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.


  1. I also know of some awful abuse that men have suffered at the hands of women. It is difficult enough for women ( still the vast majority of abuse victims ) to get the support they need. I dread to think how hard it is for men with current social attitudes. No-one should have to put up with any of this; sexual, emotional, physical or whatever abuse. I'd like to see more funding for support groups, more awareness in the workplace and more discussion about the issues, sign symptoms and what we can do to support people. It's never Funny.

  2. The main thing I'd like to see is more compassion for abused men. Services and support groups and the like would be brilliant, but none of it's going to happen until attitudes change.

    Incidentally, I can see how you'd get that impression from the media, but it's an overstatement to say the "vast majority" of abuse victims are female. According to Parity it's about 60-40. Although I would imagine the most serious injuries are those inflicted my men on women just because of the size difference.

    One problem is, we've defined domestic violence as male-on-female, so if a woman stabs her husband and claims he emotionally abused her, we instinctively count his alleged emotional abuse as domestic violence, but not her actual physical violence.

  3. Hearts and minds. What television teaches about gender in domestic violence is in unsettling company with general social studies. Such misconceived perspectives have been going around for forty entrenched years, were the media circus has been making a celebrity out of abuse. They better get out a new one if they can't lend a hand..

  4. Do you mean social studies say the same thing as TV, or that they say different? I hope the latter - eventually it must filter out from academia to the general public.

  5. I've been saying for along time about the double standards on Tv even lately, some stuff would make you cringe tbh - I'd never intentionally hit anyone be they male or female but once my husband woke me out of a deep sleep by tickling my foot and by pure reflex I kicked him square into the stomach- I felt dreadful that I had done it even though he was laughing about it!
    My mom often brags about putting a dent in a frying pan with my dads head- but weirdly he's kind of proud that the frying pan came out the worst in the fight, his sister also stabbed him with a butter knife and he shows off the scar, it's a very weird double standard. No fella wants to admit that a woman hurt him - no matter how badly but there would be court cases if it had been the other way around!

  6. I work for local government and was disgusted at new guidelines that define mental, financial and emotional abuse as "domestic violence". As someone who has witnessed domestic violence, I feel this actually softens the impact of the term violence...the above abuses are serious and should be seen as abuse, but as abuse not violence.

    As to percentages of perpetrators of DV, its very hard to ascertain facts as so much goes unreported. There are certainly more women killed by their spouses (a shocking number each year) or fleeing DV but who knows if this is an accurate view of the problem?