, and that the wives’ average violence score tended to be higher, although men were more likely to cause greater injury. She also found that women were as likely as men to initiate physical violence. She concluded that “the most unreported crime is not wife beating – it’s husband beating”.
Around this time there were many university researchers who became recognized as seeing husband abuse as a societal problem and there were countless studies showing that indeed, husband abuse exists.
In 1980, Steinmetz along with Murray Straus and Richard Gelles created a nationally representative study of family violence and found that the total violence scores seemed to be about even between husbands and wives, and that wives tended to be more abusive in almost all categories except pushing and shoving.
Other notable researchers in the late 1900’s include: Erin Pizzey, Russell Dobash & Emerson Dobash, Malcolm J. George, Eugen Lupri, Elaine Grandin, Roger Bland, Merlin Brinkerhoff, Reena Sommer, Jeff Archer, and so many others. Thanks to the work they completed, many writers and family violence researchers were able to get a better understanding of what was happening in homes across Canada and the U.S.
1990’s Movement in Canada
The 1990’s saw a flood of support groups for men popping up across Canada and the United States. It wasn’t just the issue of husband abuse that was making headlines but also men who were falsely accused of abusing either their wife or their children. Another issued that surfaced was the inequality in the family court system when it came to child custody.
Many men and women were at the forefront of trying to get these issues into the mainstream news. Canadian Senator Anne C. Cools was paramount in helping to get domestic violence being recognized as a human issue. In 1994 Senator Cools connected with Karen Woudstra (author of Under Attack Toronto Sun Sunday Magazine; June 19,1994) and asked Woudstra to help organize the first Canadian consultation addressing violence against men. Dr. Murray Straus was keynote speaker for this two-day conference in June 1995. Notable speakers for this event included Professor Ferrel Christiansen (founder of MERGE), Dr. Hazel MacBride, Alan Gold (Solicitor), Eric Nagler (children’s entertainer) and many others professionals. Due to the success of this event Senator Cools held three additional consultations across Canada.
There are many men and women who stepped forward to help this movement gain momentum. Don Theroux of Sudbury was the first person in Canada to open a shelter for men. Chuck Ferrauto in Hamilton was the second. Both these individuals spent a lot of their own resources to make this happen as there was no public funding to be had. Unfortunately both these shelters (that had clients) had to close their doors before their first anniversary.
Ferrel Christiansen, PhD., founded Balance Magazine and this hardcopy publication ran almost two years. This publication was a part of MERGE (Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality)
Two Canadian men are noteworthy as being an integral part of the men’s movement. Earl Silverman, founder of Family of Men, struggled for years in Calgary to keep M.A.S.H. (a men’s shelter) afloat. A victim of domestic violence, Silverman was interviewed in various media and spent decades fighting an uphill battle helping men have a voice. Sadly, in August 2013, Earl Silverman took his life.
Greg Kershaw, founder of F.A.C.T. in Toronto, was very active in helping men and women have a voice in what he called “a broken system.” He spent countless hours counseling men in his spare time and he engaged in public speaking. In 1997, Kershaw, his wife Nardina Grande and Karen Woudstra created the Men’s Television Network on Roger’s Cable. The pilot episode featured Senator Anne Cools as their special guest. This was as far as they got due to the content being considered too controversial. Sadly, Greg Kershaw passed away in 2008 due to a massive heart attack leaving behind his wife and child.
After the turn of the century this movement went into auto pilot because those who were very active in the 90’s suffered burn out, or they felt there was no more they could contribute, and some moved forward in their lives.
During this time there were many efforts happening in the United States as well. Perhaps the largest men’s group today was formed in 1990; however, the Promise Keepers have a different focus being a men’s ministry.
Today the battle continues. There have been some gains by the men’s movement but not enough. There is not a doubt that women still have an uphill battle to gain true equality and fairness; but so do men. As Senator Anne Cools was always noted as saying, “Domestic violence is not a gender issue, it is a human issue.”
There is not a doubt that over the years there were hundreds of men and women who unselfishly gave their time to help bring this topic to the media. What needs to happen now is a domestic violence symposium to help raise a stronger awareness that domestic violence is equal between men and women. Domestic violence can be attributed to men committing suicide and this must stop. A domestic violence symposium needs to target those who can make a difference, our lawmakers, police, medical doctors and those in the judicial system.
J. Steven Svoboda (1997). “Interview with Warren Farrell” MenWeb.com