The Numbers on Assault: An Argument for the New Chivalry
by Dick McGowan, Ph.D.
Years ago, I argued for a double standard for men and women with regard to domestic violence. I’d become familiar with a 25-year study by Gelles and Strauss, presented in “Violence in American Families,” which showed that “women assault their partners at about the same rate as men assault their partners. This applies to major and minor assault.” (162) I also read Claire Renzetti’s “Violent Betrayal,” which said lesbians showed the same rate of domestic violence as the rate for heterosexual couples.
Nonetheless, both popular narratives and governmental policy treated the matter of domestic violence in a bifurcated manner: Men are perpetrators of violence and women are victims, exclusively. Of course, any narrative or policy that presents such a view is positively unkind to gay men and lesbian women, for they do not fit neatly into the bifurcation and thus would lose protections.
So what should we do with evidence that women are as likely as men to initiate violence in the domicile? I concluded that even if a woman struck a man first, he cannot retaliate in kind. There had to be a double standard, one for women and one for men, in terms of retaliation.
Think of it this way: If my wife threw a frying pan at me, she’d likely miss — and even if she did connect, I stood a good chance of getting back up. On the other hand, growing up as I did when baseball was king, were I to throw a frying pan at her, I’d likely not miss and the damage would be significant.
Men have to learn restraint. They cannot retaliate even if a woman starts it. Men typically have too much power by way of their secondary sex characteristics.
They also have “social power.” Al Franken and Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein had the kind of cache that enabled them to use women to their own advantage. Unlike chivalric knights of the medieval period of time, men who harass women are undisciplined, discourteous, disrespectful beasts.
The problem with the aforementioned beasts is that people are entirely too quick to blame the lot of men when only a handful of men do the harassing. Too often, journalists write about one or two celebrities and quickly use the word “men”; it is more accurate to say “many men” or “some men.”
In their defense, many men lived their formative years during the 1990s. In 1995, Susan Brownmiller warned the readers of her book, “Against Our Will,” that “the typical American rapist might be the boy next door” (189). In 1992, Mike Tyson was found guilty of rape, and newspaper headlines blared, “Tyson Guilty; Victory for Women,” as though men do not want rapists to go unpunished.
If you want to do your own experiment, just ask a married man, “Do you want your wife raped?” The likely answer: “Of course not; what a stupid question.” In other words, the headlines should have added, “Victory for Men.” Better still, simply “Victory for Justice.”
In our current climate, though, we are likely to see more generalized negative claims about men, all men, though most men condemn sexual harassment and though 16.6 percent of harassment claims are filed by men, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Perhaps men have more of an obligation to speak out against the kind of sexual harassment that newspapers have been reporting. Maybe there is a double standard for speaking out, too. For example, years ago, I was running on the Monon Trail and two gals biked past me. One said, “You have the most beautiful calves I’ve ever seen.” A year or two after that incident, I was bicycling on Carmel roads when two gals zoomed by in a Jeep. “Nice butt” one of them yelled.
I never would have said such things to a female stranger, but that may be how a double standard works.
I said nothing, but I would speak out against beasts who demean women. Do women wish that men defend them? In an age of sensitivity, would women resent men for helping protect them against beasts? I’m not sure, but I’ll take the risk and use what power I may have on behalf of those less fortunate and those aggrieved.
It’s what proper men do.
Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, taught philosophy and ethics cores for 42 years, including years at St. Joseph’s College and Butler University.