FF 2016 Day 1: Violence against women

An everyday problem
When women refuse
How do we treat victims?
Why does he do that?
Male-pattern violence and female-pattern violence
More to think about and resources

For the first day of this project I’m talking about male violence against women- how widespread it is, how it’s treated by the media, and people’s attitudes towards both attackers and victims. If you’re upset by descriptions of violence, please take care when reading this.


In 1989, Marc Lépine walked into a classroom at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, separated the male and female students, and shot all nine women in the room, claiming that he was “fighting feminism.”

In 2006, Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse. He ordered all the boys to leave, along with adult teachers, and then commanded the 11 girls to line up facing the wall. He shot them.

In 2014, a Elliot Rodger made a video proclaiming “I will enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see inside there,” before driving to the Alpha Phi sorority house of UCSB and shooting dead six students.



Male violence against women is endemic, but we don’t talk about it in that way. In our society, we tend to see violence as an individual problem. Men who assault and kill women are described as sick or twisted individuals, as ‘lone wolves,’ or men who ‘lost control’ (when they are reported on at all).

Terrorism is “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” All of the shootings were hate crimes against women. And yet none of these mass-murderers were called terrorists by the media- why?


An everyday problem

Mass shootings often make it into the news, but most male violence against women goes unreported by the mainstream media. In the same week as the Lafayette movie theatre attack, which was widely reported, there were at least 15 other murder-suicides involving guns in the US  which were not reported in the news. Talking about the list of those other 15 murder-suicides, journalist Amanda Marcotte points out:

“If you look down the list of the killings, an unmistakable pattern pops out: “shot and killed his 37-year-old wife … shot and killed his ex-wife … shot and killed his 62-year-old wife … shot and killed his 23-year-old girlfriend … ” and so on. Most of these killings involve men killing women that they were in relationships with, had lost relationships with, or likely wanted relationships with but were rejected.”

Statistically, the men that women should be most scared of are the men they’re dating, married to, or separated from. In England and Wales, every 3 days a woman is killed by a current or former partner. 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will suffer from domestic violence in their lifetimes. Globally, it’s 1 in 3 women.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel says:

“Between one-third and one-half of all women are assaulted by a spouse or partner at some point during their lives.[…] Every six minutes a woman in the United States is raped; every eighteen seconds a woman is beaten, and every day four women are killed by their batterers.[…]

Battery is the single major cause of injury to women in the United States. More than 2,000,000 women are beaten by their partners every year. Between 2,000 and 4,000 women a year are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.” (2005, p.188-192)


male violence


Male violence against women is not a series of isolated incidents carried out by ‘sick’ individuals who ‘lost control,’ or ‘lone wolves.’ There are too many of these men for them all to be ‘lone wolves.’


When women refuse

The website “When Women Refuse” collects stories of violence inflicted on women who reject men’s sexual advances:

A woman files for divorce, and is shot dead; a woman says no to a man and he stabs her to death; a teenage girl breaks up with her boyfriend and he kills her; a woman rejects a man and he kills her 3-year-old daughter; a woman asks a man to stop touching her and he smashes a glass in her face; a woman rejects a man and he murders her; a woman breaks up with her boyfriend and he burns her to death.

rejectionThis kind of violence is a symptom of the way men in our society learn to feel a sense of entitlement which leads them to the conclusion, “If I can’t have her, no-one can.” The period following separation from an abusive partner is the most dangerous for women. 76% of all partner assaults take place after break-up or divorce, with a male perpetrator 93% of the time (Michael Kimmel, 2005, p.193).

Violence against women also takes the form of so-called “honour” killings or beatings in certain communities. Between 2010 and 2014, UK police forces recorded more than 11,000 cases of “honour crime,” mostly against women, including abduction, assault and murder. This is similarly symptomatic of a feeling of entitlement to male control over women.


How do we treat victims?

Victims are often disbelieved if they come forward- look at how Amber Heard was treated by the media after separating from Johnny Depp and coming forward about his abuse of her:


The message this sends: If you have been abused and you tell someone about it, you better look miserable at all times. You can’t go and let your friends cheer you up after you separate from your abuser. If you don’t look like the ‘perfect victim’ at all times we will never believe you.

Even more disturbing is the way the law can turn battered women into criminals. (Warning: graphic descriptions of violence)

One of the questions victims of domestic violence are most often asked is ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ Putting aside some of the other reasons many women aren’t free to leave their abusers, this ignores the fact that the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence is the period after separation or divorce. A woman’s risk of being murdered increases by 75% when they leave an abusive relationship.

Asking victims ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ turns the blame onto them and stops us from asking the more important questions, like ‘Why does he do that?’


Why does he do that?

This is the name of a book by Lundy Bancroft, in which he interviews abusive men and looks at the reasons behind their actions.

Here is an extract from ‘Why Does He Do That?’ which demonstrates the way we often explain away abusive behaviour as ‘loss of control’ or the actions of ‘sick’ individuals or ‘loners’, the way we try to make it seem irrational and unpredictable.

When [an abusive man] tells me that he became abusive because he lost control of himself, I ask him why he didn’t do something even worse. For example, I might say, “You called her a fucking whore, you grabbed the phone out of her hand and whipped it across the room, and then you gave her a shove and she fell down. There she was at your feet where it would have been easy to kick her in the head. Now, you have just finished telling me that you were ‘totally out of control’ at that time, but you didn’t kick her. What stopped you?” And the client can always give me a reason. Here are some common explanations:

“I wouldn’t want to cause her a serious injury.”
“I realized one of the children was watching.”
“I was afraid someone would call the police.”
“I could kill her if I did that.”
“The fight was getting loud, and I was afraid the neighbors would hear.”

And the most frequent response of all:

“Jesus, I wouldn’t do that. I would never do something like that to her.”

The response that I almost never heard – I remember hearing it twice in the fifteen years – was: “I don’t know.”

These ready answers strip the cover off of my clients’ loss of control excuse. While a man is on an abusive rampage, verbally or physically, his mind maintains awareness of a number of questions: “Am I doing something that other people could find out about, so it could make me look bad? Am I doing anything that could get me in legal trouble? Could I get hurt myself? Am I doing anything that I myself consider too cruel, gross, or violent?”

A critical insight seeped into me from working with my first few dozen clients: An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside. I can’t remember a client ever having said to me: “There’s no way I can defend what I did. It was just totally wrong.” He invariably has a reason that he considers good enough. In short, an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong.

I sometimes ask my clients the following question: “How many of you have ever felt angry enough at your mother to get the urge to call her a bitch?” Typically half or more of the group members raise their hands. Then I ask, “How many of you have ever acted on that urge?” All the hands fly down, and the men cast appalled gazes on me, as if I had just asked whether they sell drugs outside elementary schools. So then I ask, “Well, why haven’t you?” The same answer shoots out from the men each time I do this exercise: “But you can’t treat your mother like that, no matter how angry you are! You just don’t do that!”

The unspoken remainder of this statement, which we can fill in for my clients, is: “But you can treat your wife or girlfriend like that, as long as you have a good enough reason. That’s different.” In other words, the abuser’s problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable…


The difference between male violence and female violence

R Emerson Dobash and Russell Dobash and their colleagues, have looked at the patterns of violence carried out by men and violence carried out by women and found very clear differences:

“Men often kill wives after lengthy periods of prolonged physical violence accompanied by other forms of abuse and coercion; the roles in such cases are seldom if ever reversed. Men perpetrate familial massacres, killing spouse and children together; women do not. Men commonly hunt down and kill wives who have left them; women hardly ever behave similarly. Men kill wives as part of planned murder-suicides; analogous acts by women are almost unheard of. Men kill in response to revelations of wifely infidelity; women almost never respond similarly, though their mates are more often adulterous.” (1992, p. 81)


Sociologist Michael Kimmel shows that the proportion of women who are killed by their husband or boyfriend is very different to the proportion of men killed by their wife or girlfriend:

“Between 30 and 40% of all women who are murdered are murdered by husband or boyfriends, according to the FBI […] Another study found that nearly half of all women murdered in New York City were killed by their husbands or boyfriends—only about 3% of all male homicides are committed by wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends.” (2005, p.188-192)


If you want to read more on this: a new study published this year explores in detail the differences between male-pattern deadly violence and female-pattern deadly violence.

Coffee break viewing today: Jackson Katz talks about violence against women and the way we treat it in our society.


Some things to think about

Men who kill their girlfriends or wives tend to get lighter sentences than men who kill strangers- some theorists have called this the “intimacy discount.” What does this tell us about the way society sees male violence against women?

Take a look at this article– can you see anything wrong with it?

How do you see violence in the media, in the street, in the playground? When a little boy pulls a little girl’s hair, how do we deal with it, and what might the consequences be?


More information and articles here:

Some good books on this subject (all PDFs):






  1. I thought feminism was about equality? This article isn’t equality at all, it’s heavily biased.
    How about also mentioning that reports have shown that only around 5% of men report violence/harrasment against them by other women, this is why the statistics are so skewed.
    Or how it is acceptable in society for a woman to beat a man but not the other way around?
    How about mentioning that same sex couples have more reported cases of domestic violence than heterosexual couples?
    Domestic violence is not a gendered issue as you make it out to be.
    It is an issue. Full stop. There should be equal help for both genders (There isn’t).


    1. Hi Peter- perhaps you missed that section, but the article specifically covered (with links to several different empirical studies) the differences between male-pattern and female-pattern violence. Domestic violence is very much a gendered issue, and this is particularly clear when we look at the gender of perpetrators. 75% of perpetrators of domestic violence (covering heterosexual partner, same-sex partner, and family violence) are male. That makes this a gendered issue. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_298904.pdf (This should not be surprising given that most other violent crime is also carried out by men.)
      I fully agree that there should be equal help, proportional to need, for both genders. However, women working to provide help for women is not equivalent to women working against help for men. Raising awareness of violence against women is not the same as saying it’s acceptable for women to beat men. Women have been the ones to start organisations and campaigns and build shelters for female victims- it’s not the fault of women that men didn’t do that for male victims.


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