The mirror-man

 
The mirror-man (try listening to men)

- official Australian definition of domestic violence has now been revised courtesy of OSW as "behaviour by the man, adopted to control his victim, which results in physical, sexual and/or psychological damage, forced social isolation or economic deprivation, or behaviour which leaves a woman living in fear". That's it: nothing else.

- yet another reiteration: no-one is denying reality of men's violence, yet keep focus on what women (the reader) can do about their own violence

- cannot justify abuse of men as 'hitting back against male violence': a) 'hitting back' is still violence; b) the easy (and therefore most common) male 'targets' are almost invariably the ones who don't assault women... watch for rationalisations/justifications for own violence ("men deserve it, because of the patriarchy", vs. (NCVAW) "no woman deserves violence, ever")

- hear what men have to say about experiencing women's violence (Richard M., Trevor M. on rape-intensity sexual abuse), financial abuse (women as sex-object, but man as disposable wallet), isolation from children

- silencing of men's experiences, feelings ("you don't / can't / shouldn't / mustn't feel that")

- understand what boys' upbringing is like (brutalisation is considered 'normal') - refs to Carol Lee, etc.

- 'mothers' sacrifice' vs. 'fathers' duty' - no acknowledgement of what men give up for their families (Warren's 'questions to ask fathers')



<intro>

Here's one woman's story:

I got married when I was seventeen. I was five months pregnant when I met him. He started one night when I said something wrong. He hit me. I love him despite the fact that he snaps at the slightest thing. I have four kids under the age of six and I am still with him.
I am trying to get the strength to leave him. If I miss a speck of dust on the TV or stereo he hits me or threatens to take my car apart. I went to my mother's for half an hour. When I came home he took some parts out. He knew I needed to take the car to take my son to school. I tried to make him happy by cleaning the house more, and cooking a nice tea. He still does things like this to me.

When I was pregnant with my second child we were living in a one bedroom flat in Footscray. He used to hit me every night for nothing, or if I answered back... he used to strangle me or punch me in the face. To make him stop I would have to say sorry, or I love you, about a hundred times - that made him stop.

I never had big bruises on my face where they showed. No bastard came to my rescue, or even knew.

My kids love their father very much although they have been woken at night a thousand times with the yelling and screaming, or the phone being smashed about the house. I have to go in and tell them it's OK. I love them and cuddle them. I've called the police many times. If it happened to be a Saturday night they would say they couldn't keep him until Monday...

He always makes me look big and shows how much he loves me in front of his mates... he cuddles me and calls me sweetheart or darling. His mates know what he's like to me.[1]

Stop for a moment. If necessary, read the story again. What do you think about this? What do you feel?

Women's stories like these we now all know, thanks to the courageous work of women like Erin Pizzey, who started the first women's shelter in London two decades ago.[2] If we have any humanity, we listen, and where possible, we act.

The danger is that these stories are often so compelling that we can forget to listen elsewhere. The bald fact is that this kind of violence is a human problem, and it's not only women who suffer...

So here's another example: this time a man's story. The narrator works as an accountant in the south of England, and has been married for seven years:

Maybe other men are tougher than I am. Most of my friends have told me they would have walked out on Monique ages ago or given her a right-hander. By nature I am placid and a peacemaker. When she is violent I bite my tongue and put my arm around her afterwards to try and calm her down.
My dream has turned into a nightmare. I have a gash on my cheek where Monique threw a saucer at my face a few days ago. There was blood everywhere. I have been hit with any number of objects. I have been punched, scratched and kicked repeatedly in the groin and on the shins. The verbal abuse is almost as painful as the physical abuse. Monique tells me I am evil, useless and no good as a husband.

We were so happy at first. Monique was the most wonderful person I had ever met. I was so impressed by all the lovely qualities she showed. She used to be so affectionate. She would greet me at the door at night with open arms and a kiss.

The violence started about six months after we got married. I don't know why. Perhaps she lost respect for me. At first I tried to keep a note of when it happened, to see if there was a pattern, but it is impossible to tell now what provokes it. It comes out of the blue.

It takes a lot of strength not to retaliate. I am not a wimp or a coward. I cry but it doesn't mean I am a baby. I consider myself a strong-willed and brave man. I don't want to hit Monique or any other woman. It goes against every value I was brought up with.

We both dote on our daughter, Julie, and Monique would never lift a finger to her. Julie tries to ignore the scenes. She starts singing or switches the television on. Once she started crying "Mummy, don't hit Daddy." The other day Julie whispered to me, "Don't worry Daddy, God will look after you." It breaks my heart to hear her little voice saying, "Please Mummy, don't go potty" when she knows that her mother is about to hit me. I adore my little girl and couldn't bear to be separated from her.

I have started to take small steps to get help for myself. The last time I went to hospital I told the doctor exactly how my face got cut and they documented it. I have also booked an appointment with a police domestic violence unit.

Part of me still believes there is hope for us. I hate giving up and I am a great believer in trying. I feel sorry for both of us. If I had a dog and the police told me it had to be put down because it was biting people, I would be devastated because I would still love it for what it had been before. I love my wife for what she was before.

I feel such a failure because I can't rectify the situation. There are men out there who beat their wives, make other women pregnant and come home drunk every night. I have never done any of those things. The saddest thing for me is that my marriage will probably end yet I have done nothing wrong. I can hold my head up high and say that I am the ideal family man. If only I could wave a magic wand and take us back six years.[3]

As with the woman's story, stop for a moment. If necessary, read the story again. What do you feel?

Compare the two stories for a moment. What are their similarities, their differences?

Re-read both stories, inverting the gender: a man abused in the first, a woman in the second. Apart from the obvious impossibility of the man being pregnant, what sounds odd or unusual in each of the stories when read this way?

The two stories are very similar: domestic violence is a human problem, not a gendered one. Six months into a relationship is the most commonly-reported time for violence to start; seven years is a common period for that kind of relationship to survive. No-one knows why. As we've seen, it's probably impossible, under the present circumstances, to know what the prevalence of this kind of violence is: the only thing we do know is that it happens, and still happens far more often than we can accept.

But there's an important difference between the stories. The woman's story is angry, resentful that the expected help never came. There is no acknowledgement of any responsibility on her part: only blame of her partner and others, and that by the bucketful. The man's story, by contrast, is quiet, reflective, above all sad: an odd mixture of self-doubt, self-blame, and a stoic self-reliance, an understanding that help is not to be expected.



[1] From a leaflet issued by Men Against Sexual Assault, Melbourne.

[2] See Erin Pizzey's history of the founding of that 'refuge for battered women', in her book Scream quietly or the neighbours will hear, Penguin, 1974.

[3] 'Battered by the women of their dreams', in "The Independent" [London], 22 July 94.