Violent men and nurturing women?

I will never forget one of the first things we had to read in the first feminism class I took. It was an argument claiming that women should do all the childcare, because men are too selfish and warlike to look after children. Just one of the daft things people have said to explain why we shouldn’t be allowed to work or leave the house. But the picture of men as violent meat-heads, and women as nurturing and peaceful is firmly lodged in many heads. The recent news that women were more greatly involved in the Nazi holocaust than previously thought, has thus come as a surprise to many. You can read more about it here – but be warned: as one might expect, it’s not a happy read.

EDITED TO ADD: It occurred to me that this post might need a bit more commentary. Especially in light of some of the research on domestic violence statistics that has been linked to by commentators. The idea that men are violent and women are nurturing abounds in the minds of many people – feminists, anti-feminists, and feminist-neutral types alike. (It’s not just feminist doctrine, as many writers discussing the issue would have us believe.) My hunch is that we should reject this view, since (i) it’s not at all clear that it’s true, and (ii) it leads to various types of gender injustice, affecting both men and women (and no doubt also those who identify as neither). As I implied at the beginning of this post, it’s been used to justify restricting women’s role to childcarer, and by extension, homemaker. Whilst I’ll fight for women to be able to choose to take up these roles, I’ll also fight for women to have more choices available to them. Correlatively, it’s been used to deny men – or at the very least make it more difficult – the choice of being childcarer and/or homemaker. And I’ll fight for men to have these choices available to them too. It also makes it more dificult for the victims of female domestic violence – whether these be men, lesbian partners, children, and so on. Clearly, these people need to receive the same support as victims of male domestic violence. And we can recognise this without in any way belittling the abuse suffered by the female partners of violent men. So you see, the myth – for I think it is one – of violent men and nurturing women – is harmful to all of us. I posted this in the spirit of dismantling the myth.

33 thoughts on “Violent men and nurturing women?

  1. From Baumeister’s Is There Anything Good About men?:

    “If you look specifically at what happens in close relationships, it turns out women are plenty aggressive in them — if anything, more violent than men. It isn’t politically correct to point it out, but the data are quite solid on this. Women are more likely than men to attack their romantic partners physically — everything from a slap on the face to assault with a deadly weapon… [I]n terms of all relationship partners women initiate slight more aggression than men.” (pp. 89-90)

    He identifies (on p. 288) this as “the definitive review of the literature.”

  2. Thanks for the link. Although the data is not entirely straightforward. There are further studies criticising the methodology used by the study you link to, e.g., this one, and Archer does note that even using the methods applied in the review, it turns out that women are more likely to sustain injury than men.

  3. Well, it’s the punching of *girls* that’s wrong, as opposed to punching *tout court*, right?

    Thanks for the links. Interesting readings.

  4. Thanks for the link. When I have a minute, I will write up a separate post about Irena Sendler.

  5. Rob, the Chronicle article is by a notorious anti-feminist “feminist”. I’d suspect every word, including “and” & “but”.
    (h/t to MMc.)

  6. Yes, barely a paragraph or so into the piece, I suspected the likelihood of the author having an AEI affiliation, but is that good enough reason to wholly dismiss the article, given the specific examples she provides and the praise she maintains for some Women’s Studies scholars?

  7. Some people still take Roger Scruton seriously, but that does not mean his arguments are worthwhile in general. (He is, by the way, also an AEI fellow.)

    I suspect the people who take Hoff-Sommers seriously are an extremely small number, whether they’re Women’s Studies scholars or not…

  8. AC: I think Rob’s point has more to do with the facts that HS claims are bunk. Those are specific claims, and should be fairly easily verifiable. Whatever her agenda (and it certainly doesn’t seem particularly helpful to me), those claims should be evaluated with reference to the facts they claim to represent, rather than how bunk (or not) her work is in general. The Rome-claims are obviously less important, but the claim that 20-35% of female emergency patients in the US are victims of domestic violence is an important one, as is HS’s claim that it is in fact closer to 1%.

    If we take seriously the claims made in the NPR interview linked to by Lydia, then at least some doubt would be cast on the 20-35% figure, even if that was indeed what the stats said. It’s easy enough to see how a figure stating that 20-35% of female emergency-room visits were due to violent aggression can accidentally turn into a domestic violence stat, which would be inappropriate.

    I’ve looked around for some confirmation of either claims (HS’s, or the ones she’s trying to debunk), but I’m having a surprisingly hard time finding anything other than hearsay. Of course, I know next to nothing about the subject, and am probably looking in the wrong places. I did find a few stats sympathetic to the position of the man interviewed by NPR in Lydia’s link, however (courtesy of the JAMA, StatsCan, and the US Department of Justice).

  9. Rob, i don’t think she has much credibility, & so I am suspicious of her negative claims, versions of events.

  10. I didn’t find Sommers arguments very convincing either. She had 3 somewhat valid criticisms, and the last 2 were weaker than the first.

    Romulus didn’t exist–which doesn’t weaken the detrimental effects of the “rule of thumb” on women’s lives through the course of history. Who cares where the rule came from?

    The other 2 were misreported statistics in how many thousand pages of feminist research?

    Then she gave an extremely emotional and vague account of the falsity of comparing American abusers to Ugandans with green squares. Ok, so where are the numbers? Sommers does nothing to counter the claims.

    Then she went on a paragraphs long rant with subjective terms like propaganda, myth, falsehood, sophistry and the rest, without actually referring to any specific false, mythology based claims.

    She concludes by saying:
    1) You people are liars
    2) Public policy is based on claims that are no longer true (again without saying what is true)
    3)You’ve offended me. I’m not a metonymic hystriologist.

    Sommers, if it quacks like a duck…

  11. @j a f p #6: Beautiful story. Just when I was about to dismiss all religious people as whackjobs, you give me Irena Sendler’s version of faith hope&charity, and a real account of good work done by the Catholic church. It’s nice to hear that for a change.

  12. Thanks, Xena. I am internet challenged today & don’t fancy picking out a long message on my iphone. But here’s one worry. On CHS’s account, a very small % of women showing up in emergeny rooms have been abused by their partners. But what is she counting? The percentage of women willing to press charges? That might be low indeed, but it probably is not indicative of actual abuse rates.

    Similarly, if a large % of women being beaten up resist at all, perhaps one can count them as co-abusers. She needs her broken ribs taped, but he has scratches that need iodine or whatever.

    Figures are malleable.

    Similarly, the US comes out v. badly on women’s rights. Not because a doctor who refuses to perform abortions is just like a rapist, but because the proportion of women in leadership positions is comparatve v low, etc.

  13. This sounds way too fishy: “I have looked into your assertions and requested documentation from Joan Zorza regarding the March of Dimes study and the statistics on battered women in emergency rooms. She provided both of these promptly.”

    It’s especially fishy in light of Sommers’ saying that the issue is not so much that the book contains mistakes but that there is complete refusal to acknowledge or correct them.

    Either Lemon or Sommers has something they’re hiding, or it just didn’t occur to Lemon that it’d be a good idea to forward the documentation to Sommers. Any of the three possibilities would be depressing.

    I wouldn’t dismiss this as insignificant because it’s just about two claims in the book, the issue is academic integrity.

  14. jj:

    It seemed clear to me in the linked article that CHS is only counting the number of women who present at American emergency wards and indicate that they have been the victims of a partner’s violence. I cannot, however, find confirmation for her 1% claim from the sources she gives. In fact, I’ve found nothing at all about emergency rooms, but doubtless that speaks more to my own ignorance and inadequate research skills than anything else. If someone else can find it, that would be nice.

    According to Lydia’s link, women initiate aggression between 50-70% of the time. Of those times, women are more likely to initiate that aggression with some sort of weapon (wine bottle, knife, etc.), and to do so from an advantaged position (at night while he’s sleeping, when he walks in the door, etc.). I should stress again that I know very little about this at all, but I did find a number of stats from credible sources that support at least some of the claims made in that link. I wasn’t able to verify it all, but that’s certainly still an indication that the claims have at least some veracity.

    Here’s some of what I did find. The CDC indicates that women suffer about 4.8 million instances of “intimate partner assault and rape” a year; by contrast, men experience 2.9 million instances of “intimate partner assaults” (rape is not included). That figure alone, I think, should give us pause. While domestic assaults on women still predominate, it would seem that men still account for about 38% of domestic violence victims, which is a high figure (certainly higher than I expected). It also lends some credence to the other claims being made, although some of these do seem exaggerated (like the 1% stat).

    For non-fatal IP assaults (2001), the BJS seems to peg these at 15% for men. Fatal assaults (2001) go up to 26% for men. Overall, then, the BJS puts violence against men in 2001 at about 15% of cases reported. So it looks like there’s something of a margin of error there, a bit of a gray zone.

    What I do want to point out is that the malleability of the stats can cut both ways: it may be that women are more likely to visit the emergency room than men, more willing to acknowledge that they have been abused, men are charged even when they’re the victims and call the police or when the violence is clearly mutual, etc.

  15. I should clarify that my last post is purely addressed to the content of jj’s last post. I don’t think that jj is wrong at all, but I do feel that a little more caution is necessary in proceeding (well, a little more than what I felt from jj’s post). Again, I’m not well informed on the topic, and I suspect most of you know far more than I do. Based on what I’ve seen, though, it certainly looks like the claims made by Fathers and Families are pretty credible, which in turn might lend some credence to CHS’s claims.

  16. MX, I agree that we want to get an accurate picture, so I do appreciate your remarks. And research on an iphone is hard.

    I did google “cdc women violence emergency”. Lots of results. They paint an interesting picture. Not that the chron article was aiming for, I think.

  17. Click to access Preventing_IPV_SV.pdf

    “Clinical data indicate that 22%–37% of emergency-room visits made by women are for injuries sustained from domestic violence, and 75% of these women are likely to be re-victimized (5)”

    “5. Koss MP, Heslet L. Somatic consequences of
    violence against women. Arch Fam Med 1992

  18. That said, I looked at the referenced paper, searched for all instances of “%”, “percent” and “emergency” and nothing there is about the fraction of emergency visits related to abuse. Maybe someone would be willing to read through the whole article to make sure.

  19. Neither is there anything about the 75% revictimization claim.

    This doesn’t mean those statistics are wrong, but a cdc document making claims and giving a citation which doesn’t have anything about those claims might explain how false information (if it is false, which remains to be seen) spreads.

    Sorry for the several posts, I should’ve gotten it all at once :-)

  20. lol, disregard my previous posts, I’m a moron, I didn’t realize that pdf contained several articles each with their own list of references!

  21. I’m now looking at some of the appropriate references. One is
    Warshaw C. Domestic violence: challenges to medical practice. In: Dan AJ, editor. Reframing women’s health: multidisciplinary research
    and practice. Thousand Oaks, (CA): Sage Publications; 1994. p. 201–15.
    I don’t have access to that.

    Another is:
    Abbott J, Johnson R, Koziol-McLain J, Lowenstein S. Domestic violence against women: incidence and prevalence in an emergency department population. J Am Med Assoc 1995;273:1763–7
    I also don’t have access to that.

    Another is:
    A study of battered women presenting in an emergency department. S V McLeer and R Anwar Am J Public Health. 1989 January; 79(1): 65–66.
    This found 30%, but it was of trauma victims (I assume not all emergency room admissions are trauma victims, though I don’t know much about the terminology) and based on a sample in one emergency department “located in the inner city and primarily served a lower socioeconomic, Black population.”

    Randall M, Haskall L. Sexual violence in women’s lives. Violence Against Women 1995;1:6–31.
    The pdf I got for it isn’t searchable, so I don’t know what it might say on the topic, but the study is based on interviews of 420 women in Toronto in their homes.

  22. I’ve started exercising at the gym lately at a time when Jerry Springer or some similar show is on. The women on that show are certainly willing to be violent and instigate violence, but I both suspect and hope that they might not be a representative example!

  23. Just to clarify: I am not familiar with anything else by Lemon, Sommers, or Zorza. I find the 22-35% figure dubious, simply because I assume the fraction of emergency department admissions due to any kind of violence is small, but that is sheer speculation. Either way, though, this shouldn’t be too hard to settle given access to a good library (which I don’t have at the moment), and I do think it’s worthwhile, since fact-checking is an essential part of scholarship.

  24. I read one of Hoff-Sommers’ papers on how radical feminism is a waste of time and that we should just stuck to gradualist, liberal feminism because that gets proven results. Never mind that these results are often primarily legalistic, which is not in and of itself sufficient for feminist goals, it seems to me. If I recall correctly she also admonishes Wollstonecraft and de Beauvoir for various things she found to be too harsh, and praised Susan B. Anthony. This is not surprising, as I get the impression Hoff-Sommers is one of those “feminists” who thinks feminism has made itself irrelevant now that ‘equality has been achieved’ and so we do not need sweeping social change that de Beauvoir and Wollstonecraft (and countless other radicals) agitate and argue for convincingly.

    I don’t remember what article this was, but I do recall a friend of mine telling me that Nussbaum spends a not-insignificant amount of time tearing Hoff-Sommers’ flimsy arguments up in one of her books — the title of which I also forget! Does anyone know what book this was?

  25. I found the Warshaw article, turns out it was published earlier as
    CAROLE WARSHAW. Journal of Women’s Health. Spring 1993, 2(1): 73-80. Give that this article uses those exact numbers 22-35% and gives several references for it instead of one, it seems likely this is where that claim originated. The question then is what is actually in those references.

    It gives 5 references for the claim:
    Appleton W. The battered woman syndrome. Ann Emerg Med 1980:9:84

    Goldberg WG, Tomlanovich MC. Domestic violence victims in the emergency department. New findings. JAMA 1984;251:3259

    McLeer SV, Anwar R (mentioned in comment above)

    Stark E, Flitcraft A, Frazier W. Medicine and patriarchal violence: the social construction of a “private” event. Int J Health Serv 1979;9:461.

    Stark E, Flitcraft A, Zuckerman D, Gray A, Robison J, Frazier W. Wife abuse in the medical setting: An introduction for health personnel. Monogrpah 7. Washington, DC: Office of Domestic Violence. 1981.

  26. I’d check these out myself, but my e-journal subscriptions don’t go nearly that far back, except for the mcleer and anwar article which I already looked at.

  27. Just one last thing regarding phrasing. The article says:
    “Studies indicate that battered women comprise 22%-35% of women seeking care for any reason in emergency departments, 14%-28% of women seen in ambulatory medical clinics, and 23% of women seeking routine prenatal care.”
    The last bit in particular suggests this is not about the fraction of visits due to abuse, but rather the fraction of the women visiting who have been abused (unclear over what time period). On the other hand, the article in which cites this paper has the other phrasing.

  28. Jamr: you need to provide some solid evidence for the general claims you make. It is important to show your claims are not just personal prejudices.

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