Showing posts with label michael kimmel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label michael kimmel. Show all posts

Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Men Hitting Women

I'm in the middle of reading Michael Kimmel's Angry White Men, which David Futrelle recently reviewed.  I'm getting a lot out of it; it's especially interesting to read about the phenomenon of domestic violence from a male, rather than a female, perspective.  For example, Kimmel points out that men use violence at home in an attempt to restore control they have already lost.  This is a slightly different angle than feminists take, who typically recognize a fairly simplistic strong male perpetrator / weak female victim dynamic, but it resonates deeply with my own experience.

Not that I've ever been in a relationship in which a man struck me.  Well, let me say that once a man I was living with slapped me across the face, hard enough to make my ear ring, but the relationship was pretty much over (I was in the process of finding my own apartment) when it happened, and I recall being quite stunned -- like, Are you fucking kidding me?   I simply turned around and walked away, and he didn't pursue until later in the evening, when he began to scream at me from the bottom of the stairwell (because I had announced I was turning off the utilities in the house, which were in my name).  In the midst of his tantrum, he suddenly fell and clutched his chest.  "I'm having a heart attack!" he cried dramatically.  

I calmly watched him writhe and moan from the top of the stairs as he lay in a fetal position.  I wondered how long I would need to wait before I called 911, in order to make sure he was really dead.  He stopped twitching, and became quiet.  After two carefully counted minutes, I decided to leave the house for a while, hoping to return a few hours later to find him cold where he lay at the bottom of the stairwell.

It didn't turn out that way, of course.  As far as I know, he's still very much alive.  The last I heard from him was when he sent me an invitation to his wedding a few months later.  He sent it to let me know he knew where I lived, to remind me that he still had some "control" in our relationship.  I just laughed and tossed it in the trash.  I wasn't afraid of him at that point.  I reckoned that if he had given in to his impulse to kill me, he would have bludgeoned me as I slept in the house we had shared.  In fact, I had always found him ridiculously, contemptibly weak, and he recognized that, which is why he hated me as much as he did. 

This is probably the worst story I can tell on myself.  Friends never fail to express shock and dismay at my cold-hearted behavior.  I'll admit I enjoy telling the story too because of others' reaction.  I suppose it's an indirect way to let them know about the darkest part of my personality.  So now you know why the pseudonym "La Strega" fits me so well; it's not just because I am "bewitching."

I didn't come from a family where men struck women.  My father never hit my mother.  Neither of my grandfathers ever hit my grandmothers.  It's impossible to imagine.  And it's not because these women couldn't be maddening, manipulative, and mean to their men.  It's because I came from a family where being a man was all about being in control, and obviously, a man who has to resort to violence is a man who has allowed his emotions to rule, and has thereby forfeited the perfect control which is his masculine responsibility.  

Neither did my father or either of my grandfathers ever strike their children, or even threaten to.  They never had to, not because we were always good, but because they had so much power in our family that no one dared to challenge their authority.  My father was, in our home, God.  He was, as Joseph Kennedy's daughter described him, "the architect of our lives."  Challenging the authority of my father would have been like dismantling the navigational system of a ship.  It would have been a terrifying, suicidal act of defiance.  And not because he would have punished us, but because, without Daddy, we had nothing.

In my family, it was the women (my mother, her mother, us girls) who were allowed free rein to express their emotions.  Emotional expression was the avenue by which women, not men, communicated.  My mother occasionally spanked us; more often, she threatened to by striking the walls with a wooden spoon, or throwing books and other objects.  Funnily, we were much less afraid of her than we were of our father.  Her lack of self-restraint simply reminded us of how relatively powerless she was.  It confirmed the contempt we already held for her because she was so dependent on our father.  We had already learned that violent displays are the desperate resort of the impotent.

I'm talking physical violence of course.  True, my father never raised a hand toward anyone in his life, and yet his words could eviscerate his opponents.  He hardly ever yelled; it was when he went quiet that the hairs on your arms would start to rise in apprehension. 

And to this day, I am extremely sensitive, and vulnerable, to sarcasm.  And also, truth be told, quite adept at being verbally cruel.

But Kimmel's position about the true power dynamic between violent men and their wives and girlfriends has helped me understand one of the problems I faced as a domestic violence advocate: my lack of true empathy for the female victims.  I just couldn't understand how a woman person could continue to "love" a partner who used violence: not because it was dangerous or painful, but because anyone who "loses it" physically puts himself in a "one down" position.  And why would anyone want to hitch her wagon to that?