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April 10, 2009

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This is a brilliant piece. The near impossibility of trusting your judgment in these conditions is something I've never seen emphasized properly, and it's scary to think about -- and it's also obvious when you see it, so why doesn't anybody else talk about it? As Huxley said when he read Darwin, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"


"Jeckyll/Hyde"

Not to miss the point, but it's "Jekyll."

Thank you hilzoy- as always, thoughtful and provoking.

Gary: eep!

As Huxley said when he read Darwin, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"

I wonder if Darwin had much the same reaction reading Wallace.

Thank you for this.

If I always had a hilzoy around to explain it, I think I could understand every human phenomenon in the world.

What a wonderfully insightful and moving explanation. While I've read a number of articles that provided an intellectual framework for understanding abusive relationships, this is the first that gave me a gut-level understanding that "there but for the grace of God go I".

"Moreover, while I think the assumption that battered women stay because they are just dumb, or have staggeringly bad judgment, is wrong and insulting,"

OTOH, it really is worth remembering at times that half the population have below average IQs. The same is undoubtedly true of judgment. This means that, while the number of women in abusive relationships might be large, it's small compared to the number of women, (Or men!) who really are just dumb, with staggeringly bad judgment.

I must also take exception to your assertion that almost everybody who's being abused in a relationship is a woman. Men, being on average stronger than women, tend to abuse physically. Women, being on average more manipulative than men, tend to abuse emotionally.

I think you might be suffering from a bit of confirmation bias.

My ex did pretty well in the divorce, entering the marriage deeply in debt, leaving a year later completely free of debt. This was no accident, it was because she'd managed to get me suicidal, so I didn't contest anything in the divorce. A really effective job of emotional abuse, and if my suicide attempt had been just a bit more effective, would it have occurred to you that I'd died of spousal abuse?

Incredible post. I haven't seen the question of why women stay answered so sensibly, convincingly, and with so much emotional resonance before.

It really helped me understand abusive relationships better. So thanks.

I have to admit as a battered male spouse I get damn annoyed with this constant "it's a man thing" that cuts through this crap. Bottom line is we know that domestic abuse cuts across both genders, pretty much equally (actually women are slightly worse statistically but the variation is not significant), and gay or straight doesn't matter. So this is not a male-on-female issue.

As for the abusers and their victims... Leaving is frightfully more complex and not nearly so much about "confidence" and "self-esteem" as you portray. There is a whole hell of a lot of loving someone with a personality/mental disorder going on there and your natural empathy and desire to keep the parts person you love while getting rid of the "crazy."

There's also the dangers present because of your more complete, "see both sides" of things psychology which they take advantage of. When you can see, and admit, your fault in a relationship issue that lead to a fight you can be manipulated.

It's not so hard to see the woman you love crying and angry and accusing you of your "mistake" (which you may have been partially at fault about) and think to yourself "What the hell is wrong with me? Look what I did to the person I love..." You're a dead-person-walking when you can see these things because they take this introspection and use it against you. In ways that you, having not grown up with lying, manipulative people, are defenseless against.

I could go on, but I've work to do and this isn't getting the bills paid. I'll just leave it at this: To some extent, your post just goes to reinforce the bullshit cliche's that leave men out completely in the cold and put down women who don't leave. I'm pretty disappointed.

PS -- As for me, I remarried two years later because I don't blame women for a woman. I got full custody of our daughter shortly thereafter (severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse by her mother) and, April 7th, 2009, she was adopted by my current wife after we finally terminated the ex's parental rights due to her refusing therapy and other conditions imposed on her to regain visitation.

This means that, while the number of women in abusive relationships might be large, it's small compared to the number of women, (Or men!) who really are just dumb, with staggeringly bad judgment.

Not sure what you're trying to say, here, Brett. Are you saying something about the intelligence of women who live with abuse?

Great post, hilzoy. I have a special hatred and loathing in my heart for men who beat on women. I've never been one to want to get into fights with other men, but this is one of those things that has me wanting to. I have the same kind of hatred for child abusers.

Maybe it's protect-the-herd instinct of some kind, but the feeling is real, and it's strong.

Bottom line is we know that domestic abuse cuts across both genders, pretty much equally

When making claims of this nature, a cite is often useful.

Sorry for your troubles, Moses.

Women on average are more manipulative than men, Brett? I actually am sorry about your experience, but unsupported pejorative generalizations don't do anyone any good.

Great post. Putting human faces on this problem to make sense of it is brilliant, compassionate, and helpful.

I've known two women personally who were mentally abusive, and one woman who was physically abusive - though I didn't know it till years afterwards, she used to hit her girlfriend, who was my best friend.

So, Brett, Moses, I don't mean to say the pain of getting involved with a mentally abusive person isn't considerable - women do this as well as men: nor that women beating their partners - men as well as women - isn't a problem.

Because I am a lesbian, my personal experience is primarily going to be with women. As yours, a heterosexual man, is also going to be with women.

But, because I'm not a self-absorbed nutcase, I pay attention to what happens to other people besides my own personal circle of friends. Mentally abusive women and men exist: and women who hit their partners exist: but physically abusive men kill and maim their partners. Mental pain is pain - but my experiences with both of those mentally abusive women were not as bad as the experience my friend had with her girlfriend who used to hit her, and neither of us ever experienced anything like the physical damage and fear for their life that has been inflicted on women by physically abusive men.

"Not sure what you're trying to say, here, Brett. Are you saying something about the intelligence of women who live with abuse?"

Just saying that the supply of stupid, bad judgment people is more than sufficient to explain a lot of things, even if it doesn't explain all the cases.

" I actually am sorry about your experience, but unsupported pejorative generalizations don't do anyone any good."

Then complain to Hilzoy about her unsupported pejorative generalization about men. It's a stereotype that's resulted in a lot of men in abusive relationships being denied any help, or even getting arrested with the defensive wounds still bleeding, because if there's a fight, it must be the man who's at fault, right?

"Women are more manipulative than men" is just a non warm and fuzzy way of stating the usual, "Women have higher emotional IQs" that you hear all the time.

"As for the abusers and their victims... Leaving is frightfully more complex and not nearly so much about "confidence" and "self-esteem" as you portray. There is a whole hell of a lot of loving someone with a personality/mental disorder going on there and your natural empathy and desire to keep the parts person you love while getting rid of the "crazy.""

Did you read the entire post?

Thanks for the post Hilzoy. I hope lots of people read it. The emotional abuse is the key thing. The idea is to break the other person down emotionally. It works for political prisoners in a broadly similar way, but of course the political prisoner doesn't start out *trusting* its captors.

There is nothing wrong with Hirshman asking the question, but the way she phrases it makes it sound like a rhetorical question, which is not OK.

Yes, men are victims of this kind of stuff, too, and more often than is commonly thought. Usually not the physical violence, but definitely the emotional abuse. One can learn to cope with and recover from emotional abuse most of the time, but you can't always recover from physical abuse, especially if you're dead...

Apologies if I ramble. I'm a little new to this.

This post really spoke to me in a way that few do. The thing is, I had a similar situation in my first serious relationship. It was the way you described--normally a sweet, funny guy who all of a sudden seemed to just go crazy with the accusations and screaming. And your reaction: all I can say is, yes, that's what it was like.

But he didn't do it again 4 days later. It was months before I saw that again. The other difference is that I didn't leave until a couple of years later, not until he actually hit me. When he punched a hole in the wall of the apartment, I didn't leave. When he knocked over the chairs and the couch and threw the coffee table across the room, I didn't leave. It wasn't until he actually hit *me* that I was really sure it was an abusive relationship. Until then, I guess I just didn't trust that I wasn't overreacting. He never really hurt me, after all. That's what I always said.

It always seemed like these incidents were isolated, not really *him*. And he was always sincerely sorry, I really do think so. And he needed me. This was so right: "If you love someone who is in genuine distress, you normally don't want to make things worse for them. And that's what leaving looks like, up until the moment when you say to yourself: he will not change, at least not while he's involved with me; this will not get better; and that being the case, I am not helping him by staying. "

The real problem was that leaving someone usually isn't a one-step, quick process. Except very rarely, you don't just decide to leave and then you're gone. Your stuff is all there, your finances are entangled (even if you're not married and you have no kids), you have mutual friends, all that stuff. So untangling it all takes a while, and that leaves plenty of time for second-guessing, and deciding that maybe it wasn't really so bad, and after all he really does love you and need you, so how can you do this to him?

Moses: two things. One, the post actually talks about what you're saying--the fact that your natural empathy for someone in distress is part of what makes you stay. It wasn't all about self-esteem and confidence. Two, while it's true that she talked about it as a male abuser and female abusee, most of what was discussed would equally well hold up if the genders were reversed. Maybe it would have been better if she'd left the genders out of it, because I think by focusing on that you're missing what I saw as the main points--with which your story is more in agreement than not.

There was a blog conversation I witnessed taking place where a fellow passionately argued that all the women under the rule of the Taliban had to do was walk right out of Afghanistan, and if they REALLY wanted a different life that's what they would do -- which seems to me simply the logical outcome of the "why didn't she just leave?" mentality. (I was too gobsmacked to participate in aforesaid conversation.)

Brett saying 'women have a higher emotional IQ" and "Women are more manipulative" aren't the same thing, any more than "men are physically stronger than women" and "men are violent brutes" is the same thing.

"Then complain to Hilzoy about her unsupported pejorative generalization about men."

Perhaps you could quote the specific sentences, first, please.

Great description of the problem, Hilzoy.

It's just really, really hard--if you're not an asshole--to walk away from a partner who is showing the indicators of emotional abuse which precede violence.

Because, intuitively enough, the emotional abuse is effective, in the sense of manipulations that work, to the extent that it's coming from a real place in the abuser. It sounds too obvious to need saying, but people who belittle, manipulate and then hit their intimate partners are genuinely and deeply messed up inside.

I never had a doubt that the woman who was working up to hitting me was truly, madly and deeply dependent on my stable, even temperament to keep connected to the threads of normal behavior. She has a really lousy childhood and I was the first lover she had ever had who didn't hit to express emotion. While she put up a front, there was a connection in her head between intimate emotional closeness and chaotic violence.

When I left, all of our mutual friends tried to get me to go back--because she was such a pain in the neck without me.

My response was, I'm not her keeper or her emotional check valve. I never looked back.

I cannot imagine how hard it might be for a straight woman, who has been primed by the patriarchy to feel her man's emotions for him, or a straight man who has been taught that his love for a woman is supposed to feel overwhelming and unconditional, to respond as I did.

All that said, women who engage in intimate relations with men have many challenges.

And then there is the other issue that is so rare talked about in connection to this one: foster care.

I've been a foster parent for 9 years. I am on my fourth permanent placement. (Teens for whom neither adoption nor reunification are good options. They live here until after they graduate from high school and still come back for Thanksgiving and call for advice on car loans and cooking salmon.) We have also given short term respite care to teens from other foster homes -- about 20 of those.

And of these 24 kids, I know of two whose mothers were not being abused when the children were taken into care. They seem always to move away from their families to be with a man, and the relationship becomes abusive. They do not have jobs, or education, or skills, or family nearby. Their kids are taken and they are given 15 months to turn their lives around, get out of the relationship, get a job, get an apartment. Only now the state is telling them they are not trustworthy, are bad parents.

So many foster parents are surprised and angry when the parents don't show up for visits, or show up late, or don't make any progress on their plans. They seem to have no concept of how deep the problems are for these women. It is difficult enough for ANY parent with only a high school degree and little job experience to find an apartment, job, and day care she can afford, but for a woman who has suffered years of abuse. She is too likely to conclude that her kids really are better in foster care.

They aren't, by the way. The pain of having your mother not try harder to get you back is something that hurts so bad my kids can barely talk about. They can talk about the scars or burns they got from the abuse. Hell, they can tell me someone molested them without their voices tightening. The sentence, "my mom/dad didn't visit" is one they can barely get out.

I'm sorry this is so long. It is just that I am so deeply frustrated that the dynamics of abuse of adults is so rarely talked about in the context of why children are in foster care.

I'm signing with my web-pseudonym under which I write about foster care.

I have scanned hilzoy's post, and the nearest thing I find to a generalization (which she admits as such) is the statement "I will also refer to abusers as 'he', and to their victims as 'she'; this is accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases." I'm not sure how this amounts to hating on the guys. Although I find it fascinating how many posts about women and the issues that disproportionately affect them almost invariably generate the "What about us?" response from men. It's almost like failing to discuss their experiences in any given context is felt as deliberate, malicious, and judgmental exclusion.

This is an awesome post, and it's too bad that men who are or have been in abusive relationships so often react to discussions of domestic violence against women with anger. Hilzoy isn't saying anywhere that men aren't often victims of d.v., and even if she is wrong about the relative frequency of male v. female abusers (which I have no idea), I don't think it in any way impacts any of the points she's making in the post. Especially since her own experience was of emotional abuse.

Anyhoo. I wanted to comment tangentially on the quoted statement by Hirshman that asking why women stay is a mark of respect. Like a lot of Hirshman's statements (and I tend to defend Hirshman more often than not), that's unnecessarily sweeping in a really counter-productive way. Yes, asking why women stay *can be* a respectful question: god knows, understanding the psychology of abuse is important. But the fact is (and we all know this) that that often (usually?) isn't the spirit in which that question's asked, and that the usual subtext of the question is the exact opposite of respectful.

And really, the tone of Hirshman's piece is exactly the kind of disrespectful way of asking the question that's a problem. She's looking at two books where women actually attempt to answer the question, and then berating (as bad feminists) them for the inadequacy of their answers and for not taking responsibility for themselves. That's not the kind of response you give someone if you're genuinely interested in understanding them.

What PJ said:

This is a brilliant piece. The near impossibility of trusting your judgment in these conditions is something I've never seen emphasized properly, and it's scary to think about -- and it's also obvious when you see it, so why doesn't anybody else talk about it? As Huxley said when he read Darwin, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"

And what Neil said:

If I always had a hilzoy around to explain it, I think I could understand every human phenomenon in the world.

Hilzoy, sometimes you just knock my socks off. This is one of those times. Thanks.

Powerful post.

I've always thought one reason ppl. stay in abusive relationships is quite a bit simpler than this discussion makes it out to be: because it is a *relationship.* You have an intimate connection with someone, it becomes very hard to think of them as a person who could do something bad.

Especially if the person isn't the stereotypical abuser you see on TV (philandering, hypocritical, neurotically egocentric male), but rather someone who in their way genuinely cares about you, whose problems are your problems, who is trying to do better in life in general.

IOW if you truly care about someone who hurts you, and they care about you in their own way, it can be very hard to see beyond that bond. FWIW.

Awsome, awesome. I worked in a domestic violence agency for over 12 years, in every specialty, as counselor and administrator, and at the state and national advocacy level and I don't think I could have expressed these thoughts as well as you did. Thank you.

There is no answer to the question "Why do they stay?". The complexity of the roots of this problem do not lend to simplification of the issue, and because of that our ADD society just moves on every time domestic violence comes into the media focus. And lets face it: human beings have a long history of clinging to the violence in their societies.

It all boils down to the fact that this problem, while it has themes we can pick out that are common, has at it's roots the uniqueness of the individual's involved. The fact that there is no one right answer, no one right explanation or treatment, is part of why we keep seeing women beaten and killed year after year, after year. I guess in the end, when a woman of her own free will chooses to remain with an abusive partner, I worry less about what "we" should do than I do the ones who beg for protection and help, who try to find a way out.

I have to agree with the kudos for the brilliance of this post. I was married to an abuser for 6 years. It took me 3 years of separation and counseling to finally come to the conclusion that she would never change.

It was just so obvious to me at one point that if I loved her enough, she wouldn't be in such pain and wouldn't lash out. I thought I could be strong for her and save her.

I'm glad there has been a lot of attention paid to the unacceptability of physical abuse. I used to accept her aggressive driving or destruction of dishes/furniture. However, the first time she hit me, I called the cops, and she never did that again.

The next step is to educate the public about how wrong emotional abuse is. It took me a long time to realize that I was being abused, and that I had the power to put a stop to it (by eventually leaving).

Sorryl, Hilzoy, but while you make some excellent points, you flubbed this one big time:

I will also refer to abusers as 'he', and to their victims as 'she'; this is accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases.

In fact, the incidence of abuse is about the same:

Although domestic assaults against men have been reported in the literature since the 1950s (Bates, 1981; Straus, 1993), the earliest academic reference to "battered husbands" can be traced to the work of Suzanne Steinmetz (1977, 1977-78). Extrapolating from a small scale study, Steinmetz suggested that the incidence of "husband beating" rivaled the incidence of "wife battering" and that it was husband abuse, not wife abuse, that was a largely underreported form of domestic violence. Her claims received considerable media attention in the United States and elsewhere, but she was savagely attacked for misreading, misinterpreting, and misrepresenting her findings by opponents. Pagelow, for one, (1985) criticized Steinmetz's evidence on a number of grounds, for instance, the use of aggregate, as opposed to couple samples. Further, she noted that Steinmetz's work did not address the context in which women were the perpetrators of violence, namely, "self-defense." Consequently, Pagelow argued that the claim of husband abuse could not be supported and that the "battered husband syndrome" was "much ado about nothing."

Despite the criticisms leveled at Steinmetz and her concept of the battered husband, violence directed at husbands has been reported by others. For instance, Murray Straus, Richard Gelles, and Suzanne Steinmetz (1980) estimated that about one in eight men in the United States acted violently during marital conflict. However, they estimated a similar number of women also acted violently during marital conflict. They also noted that in a majority of these cases, violence was a mutual or bilateral activity, with only 27% of cases finding that husbands were the sole perpetrators of violence and 24% of cases finding only wives acting violently. With respect to serious violence, as judged by the Conflict Tactics Scales (Note 2), these authors stated that the rate for men beaten by their wives was 4.6%; a figure that indicated "over 2 million very violent wives." While 47% of those husbands who beat their wives did so severely three or more times a year, 53% of women who beat their husbands severely did so three or more times a year.

In a later article, Straus and Gelles (1986) reviewed both their own and other studies in the United States and reported somewhat equivalent assault rates for both male-to-female and female-to-male. In their 1975 survey, Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) estimated that approximately 38 out of every 1000 families experience severe husband-to-wife violence, while 46 out of every l000 families experience severe wife-to-husband violence. Ten years later, Straus & Gelles (1986) reported that the rates have dropped from 38 to 30 and 46 and 44 per 1000 couples, respectively. In overall acts of violence, as defined by the Conflict Tactics Scales, husband-to-wife rates of violence were 121 and 113 and wife-to-husband rates of violence were 116 and 121 per 1000 couples for the two study years (i.e., 1975 and 1985).

Although Straus and Gelles (1986) did not dwell on these comparisons, they did make a statement that seems to run counter to the prevailing academic and public perception of the time, namely, that "an important and distressing finding about violence in American families is that, in marked contrast to the behavior of women outside the family, women are about as violent within the family as men" (p. 470). The small change in the wife-to-husband rate of violence, as opposed to some change in the husband-to-wife violence, was suggested to result from a lack of attention or concern to male victimization. The case for giving due regard to domestic women-on-men assaults and an acceptance of this higher level of victimization was backed by reference to other studies finding similar levels of male victimization (Brutz & Ingoldsby, 1984; Gelles, 1974; Giles-Sims, 1983; Jourilles & O'Leary, 1985; Lane & Gwartney-Gibbs, 1985; ; Laner & Thompson, 1982; Makepeace, 1983; Sack, Keller, & Howard, 1982; Saunders, 1986; Scanzoni, 1978; Steinmetz, 1977, 1977-78; Szinovacz, 1983).

This makes perfect sense imho: these sorts of issues are not one of gender, but of the human condition. This is anecdotal of course, but it's been my (limited) experience here in small town U.S.A. that police don't take reports by men about spousal abuse seriously at all, which might skew personal perceptions. The one thing that would possibly make this a gender issue as opposed to a general issue is the fact that men are in general physically stronger than the women they associate with. This doesn't change the frequency any, but it does change the outcomes.

And no, I personally don't think this is enough to make it a gender issue.

I've been there, and you are so totally right. In my first marriage, which lasted 13 years, I was pummeled while pinned against the wall, with two little girls in the next room. Close to monthly. I now understand that he was badly mismatched with his chosen profession -- he was an Episcopal priest -- and he had nowhere else to work off his feelings.

The split personality description was apt. He was in an untouchable rage one minute, and the next he was so loving, so much the man I had fallen in love with, that I was prone to think I'd imagined it. I did not live in Ankara, but might as well have. No family to run to, two girls under five, no shelters back then, and the Church owned
the house. Had I made it public, he would have lost his job, and I'd have been on the street.

Finally, he left the ministry, we moved to a larger city, bought a house, and within the year, he was gone.

It is hardest, I think, when one really loves the abuser (and doesn't particularly love oneself). You keep thinking it will stop. Of course, it doesn't. It is an addiction and once he got away with it once, it just went on. Easier than working out his own problems! I definitely felt, inside, that it was my fault -- mainly because he said so. But I saw how terribly unhappy his profession was making him -- how disallusioned he was with how it differed from his dream life. In a strange way, I felt proud to be the only one he shared his depression with. I found myself unable to heap more on an already weakened man.

Perhaps men do this also, but I think women separate issues into "head" and "gut". In my head, I knew exactly what was happening, and what I should do about it. My gut was muddying my rational thinking. My head said "this is wrong". My gut got all motherly about it.

I am 67, now. But it is like yesterday. I was 21 when it started. It heals over, but the scars never disappear. I have two wonderful grandchildren, and have to encounter the man at birthdays, etc. I get an upset stomach, sweaty palms, pounding heart. My present (and amazingly wonderful) husband who was a Special Forces member in Viet Nam, has to hold himself back from doing to him what he did to me. Part of me wishes he would.

I would like to believe that our hearts and minds are evolving with information and becoming more secure as women. It does not seem so.

Thank you for a really wonderful piece, and thanks to amazing Andrew for linking to it!!

On the main point, however, I believe Hilzoy is dead on (since she agrees with me :-) ); this is a problem of a defect in judgement brought about by the abuse itself. And I don't buy that the physical is of necessarily greater consequence than the mental; imho, this impairment in judgment can last years, even a lifetime. Further, this impairment will lead to a definite degradation in the quality of life of the one so maltreated. It is the mechanism itself that has been damaged you see. It's not just a case of selective blindness in one isolated aspect of life.

Oh - getting together with someone because you have in common abusive childhoods? Not a good idea, though unhappily, it often seems that people who have not gone through the experience themselves are outsiders who do not know what to make of emotional responses of those who have.

Thank you so much for this wonderfully insightful piece. I must confess as a 40 yr old man who has had family members in abusive relationships, I never really understood the mindset of women who stayed. Thank you for giving me a viewpoint I had never actually considered.

Its not surprising to see all the comments, the problem of psychopathy is huge. Then stop to think how this scenario is played out on the societal/political spectrum, and then wrap your mind around that.

The split personality description was apt. He was in an untouchable rage one minute, and the next he was so loving, so much the man I had fallen in love with, that I was prone to think I'd imagined it. I did not live in Ankara, but might as well have. No family to run to, two girls under five, no shelters back then, and the Church owned the house. Had I made it public, he would have lost his job, and I'd have been on the street.

This sort of behaviour is not confined to humans, btw. This also happens to dogs who are abused as puppies who are then placed with a good family. 99% they'll be just like every other canine, but in that 1% of the time, some situation will come up that will key in a long-delayed response to that treatment, and you'll have what appears to be a rabid animal on your hands.

Given that roughly the same number of men are abused by their partner as women (see Psychiatric News, August 3, 2007, article "Men Shouldn't Be Overlooked as Victims of Partner Violence" ( http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/42/15/31-a ), why do you think men stay in abusive relationships? Some have hypothesized that some men stay to protect the children from their mother (for rates of child abuse see http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm06/figure3_5.htm ) since it can be difficult for fathers to obtain custody upon separation. When this is not the issue, are the other reasons analogous to the ones identified above? Do men and women stay in abusive situations for the same reasons?

As a young man, I was a battered boyfriend for about a year. My abuser was nearly a foot shorter than me and quite petite, and all the same she nearly killed me. Any woman can kill any man if she swings steel tools at his head and he's fool enough to stand there and take it.

I was raised by a divorced mom. I was taught to be sensitive to how men abuse women. It never occurred to me that a woman might abuse me. The first time my girlfriend slapped me, I didn't take it seriously as a threat -- after all, it didn't really hurt. All I wondered was what I had done that was so awful that this peaceful, loving woman would resort to physical violence to express her frustration. And from that moment, she had me right where she wanted me -- totally unable to defend myself or flee from her.

Hilzoy is dead right about the judgment paralysis that accompanies emotional and physical abuse. The paralysis doesn't happen because the victim is weak; it happens because the abuser deliberately exploits the victim's love for him or her. No one is immune to falling into an abusive relationship or to the emotional paralysis and helplessness that abusive relationships cause. Wondering how "strong" people become helpless in abusive relationships is like wondering how "healthy" people die after getting cancer.

Domestic abuse isn't really a relevant topic for theoretical discussions of gender. Women are not disproportionately likely to stay with abusers; plenty of men stay with their abusers, as I did. Nor should women and men get into a competition over which sex is abused more. Physical and emotional pain is crippling for anyone. Domestic abuse happens to women and to men, in straight and gay relationships. The pathologies are in the abuser, not the victim, and the focus of decent people should be in intervening and preventing abuse.

Fwiw: when I decided on the pronouns, I was going by the DOJ statistics here. According to the DoJ stats, the incidence of violence by an intimate (spouse, lover, or ex) is about 4 times higher for women than for men.

Brilliant.

Thank you for this post. A cousin of mine recently left her husband, and we learned that he'd been abusing her since their wedding night seven years ago. I knew intellectually that it's extremely hard for women to leave their abusers, but I still had a hard time understanding. This post helps me see what kinds of things were probably going on.

Her parents and siblings knew about the abuse from fairly early on, and I hope they were urging her to leave. What kind of a role do family members usually play in these situations? Can they also be won over by the abuser and convince themselves that he can change?

Hilzoy, DoJ statistics and other crime studies, surveys at shelters, and other statistics from pre-selected victim groups confirm your statistic. To understand the weakness of these statistics, imagine DoJ domestic violence statistics in the 1920s. The violence was hidden or not considered criminal, so the statistics indicated it was a small to non-existent problem.

That is the situation with men today. Men do not report DV because they are ashamed or believe they should be able to endure it. The vast, vast majority of boys experience violence and quickly learn to tough it out and not complain. Culturally, it is considered humorous to harm males, check out almost any family sit-com. Law enforcement and medical personnel are not trained to recognize male DV victims. In some states or jurisdictions it is the law or practice to arrest the male when the DV is mutual.

Conflict studies use cross-sectional analysis of the general population to determine the full extent of DV, not just who is arrested. It is a conflict study that I previously referenced ( http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/42/15/31-a ) and that ScentofViolets so ably reviews above.

To be more clear, conflict studies tend to show that roughly half the DV is mutual and the other half is more or less evenly split between male or female aggressors. The psychiatryonline article is only about young people where female aggressors are more common, significantly so. I cited it because of the clarity in their presentation and the use of robust Center for Disease Control data.

It often seems like a combination of two things: first, feeling as though if their wife left them, some truly terrifying abyss would open up in their minds and they would fall down into the darkness forever, and second, thinking that to prevent this, they need to keep her from leaving, to control her (as opposed to, say, trying to build the best marriage ever.)

I wonder if abusers aren't actually sometimes trying, at least in their own minds, to make the best marriage ever. They do everything for their wives (or husbands, I'm just going with the male abuser/female victim for convenience and statistical probability), they are sweet and romantic to them, they spend all their time with them...and then they get angry when they feel that their efforts aren't appreciated.

Some of the characteristics of abusers (overinvolvement, grand "romantic gestures" made without consultation of the other partner, persistence in pursuing the relationship even against apparent opposition) are often read in this culture as desirable characteristics. "He's crazy about you" is usually taken to be a good thing. A man who stands outside a woman's window and serenades her (whether she comes out to listen, hides in the back, or throws shoes at him) is considered romantic. Partners who spend all their time together are assumed to be too deeply in love to bother with anyone else.

All of which makes it just that much harder for a woman (or man) who is being abused to leave her abuser. Why, her friends or family may ask, do you want to leave this wonderful man who buys you roses every Saturday night, texts you every day just to see what you're doing, and generally acts like you're the whole world to him? They may even disbelieve the abuse: how could someone so clearly in love abuse the person he loves?

Sorry if this post is a bit rambling.

While I do think most abused people are afraid and confused, not all of them are. My father was abusive, and my mother stayed, even when he started abusing me. He took his anger over her out on me, and she knew it, but tried to fluff it off. She seemed annoyed that I wouldn't pretend to have 'walked into walls'. She went put with her lover while my father terrorized me, even though I begged her to leave. Years later, when I read about Poles who were happy to mistreat Jews in concentration camps, and Jewish Kapos who di the same in order to get extra rations, I finally understood my mother to be a collaborator.

I think there are many (but NOT most) men and women who collaborate in their own abuse and the abuse of their children. There are women who look the other way when the husband or boyfriend rapes the daughter. There are husbands who say nothing to their verbally abusive wives when they humiliate the children. Being abused does not absolve one of taking responsibility; i had a boyfriend who 'playfully' hit me once, and i ended the relationship. Statistically, I should have made excuses and let him slap me around a few times- but I didn't, because i wasn't going to end up like my mother.

Women are not ciphers and they are not innocent. They have agency. It's one thing to acknowledge that there are a variety of reasons why people exercise poor judgment. It's another thing to say that using poor judgment is ok, as long as one is female.

Yondalla, your post broke my heart. I think it touches on another part of this that I feel infinitely frustrated about not being addressed is why the man (or the woman) abuses to begin with. Why are we asking "Why doesn't she leave" when we should be asking "why is he abusing?" So, ok the woman leaves, great, what about the next wife or girlfriend? Or the kids who learn this behavior only to pass it on?

I found out that my brother-- a sweet loving, thoughtful, good dad, all of it-- was abusing his wife. I was stunned and heartbroken. This seemingly 'normal' person was a monster? That's the issue I have with patently pathologizing abuse-- yes there is mental illness, but it's mostly learned (see Yondalla's post) and I suspect has a whole host of other complex reasons behind it.

One reader posts, "I never really understood the mindset of women who stayed." So, you can understand the mindset of the man who hits and controls? We fundamentally view the problem as a woman's problem.
Where are the conversations about the abusers? This goes for both men who abuse and men who are abused! We can't solve this one-sided.

Not sure if this is relevant, but it occurs to me that the behavior of an abuser if very much the same as a 2-year old throwing a tantrum. I would hazard a guess that many, if not most mothers have felt abused by their children at one point or another. So it could be that women are conditioned (biologically or culturally, take your pick) to look past or otherwise rationalize abusive behavior, interpreting it instead as part of the (cultural/biological) imperative to be nuturing.

What a great post. I'm an abuse survivor and it's been a very long time since someone made me think about abuse in general, and my abuse specifically, in a new way. Your point--about how the moment when a woman is confronted by abuse, when she most needs to trust in her own perceptions and self-worth to keep herself safe, is one of the most difficult times to keep a clear head and keep things in perspective given the downright weirdness of abuse--is one I had never considered before but which I think is very true and very important.

Thanks, Hilzoy, for trying to answer the question. I knew that I would take a lot of heat for asking it, but it is a crucial question, and without it we would never have had the benefit of your fine answer.
(I will be posting this on my home site, at www.Slate.com, when they figure out what happened to my password.)

Just to clear the ground, briefly, I picked Leslie Morgan Steiner's book because she presents an incredibly clean case. She was not in any way dependent. The first time he choked her she was at his apartment in the middle of New York City with good public transportation to her separate apartment. She had her own income. She had a college degree, family money, and many friends and employers and coworkers whom she saw every day. Not on the honeymoon. Never pregnant. They never had children. So it's a perfect test case.

Three things you add to the discussion seem to me to be most worth pursuing. One, which is easy, is that I take it this man did not hit you. Although the experience sounds awful, there is a gendered structural inequality in strength and size that makes physical violence different in kind than even that terrible verbal assault, for purposes of political analysis. The overwhelming majority of women, as all the stats say, can simply never be or hope to be equal in a relationship of physical violence. In theory, although of course I am not implying you would do so, you could have screamed back at him in a similar way. But there is phenomenon of subordination and inequality that characterizes the relationship once physical violence enters, which is widespread and replicable regardless of the particular psychology of the particular participants and the ins and outs of passionate and emotional relationships. This matters, and makes it a little easier to draw a line around the physical when making moral and political judgments.

The second point is that you compare the first experience of violence to having the car turn into an elephant. But the blogs, movies, papers, books, are flowing over with comments from people describing the experience, many of them in repeated abusive relationships. So why would it be such a surprise? I cannot speak to your experience, but by the time the boyfriend choked LMS, he had already had two really ugly verbal explosions, and so the question just gets put off: knowing that people are capable of violence and knowing that her boyfriend had already fired up against her twice short of violence, why would the first episode come as an interference with the natural order? In other words, it should not be completely alien to the world she knows. It should have been recognizable. Especially, in the many cases that have surfaced, where the person was abused as a child or is in several successive abusive relationships.

Finally, I must admit to utter delight in the following sentence, in explaining your strengths: "I'm a feminist." And hooray you got out after the second episode of emotional abuse. I'd like to think those two things were related. Why? Because although it might be nice to be the person who finds it "easier to take sacrifices on themselves than to inflict them on others, especially others they love" that's not the message of feminism. Or any liberation movement. And the reason it's not is exactly as you say: because that message doesn't make it any easier to leave. There may be movements that teach self-sacrifice, and they may be necessary -- patriotism, religious conviction, whatever -- but they are usually aimed at people who love themselves too much, not the liberation of people who have been on the bottom.

ps
someone always says why don't we criticize the abuser? As if there were some sort of limit on criticism (not on my watch :))Yet each woman that hides the truth, as LMS did, giving him a false name and all the rest, essentially fails to criticize the abuser. And exposes every other woman to his behavior. I'd criticize "Conor" her pseudonymous batterer. But I don't know what his name is.

Amazing post --- heart-rending comments.

I've nothing to add except that this behavior, particularly the physical abuse (that honeymoons and pregnancies seem to be a timing trigger is very dark indeed) seems like Colonel Kurtz in a domestic setting, whether the abuser is female or male.

The animal is very close to the surface.

Or maybe the human is very close to the surface.

To follow on with the male/female stuff - clearly, men are bigger, and still work more/bring in more money.

However, I do have to agree that the statistics, as well as anecdotal experience of those who report to shelters - the amount of physical/emotional abuse in relationships, by women, is very under-reported.

Now, emotional abuse by women, is definitely less dangerous - by a large order.

But that 'less dangerous' version is still there, in a much larger percentage, than '4 to 1' male to female ratio.

And there are lots of reasons, detailed above, why guys don't report.

a. More expected that guys get "lightly" hit. We can take it, and you are a wimp for reporting it. (I remember an incident in high school, where this one girl slashed at her - significantly larger - boyfriend's face with her nails, he bled from it. He DID report it - and she was 'suspended' for a day or three - don't remember. But he then became the running joke of the school for a couple of weeks - til the entertainment value of the 'oh my God, he's been ABUSED by the 5 foot 98 pound girl!' petered out...)

b. Guys also want to save their girls.
c. As had been said, the emotional abuse - the "dragonlady" phenomena of the constant criticisms, the put-downs, the taking the guy for granted - this also happens. But guys are not normally emotionally, or even psychologically sophisticated enough, to deal with it, other than stoically bear it (since decent guys DON'T hit women.).
d. Guys also don't want to be alone.

Actually - on this - since we have some people who have dealt with couple issues - some advice for a buddy.

This friend (and yes, it's a friend), was alone for a very long time - suddenly, a woman became available, who was hot, sexy, fun. (He's in his early 40's, is very quiet, not so attractive, etc.)

He started a relationship with her - was using a condom, the whole thing - but she got pregnant anyway. They assume the condom broke, late one night, they weren't paying attention.

He manned up, did the right thing - she wasn't willing to have an abortion - and proposed to her, to marry her. (She is about 7 months pregnant now.)

As was said above - as soon as they had the honeymoon - she started REALLY changing. Everything that he did, became another reason to be upset at him. He didn't get the right type of dishes (he and his family ended up paying to get them setup in their new place), he didn't 'check in' right after work, she doesn't like his friends because they 'look down' on her, she almost immediately stopped working, etc.

He really is at his wit's end. Doesn't like fighting and arguing, thinks he is doing everything he can, providing all the support, she wants him around constantly, and checks up on him, as if keeping tabs on him.

The last think he wants is an annulment/divorce before they even have a kid.

I've urged him to get counseling for the two of them. He suggested it, but to even bring it up with her blows up into a huge argument about how he doesn't love her, etc.

Thoughts on this?


At any rate - she'll do things like push him, slap him on his chest or arms. Doesn't hurt, really - either physically or psychologically, so there would be no reason it would report it. Much more painful is the constant psychological issues.

A few notes regarding the psychology of SOME women who stay in abusive relationships.

1). Many women actively seek out abuse. These women will run from men who treat them well. If the man doesn't abuse them they will start fights and/or demean the man to provoke a response. Generally, though, if they perceive the man to be "weak", they'll run like hell.

2.) These women seek out abusive men because they are psychologically addicted to the highs AND the lows. Yes, it's possible to get off on feeling like shit. The stability of non-abusive men doesn't engender the addictive highs and lows that these women seek. Additionally, many of these women get off on being the "victim" and are actually addicted to self-pity and their own martyrdom.

3.) Apropos of point 2, these women get off on drama. They usually feel so dead inside, that extreme situations like fighting and/or abuse is one of the few ways they know to "feel alive" -- in this sense, they are no different than "cutters" who enjoy self-mutilation.

4.) These women have extremely low self-esteem/self-worth. They feel that they deserve the abuse.

5.) Like all people with personality disorders (whether genetically or culturally induced), they usually have very little self-awareness.

6.) These types of women are extremely common, as any man who has been around the block can attest to.

7.) None of the above points, justify abuse. Although these women actively seek out their own abuse and DO enjoy aspects of it, they are nonetheless severely miserable people (although often not as miserable as one would think).

One more point...there is a simple test to determine if you are with one of these women.

If when you treat her good she treats you bad, and when you treat her bad she treats you good, you most likely have one of these women on your hands.

Thanks LauraM for sharing your story. I think it shows that the abused in these relationships often stay at first because they want to give the person they fell in love with the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure there is a lot of denial on both sides.

My father was abusive to my mother. As a boy, your first instinct is to protect your Mom. I remember him firing potatoes from one of those large sacks, one by one, at her and stepping in front of her to make him stop -- I was about 10, my son's age now. I despised my Dad for a long time and it was a long time after their divorce and into my adulthood before I attempted to get close to him, never forgiving him for the way he treated my Mom but realizing he had demons that he could never bring himself to address with professional help.

These kind of relationships are confusing for kids.

I also wondered why my Mom stayed married to my Dad for as long as she did, but as you grow up, you realize she had it hard enough not to be second-guessed.

Since Linda has posted here, I would like to point out that in using my collection of essays Learning to Drive as a vehicle to explore her bewilderment at why women stay in abusive relationships, she seriously misrepresents the book. Linda compares me to a battered woman who stays with her abuser. The actual situation, unambiguously described in the book: I discovered after my relationship ended that my partner was not the sweet, devoted guy I thought he was. He had been unfaithful many times. Linda strongly implies I knew about this all along and stayed out of some kind of sick romanticism. (it helps that she treats as flat-footed reporting passages that are clearly comic overstatement.) I do not agree with Linda's POV, which seems harsh and obtuse, but in any case Learning to Drive cannot rationally be used to explain why a woman would stay with a sadistic, violent man. Because that is not the situation it describes.

Hil: According to the DoJ stats, the incidence of violence by an intimate (spouse, lover, or ex) is about 4 times higher for women than for men.

Pssh. Your feminist indoctrination (and ladybits) have obviously blinded you to The Truth™, Hil. The DoJ ain't nothin' a tool of the Vast Matriarchal Conspiracy. Clearly you should have cited more objective sources--like the Journal of Men's Studies, or the forums @ Stand Your Ground.

Y'know, sources with some fncking balls.

Anyway, for now I'll just say "what Jes said" and quietly disengage before I'm tempted to get my Obama on and start anointing some of the more...classy comments with rhetorical gasoline. Besides, I seem to have misplaced my Zippo. Think that @sshelmet Glenn Beck might have pocketed it.

To end on a snark-free note, this was a powerful, sobering post, Hil.

Thank you.

It was 28 years ago today that I finally left my abusive first marriage. Your post, Hilzoy is absolutely right on for me. But after all these years, I learned something new... the link between onset of abuse and first pregnancy. When my husband and I had been married about 4 months, I was 3 months pregnant, and he pushed me down a sand dune in West Texas. I rolled for probably 500 feet or so, over and over and over. There was no harm done to me or the baby, but I couldn't figure out why he would do such a thing. He just said it was a joke. In the next few years the abuse, both verbal and physical, continued to intensify. When I was in my 6th month of pregnancy with our second child, my husband tried to choke me, to the point where I was actually blacking out. A couple of years after that, some tiny little spark of survival instinct inside me finally grew strong enough to where I could leave. And I did. But I had never until today put together the circumstance of pregnancy with his abusive behavior.

My oldest son, the one who took the ride down the sand dune with me at 3 months gestation, is a fine man, but he has been married twice and has had a couple of long but unsuccessful relationships. Two of those women actually went to jail and to court on domestic abuse charges for beating him up in the presence of witnesses. The second time, I had to ask him: Is this my fault?

See, we grow older and wiser, but the scars of being abused by someone you love are hard to even detect sometimes. I'm happily remarried now and a grandmother 8 times, and nobody who knows me now would ever call me "weak" or of less than full mental powers. But once in a while, I still find myself asking Why, and thinking maybe there was something else I could have done.


@JC: Your friend is definitely in an abusive relationship, and I'm worried that the abuse is going to get much worse. Your friend should seek out counseling for himself alone if his wife won't go into counseling with him. I'm inclined to believe your friend has self-esteem issues that led him into this relationship and keeps him there. (He reminds me quite a bit of myself.) This is just speculation, but I bet that all his life he's been told that he would be lucky to be in any relationship, and he believes it -- so much so that he's willing to tough out any abuse in the relationship. More than fixing his marriage, he needs counseling for himself to get a more realistic view of his self-worth.

It sounds too obvious to need saying, but people who belittle, manipulate and then hit their intimate partners are genuinely and deeply messed up inside.
The animal is very close to the surface.

I wonder if, when a male mountain lion takes over the territory of a rival and systematically kills the cubs of the female mountain lions in that territory, the female mountain lions think that the male mountain lion is genuinely and deeply messed up inside.

True, some of them do leave.

there is a gendered structural inequality in strength and size that makes physical violence different in kind

It goes deeper than that. Are men who get in a boxing ring abused? Are men who get in a boxing ring with someone twice their weight abused?

Hilzoy is playing with gender roles here in a way that I don't think Hilzoy would in other circumstances.

All the famous chess players and all the infamous mass murderers are male.

Why?

I've been asking myself and asking myself, why did I stay? Why did I go back? Your piece finally came close to filling in some answers for me. You're so right - it's difficult to trust your judgment when your judgment has just been proven to be so horribly wrong and when the person you believed to be your partner is telling you with complete confidence that what you think happened, did not happen, and that if did, well, then it was all your fault.

@Yondalla & others - you reminded me that I need to remember that I _am_ the best parent for my kids and that I am their protector. None of the stuff you mentioned has happened with us, but I can see how you could get worn down to the point where you feel like you couldn't be a good mom. I won't let that happen and I will stay gone for good this time.

I'm in an almost 40-year marriage to a man who was once given to emotional outbursts that included shoving, hitting, and verbal abuse. He never attempted to isolate me, in fact encouraging me in work and other activities. I had a full personal social life and frequently traveled alone. Knowing his horrible family story--suicides, alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse--I was determined he should find help for his problems. Why do spouses of addicts receive praise for encouraging the addict to enter treatment, but spouses of abusers are called "in denial" and have "low self-esteem" when they stay with the spouse and encourage treatment? When his troubles became so overwhelming that I had to drive him to the ER in uncontrollable weeping, he was diagnosed as bipolar and spent 10 days in the adult psych ward. Later, he was also diagnosed with PTSD resulting from experiences in his military service. Today, he continues to receive regular therapy and takes medication daily. I give him feedback when I feel he's running into problems, and he monitors himself also. I am satisfied in having been persistent and not giving up on a worthwhile individual. I've received a lot of flak for stating my case and expect more on this site, but felt I should present my side of this story.

JC: I would definitely echo what Jerry said about getting counseling for himself, if she won't go. The existence of the child is also a hugely complicating factor, as it always is.

That said, one more bit of advice for him. I think it's really important to figure out some view of what is OK in a relationship that is basically equal, making allowances for those moments when one person really doesn't want to do X which it is in some sense his or her job to do -- obviously, at moments like that, the other person does whatever it is, unless this is a constant pattern. (This is meant to be a broad conception, applied with generosity, not dictatorial or inflexible.)

So: if he always accedes to her requests, reasonable (in some broad and generous sense) or not, and she never accedes to his, or he always has to demonstrate his love for her but never vice versa, or when she says something really matters to her, he does it, but not vice versa, those would be the sorts of things that would not fit such a conception.

Then I would try to figure out: does this relationship fit that standard, again in a broad way? Minor deviations from perfect equality are OK, according to me; big ones are not. Then I'd ask: how, exactly, does it deviate? What demands does she make on him that she is not prepared to accede to when he makes them on her? Specificity is good here, I think.

Then I'd try to figure out whether one of them is most important, and find some time to talk about it, ideally not in an angry way, but in a "I've noticed this pattern, and it disturbs me, because it will hurt our relationship" way. If necessary, I'd make it clear that really talking this through is very important to me -- and here the previous reflection might help, because it will provide examples of times when she has said something similar to him.

One reason to have this talk in a non-accusatory way is that it will allow him to see, as clearly as possible, whether there's any hope of things changing. If it's an angry conversation and she just gets defensive, it will be much harder to tell whether there's hope. But if he can manage to have the conversation in a more reflective way, he might be able to see a lot. If even his most reflective, calm, reasonable attempt goes nowhere, that's very important to know. If, on the other hand, it helps, that's also important.

All the famous chess players and all the infamous mass murderers are male.

Why?

Not meaning to get all snarky, but all famous pro football players are male too. There are certain structural features of society that create the not only the way talent/evil intentions expresses itself, but also how it is noticed. Not calling out you or anyone else in the thread (it is a bit difficult to read some of the personal experiences, so I haven't read as closely as I would if this were a different subject) but tackling one of those things while overlooking the others might be problematic.

Rosie: if you get flak, it won't be from me. I think that's what everyone wants to happen, and if you get flak, it might be because almost everyone who has left an abusive relationship wonders whether if they had only stuck it out, their story might have ended the way yours did.

People shouldn't take your story to reflect on what they did -- abusers are individuals, after all, and why would one think that there's a one-size-fits-all solution? And given that the odds of it happening are unfortunately low, why should someone who left feel more threatened by what happened to you than, say, someone who stops playing the lottery feels when she hears that someone actually won? -- except, of course, for the fact that stopping playing the lottery isn't nearly as wrenching an experience as leaving someone you love.

Even accepting 4 to 1 without cavil, the scale of the problem makes that 20% a large number and a common experience.

I was in one of those years ago: much bigger than she, probably not in much danger, but profoundly shocked and disoriented by the violence. I got out, was aware that she was wrong and I was justified, but plenty of self-doubt nonetheless. And, just as in the post, not the first time. And mine was as "clean" a case as you can imagine.

Here's the thing: Women who face abuse DO leave. In fact, many women are killed WHEN THEY ARE LEAVING. Unfortunately, a laundry list of factors mitigates against a successful escape from abuse: women in long-term abusive relationships often have no money of their own, and may lack the skills or employment experience necessary to land a job; many have children; some are discharged from hospitals into the care of their legal next-of-kin -- the battering spouse himself; many, after years of being forcibly isolated from all friends and family, simply have nowhere to go, or are afraid of endangering the people they love (who may also be targeted by the abuser). The list goes on and on, but the heart of the matter is that the support system for abuse survivors who do leave (or try to) is very scant. And if you believe there are enough shelter beds in this country to meet the demand from survivors and their children, you are sadly mistaken.

"It goes deeper than that. Are men who get in a boxing ring abused? Are men who get in a boxing ring with someone twice their weight abused?"

Are adults involved in a fully consensual sex act being raped? If somebody's loses money in a game of poker, are they being robbed? Why is a raven like a writing desk? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck was a Venusian spearmint bush?

"All the famous chess players . . . are male.

Nona Gaprindashvili
Judit Polgar
Koneru Humpy
Hou Yifan
Susan Polgar
Xie Jun
Antoaneta Stefanova
Maia Chiburdanidze
Pia Cramling
Zhu Chen
Alexandra Kosteniuk
Marie Sebag
Zhao Xue
Xu Yuhua
Kateryna Lahno
Monika Soćko
Nana Dzagnidze
Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant
Hoang Thanh Trang
Peng Zhaoqin

". . . and all the infamous mass murderers . . .
Andrea Yates, for starters, unless you want to argue that she doesn't count for . . . some reason or other.

@JC: Maybe it's the "doing the right thing" part that makes your friend's wife feel like he doesn't love her. Since the manly thing of doing your duty involves suppressing your real feelings, the possibility that he doesn't really love her is always lurking below the surface.

The lesson for guys is that if you get your girlfriend pregnant, DO NOT immediately propose, even if that's what you want. The smart man freaks out and says "I can't do this!" and walks out on her. Then, some weeks later, he returns with roses, an engagement ring and a baseball glove for Junior in hand, declaring that he can't live without her and his children need their father!

Furthermore, it's amazing how quickly the abuser drops out of the discussion when we talk about domestic violence. We shouldn't be asking, "Why doesn't she just leave?" We should be asking, "Why does HE treat her violently, and why is he permitted to do so with impunity?" Asking why she doesn't just leave makes the abuser invisible -- as if he's doing something that's somehow inevitable or expected. We seem to accept the idea that men will beat women up -- c'est la vie. What would happen if we shifted our focus from the victim to the perpetrator? What if, instead of focusing on her "mistake" in not leaving, we focused on the inadequate criminal laws and social services our government currently has in place to address abusive behavior? What if we took a hard look at the aspects of our culture that encourage or ignore violence against women? What if police actually followed the mandatory arrest laws that have been passed to deal with abuser impunity? What if abusers became social outcasts, like drunk drivers? Imagine, the changes we could make if we weren't so relentlessly focused on why she doesn't "just leave"!

Not meaning to get all snarky, but all famous pro football players are male too.

There are no procedural barriers to women becoming famous chess players, as there may be for football, so what is preventing women from learning how to play chess?

You will note I presented both a positive (chess) and a negative (serial murder) case here.

No one argues with the negative case.

Why is that?

now_what: a semi-serious response: once upon a time, I dated (different ex) a pretty serious chess player, and so spent a lot of time hanging with grandmasters at chess tournaments. At the time, most of them were male. Also, while they vary all over the place, the prevailing atmosphere was more or less what you'd expect given a large number of guys who had identified a peculiar talent very early on and spent the rest of their lives developing it, without any particular reinforcement for the development of e.g. rudimentary social skills.

I mean, you have to imagine me telling them that they Just Could Not light the pillows in my hotel room on fire. (Actually happened.) Or drink all the little bottles of vodka in the minibar. Etc., etc., etc. I liked them quite a lot, but it was not really for their overall maturity. (And of course there were exceptions.)

Not, on the whole, a female-friendly environment.

This is a really good post, Hilzoy. I've been reading you for a long time, and this is my first comment.

There's another (or underlying) reason - childhood abuse. I was sexually abused by my dad. It took away my sense of self (if I ever developed one), and gave me the idea that I had no right to expect anything but bad treatment from anyone. So I was particularly vulnerable to the charmer/monster situation. When someone's kind to me I get attached too quickly because I am not used to it, and when someone's cruel to me I assume I deserve it.

I appreciate that Linda Hirshman is going and answering on this blog. But, she says: "In other words, it should not be completely alien to the world she knows. It should have been recognizable. Especially, in the many cases that have surfaced, where the person was abused as a child or is in several successive abusive relationships.".

No. No. A thousand times no. People who were abused as children don't have the defenses to protect themselves against abusers. They are particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

I also want to stress how important it is not too trivialize the abuse of men, by men AND by women. As a woman, I have participated in various self help forums and seems that men struggle sometimes even more than women. It's harder for them to seek help because they are supposed to be 'strong', and I've heard of so many cases where people seeking help were ridiculed. More sensitivity and openness about this element as well could prevent a lot of human misery.

Great post! The reason that blogs exist.

I'm fascinated by the apparent assumption disclosed in the comments that abuse by women is vastly underreported whereas abuse by men is definitely not. Not to say that women aren't abusive (sometimes even lethally) but testosterone does have its scientifically-proven physiological drawbacks. Just sayin.

About that last bit: the point was not to say: well, women have better social skills. It was rather: given that it was a heavily guy group, and that most of these guys had very little social skills, there tended to be a lot of jokes that basically went: TITS ha ha ha!!! Sort of what might happen if you got a decent-sized group of maladjusted 7th grade male nerds together for a sleepover.

And again: not all of them were like that; just enough to set the prevailing tone.

Are adults involved in a fully consensual sex act being raped?

We're talking about women, having been treated violently, choosing to stay. Consensually and all that. You might be talking about something else, but that's what we're talking about.

And I thank you for proving my point with your list of anonymous chess players. Good job!

Also, while they vary all over the place, the prevailing atmosphere was more or less what you'd expect given a large number of guys who had identified a peculiar talent very early on and spent the rest of their lives developing it, without any particular reinforcement for the development of e.g. rudimentary social skills.

But that's what men do. Identify a peculiar talent very early on and spent the rest of their lives developing it. A lot of them do, anyway. I did, without knowing what I was doing.

Are women less likely than men to do that? Should we treat men and women differently then? I mean what I get out of this thread is that when it benefits women, we should treat men and women the same, and when it benefits women, we should treat men and women differently.

Screw that noise.

Why don't women sit in the attic for decades going to war with Fermat?

now_what, please see - for whatever it's worth - my 9:24 comment, a response to your mass-murdering/chess playing bit.

What's your point, btw? Is this about how men evolved to play chess and beat women back on the Pleistocene savannah*, while women evolved to stay back at the cave caring for the baybees and gossiping? Is it some more sophisticated argument about social views, roles, recognition, etc.? Or something else sailing over my little head?
-----

More on topic - well, basically, what dr. b said. Also, Amanda responds here.

* Of course, the rooks originally were mammoths.

now_what, please see - for whatever it's worth - my 9:24 comment, a response to your mass-murdering/chess playing bit.

What's your point, btw?

I responded to your comment.

My point? Maybe I don't have one, I'm asking questions here, I'm trying to understand.

I wonder if Darwin had much the same reaction reading Wallace?

Are men who get in a boxing ring with someone twice their weight abused?

All the famous chess players and all the infamous mass murderers are male. Why?

No one argues with [the fact that almost all serial murderers are male]. Why is that?

Why don't women sit in the attic for decades going to war with Fermat?

I don't have a point, I have a sense of wonder.

Wow. Terrific post, Hilzoy. Thank you.

Thisby: Your comments made my heart skip a few beats. (Bad enough to abuse a woman -- but a pregnant woman, that's unfathomable. The terror you felt must have been immeasurable.) God bless.

This sets off alarm bells for me:

Although the experience sounds awful, there is a gendered structural inequality in strength and size that makes physical violence different in kind than even that terrible verbal assault, for purposes of political analysis.

It sounds as if she is trying to claim a special victimhood for women, even in the face of mountains of stats that say otherwise.

Making this a gender issue won't solve any problems. Quite the contrary. In fact, it might be more enlightening to ask why men stay in these abusive relationships, given (I assume people like Linda would not disagree) that men do not have the handicaps that are generally assumed for women.

This is - it bears repeating - an illness or a defect in the faculty of judgment. It's right up there with people buying $30 worth of lotto tickets out of a weekly budget of $100, with people who won't pay any of their bills because they can't pay oall of them. And that's just with numbers, where the data is simple, objective, and right there. Judgments involving interpersonal relationships are notoriously much more difficult.

Here's a relatively easy one: You're in a bad mood, your SO is likewise feeling sour. You pick at them all evening just because you're in that kind of a mood, and then you realize that if you say just one more unkind word, the waffle iron, dishes, a table lamp, something is going to fly. You go ahead and say it anyway.

Whose fault is it? This is not a hard question, but the fact that people will quite vigorously disagree shows that these sorts of issues are not easy to resolve.

Why don't women sit in the attic for decades going to war with Fermat?

Posted by: now_what

That's a separate issue, I would think. I certainly can't see any connections.

ScentOfViolets: I do not think that you have to be making excuses for anyone, or totally into sexism, to think that the fact that one party is typically capable of physically overpowering and killing the other, but not conversely, makes a difference in the dynamics. I'm not saying how important I think it is, I;m certainly not saying it's the only salient difference around; but I think it is a difference.

Well, now_what, we appear to be playing time-lag tag. Sorry.

"We're talking about women, having been treated violently, choosing to stay. "

Ok (although "choosing" is in some circumstances . . . but whatever). I understand that. What I don't understand is what you were trying to say with your boxing match =?= abuse analogy. Perhaps you could explain?

"And I thank you for proving my point with your list of anonymous chess players. Good job!"

Aww, I always enjoy recognition! You haven't even heard of the Polgar sisters, though? Even I've heard of them, and I don't know nuthin'. Of course, I'd guess for the U.S. public at large, a huge chunk simply's never heard of any big chess names, with another smaller chunk recognizing Fischer, Kasparov, Deep Blue . . So I'm not entirely sure what your point is. (shrugs)

"But that's what men do. . . . A lot of them do, anyway."
Coming up next: Some. And then: a possibly unrepresentative minority!

And of course, that's what women do to - some of them anyway. In Mrs. S.'s case, for example, working with children. Although perhaps that doesn't count as a peculiar talent for some reason. Now whether proclivity and peculiarity are on average more common in males - well, it could be so, I'm sure.

" I mean what I get out of this thread is that when it benefits women, we should treat men and women the same, and when it benefits women, we should treat men and women differently.

So apparently your peculiar talent is getting things out of comment threads that are too subtle for anyone else to see?


Unfortunately, hilzoy, that appears to be a presumption, and not something supported by data.[1] You can go with that presumption if you wish - but don't build any sort of theory out of that presumption without giving it some really hard knocks first.[2]

I could just as easily say there's a qualitative difference in kind for men because the isolation they face is in some sense qualitatively different. Why not go with that presumption instead of Linda's?

[1]In particular, it also seems to be the case that when women batter, they do so with a weapon. Men are more likely to use their bare hands. You can get into the back-and-forth all you want on this one, but it seems - to my mind at any rate - to be obscuring the essential point.

[2]As another poster points out, this is again not particularly a gender issue. Children are smaller than adults, and even among men who come into conflict there are different sizes. And without talking out of school, I will note that I myself weigh quite a few pounds less than my daughter's mother.

Dan S: back in the day, virtually every chess player I knew had a crush on one Polgar or another, what with their being, at that time, virtually the only women playing at that level.

Just to be clear, Hilzoy, while physical differences obviously do indeed make a difference in 'dynamics' as you say in some cases, what I am pointing out is that Linda says that this is a difference in kind (and for political purposes, which in itself sets off a different warning tone.)

A difference in kind? Really? That seems to be a considerable presumption to make, not just across a class of relationships, but in the ordering of importance as well. Like I said, warning bells.

virtually the only women playing at that level

Huh. Why WAS that?

"Why don't women sit in the attic for decades going to war with Fermat?"

Because the Woolf's at the door? (There's also ideas about autism and the "male brain" put forward by Borat's cousin, which are interesting, though iirc some of the questions that look at systemizing are looking solely at traditionally male ways of being all systematicy within traditionally male domains; in other words, not gender neutral, at least yet. (See also Haidts' moral foundations work, which defines purity, loyalty and authority in specifically 'conservative' ways, and perhaps coincidentally finds that conservatives score much higher in these areas). But now I'm wandering way off of a topic that's far too important to do that to, so.)

now_what: I have no idea. As I said, though, it was not what you'd call a welcoming environment. But I think the interesting question to ask would be: is there a gender skew in the kids who are encouraged to play competitive chess at about age 7? Because that was about the latest anyone in that bunch had started.

As I said, though, it was not what you'd call a welcoming environment

Wasn't a welcoming environment for the males either, it was simulated combat.

But I think the interesting question to ask would be: is there a gender skew in the kids who are encouraged to play competitive chess at about age 7?

See, that's where I think you go off into the weeds. I didn't need encouragement.

If there is a gender skew, it is not due to encouragement. No one had to encourage me to play chess. I locked onto it with laser eyes. Why did I do that, and other people did not?

I'm with Sarah at 9:26PM. As long as the world is as messed up as it is, asking the question "Why doesn't she leave?" carries with it the idea that a woman must be a better/smarter/more self-aware person than she would have to be in a sane society. It carries this whether we ask the question as a simple expression of puzzlement or frustration, or whether we ask it from an earnest desire for answers. Maybe this is what Marcotte was getting at by saying that we're engaging in batterer assistance.

I participated once in a class for batterers. Of all the men who started the class while I was there, not one expressed feelings of guilt -- not even a "I know it's wrong to hit my wife/girlfriend, but..." in the course of excusing themselves. Their "How I Ended Up Here" stories all revolved around how their situations were exceptional, and how their wives or girlfriends were the cause of the problem ("She pushes my buttons", "She tries to make me blow up", etc.). Excluding those who had received prior counseling, not one was cognizant of the role of control in his abuse. Not one saw his S.O. as an autonomous individual. Not one had a working grasp of the concept of mutual respect.

It's anecdotal evidence, obviously, but it chills the blood. We have to do more than be angry at these people. And it makes me queasy to think about even unintentionally setting a bar for the women who are in abusive relationships.

I love this post and all the comments, but the whole difference-between-men-and-women part [except the funny stories about chess players] is boring and annoying and irrelevant to the points about the nature of abuse and staying or going.

Why do we even need to discuss it? So we can profile better? I agree with ScentOfViolets on this issue. And even if it IS a difference in kind, even if God came down and presented an exhaustive record on who did more abusing and what kind of abusing was it, the men or the women, free of speculation on reporting [God could also tell us who underreported more, in total numbers and as a percentage of the total victim group by gender!]--

-- SO WHAT? There's not a reward at the end, so why are we having a contest?

What does it have to do with why people stay?

hilzoy - I now have an image of inebriated grandmasters, drunk on little bottles of vodka, serenading one or another of the Polgars by the flickering light of burning pillows.

It's an oddly heartwarming image.

"now_what: I have no idea"
Oh, c'mon! Clearly competitive chess in one of those things Women Are Just Not Cut Out For, like reading higher education running a business medicine law politics biology chemistry astronomy physics&math the highest ranks of physics/math achievement. Obviously.

"Here's a relatively easy one: You're in a bad mood, your SO is likewise feeling sour. You pick at them all evening just because you're in that kind of a mood, and then you realize that if you say just one more unkind word, the waffle iron, dishes, a table lamp, something is going to fly. You go ahead and say it anyway.
Whose fault is it?

SoV, this is a good question, and one I've often pondered (albeit without the threat of aerodynamic consequences) - but do you think this is the best context for it?


Great post, btw, hilzoy - I should have mentioned that ;). It's weird to think of this issue in the context of acting without choosing.

Scent of Violets,

our entire system of common and legislative laws believes that physical violence is in a special class that requires criminal charges to be laid. There is nothing gendered about that belief, it is a system that has existed since before women had legal standing in a court of law at all.

In any situation of male on male violence that comes before the courts (at least in British-derived legal systems), there is a standard where the larger man is supposed to "know their own strength" and refrain from using it to take advantage of the smaller man, unless the smaller man has a weapon and the larger man does not. Even if one man has a weapon the other is expected to only use force sufficient to disarm him. "Excessive force" from the stronger person, even in self-defence, is not legally acceptable.

I know that this varies in some jurisdictions (apparently in some US areas it is legal to kill someone with impunity just because they are standing on your property - how utterly barbaric) but nonetheless this is a long-standing legal standard - physical violence has a special place in our legal system for a reason, whereas emotional abuse is covered under civil codes rather than criminal codes.

So when people say that physical bullying via violence is worse than emotional bullying via manipulation, they are merely applying a long-standing legal standard. There is not a gender standard in bullying, there is a physical effects standard, and bruises and broken bones have always trumped emotional effects.

Here are your citations....not equal numbers but relevant regardless. Many men do not report abuse. I'm not going to argue which is worse - violence is violence. Women kill their partners too. It is not "men" that are inherently bad, it's the social constructs were in our boys are nurtured. Teach your sons and change the world.


* In a 1995-1996 study conducted in the 50 States and the District of Columbia, nearly 25% of women and 7.6% of men were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or dating partner/acquaintance at some time in their lifetime (based on survey of 16,000 participants, equally male and female).

Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes, U.S. Dep't of Just., NCJ 181867, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, at iii (2000), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/181867.htm

* Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes, U.S. Dep't of Just., NCJ 183781, Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, at iv (2000), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/183781.htm

So women physically abuse men as severely as men abuse women, they just stop short of killing them. Or maybe we're REALLY REALLY GOOD at not getting caught.

That is fucking bullshit.

Those conflict studies use very problematic measuring tactics which are debunked pretty thoroughly.

For example, the Feminism 101 blog quotes lengthy excerpts from an article written by one of the study authors (Gelles) and a brief denial from Straus, that their joint study with Steinmetz means that men and women are equally physically abusive. http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/faq-but-doesnt-evidence-show-that-women-are-just-as-likely-to-batter-their-partners-as-men/

Here is a description of an actual encounter, scored using the conflict tactics scale. (Trigger warning.) http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/wifebeating.htm

Also, keep in mind, hitting back is not DV. It is self defense.

That is not to say that men are not subject to both physical and non-physical domestic violence, and it wouldn't surprise me that if (like sexual violence against men) it is vastly underreported. It may be even more dramatically underreported than it is against women.

I'm sorry to hear that you've also been on the receiving end of domestic abuse, Hilzoy.

I would say that I was lucky that the abuse my ex-wife subjected me to was strictly emotional (with one exception), but it took me almost an entire decade before I was capable of forming a lasting relationship again, and I still find it difficult, even painful, to bring it up, even in discussions like this one.

In retrospect, I would guess that the main reason I stayed was that I was convinced that if our marriage broke up I would wind up alone, and nobody else would ever want me.

tigtog: So when people say that physical bullying via violence is worse than emotional bullying via manipulation, they are merely applying a long-standing legal standard.

No, I'm saying that because I've experienced emotional bullying via manipulation, and it was bad, but when my best friend's girlfriend hit her, that was both emotional bullying and physical bullying - being hit, in the context of a relationship, is not just about the physical damage. Being put in fear of your life is not just about the physical damage.

When I say that a mental abuser is less bad than a physical abuser, I mean that it is less bad because the mental abuser is at least inflicting only mental damage: the physical abuser is inflicting both physical and mental damage.

Only read half the thread, but I did notice the 'men are abused too' comments. Obviously. But it's different. I don't know if my relationship was abusive - in either direction, but it may have been, depends on your definitions and perspective. She would start punching me during long drawn out nasty arguments. By that point in the argument neither of us was being substantive, just angry, hurt and acting like assholes. She'd be aggressive, insulting, deprecating and screaming, I'd be passive aggressive - sarcasm, silence, etc.

When the punching would start I'd typically just move away and tell her to stop. If it continued I'd grab her wrists and immobilize her - I'm not the strongest guy, but as is typical of men, I was considerably stronger than her. If that didn't work I'd either leave the apartment or lock myself in the bathroom. But eventually I'd want to come out, or it was late or whatever. If she was still punching, or if I was then woken up on the spare mattress by kicks to my ribs, I would punch her once on the arm or leg (whichever was closer). This generally worked to stop it.

Was I being abused? If the genders, and the strength ratios were reversed I'd say yes. (Also the case of the one incident I personally know of where you can make the argument that a woman raped a man) As it is, I don't know. It may even be that both of us were abusing each other. Or neither. I just don't know. This lasted for years - we genuinely loved each other, and while the arguments got more frequent, and over more and more trivial things, in between there was that incredible joy of being with someone you love and are amazingly compatible with. She eventually left me, arguing that we were destroying each other. She was right, but at the time I was despondent and became suicidally depressed. Not sure what my point is, just a a bit of personal anecdotal data.

"So women physically abuse men as severely as men abuse women, they just stop short of killing them. Or maybe we're REALLY REALLY GOOD at not getting caught."

Or maybe when the police get called in, they're Hilzoy in drag, and the guy with the knife wounds gets arrested, and the woman with the knife is assumed to be the victim. After all, she says she was using the knife to fight him off, must be true, right?

There's a lot of confirmation bias warping the statistics.

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