Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Domestic violence against men on TV

Here's a couple of interesting examples from British TV cop shows - one a comedy, one a drama.

The first is a 1996 episode of The Thin Blue Line, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson's sitcom. Inspector Fowler discovers that CID have planted evidence on a suspect, and collaborates with the defence barrister, the Mayoress, to throw the case. His girlfriend, Sergeant Dawkins, hears a recording of their discussions and gets the impression that Fowler is cheating on her with the Mayoress. So far, so farce. Then Fowler arrives home. Dawkins asks him to remove his cycling helmet, and picks up a rolling pin. Laughter. End credits.

The second is from a 2007 episode of The Bill. A young man is hospitalised with head injuries. After investigating race and gang-related angles, the cops discover he was attacked by his girlfriend, who has a history of violence against intimate partners, and who hit him on the back of the head with a brick when he turned his back on her in an argument. She justifies her behaviour on the grounds that her authoritarian father and brother always ignored her. He refuses to press charges against her, swears he's nothing like her father and brother, and promises he'll listen to her.

I shudder to think what we would have made of either of these if the gender of the abuser and the abused were switched. If it was implied a man hit his girlfriend because he got the impression, wrongly, that she was cheating on him - and that was the punchline of a joke? If a man hit his girlfriend because she wouldn't listen to him, and the matter was resolved with her promising to listen to him in future?

Now here's a couple of stories from real life.

A former co-worker of mine once came into work with a cut on the top of his bald head. Everybody thought this was rather amusing. Eventually another co-worker wheedled it out of him that his wife had hit him on the head with a cast iron frying pan. He told everybody, and everybody thought this was hilarious. I bit my tongue. A few years later, after he'd retired, the incident came up again, and everybody laughed. This time, I spoke up. A frying pan was a very heavy weapon - would we find it funny if he'd hit her with it? That brought people up short. One female co-worker recalled how she'd once hit her husband with a frying pan. He'd been stuck in traffic and was desperate for a pee, and had rushed past her rather than explain why he was late home from work. She didn't really connect, so no real harm was done, but she was horrified at what she'd nearly done, and taken it as a sign she needed to control her temper.

A friend of mine had a string of medium-term girlfriends in his twenties. He told me they'd all asked him early on the relationship if a man should ever hit a woman, and he'd said no, not under any circumstances - and they'd all hit him. Nothing serious, just slaps, "playful" punches on the arm, but regular and systematic, and designed to get points across. Until one girlfriend asked him, and he said maybe, if she hit him first - and she never did.