The Politics of Victimization: An Essay on Accountability, Responsibility And the Resistance to Being Equal

Douglas E. Mould*

ABSTRACT: This article deals with women's violence against men and explores the political underpinnings that mitigate against factual and rational discussions of any aspect of women's violence against men.

Writing about women's violence towards men is a powder keg topic drawing lighted matches from both ends of the politically correct spectrum.1 I do not believe that my writing here can be judged fairly without the reader knowing at least something of the context and perspective from which I write. I am, first and foremost, a clinician and psychotherapist. A lion's share of my clinical work is treating depression, and a majority of those clients are women. I work from a cognitive-existentialist perspective, a cornerstone of which is empowerment, the corollary to becoming a (responsible) adult human being. The tactics may vary, but the goal is always enabling and facilitating the individual in taking charge of her (or his) life and moving on toward living life as fully as possible.

Much of my professional writing has taken place in bars, sitting in a corner, sipping a drink. The background activity serves as white noise, a backdrop for my thoughts and musings. It was in that atmosphere that one of my colleagues, after a particularly hard-fought argument, observed that an intellectually honest Marxist historian and an intellectually honest capitalist historian rarely argued about facts of the matter. Rather, their disagreements stemmed from the meaning and interpretation of those facts. It is axiomatic that the historian guided by political ideology will willingly sacrifice intellectual honesty in service of the political objective; that is, the "facts of the matter" become willful hostage in service of ideology. For the historian whose objective is search for truth, the facts of the matter may well be hostage to his or her ethnocentrism and idiosyncrasy, and thus miss the mark. The mistake, however, is an honest one rather than a calculated one.

Victim-Role Politics

It is my contention that much of recent feminist writing, especially that concerned with spouse abuse and sexual abuse, is in service of a feminist political agenda that has very skillfully employed victim-role politics. As such, these writings, intentionally and calculatedly, select and distort facts in service of the political end. One of several consequences of this is that the facts of the matter regarding women's violence against men are either ignored, dismissed, or justified, without a factual basis.

This is not a new issue for me (Mould, 1984a, 1986, 1987, 1990a, 1990b). In 1984 the local United Way ran an ad showing a woman in sunglasses with an obviously bruised cheek. The headline read "Her Mr. Right had a powerful left" and below it stated that there were 1,000 cases of wife abuse reported locally every month. I contacted the United Way office and asked where they got their figure of a 1,000/month, as it seemed too high for me given the population of the metro area. They indicated it had come from the local women's crisis center, which I subsequently contacted. According to the women's crisis center it was a police statistic. I then contacted the local police, and they in fact had done a special survey for the women's crisis center on the issue of domestic violence and had separated domestic assaults from nondomestic assaults for a six month period. They supplied me with copies of the original data. The actual figure was 88/month, and in only one-third was there any evidence of physical injury. It seems to me that 88 is a very different number than 1,000. I shared that information, complete with copies of the data, with the executive director of the YWCA, under whose domain the women's crisis center fell. When she finally responded to my follow-up correspondence, she stated that the 1,000/month figure was correct and made no attempt to address the data gathered by the police.

In 1986, I was given five minutes to make a presentation to the local task force on domestic violence. In my five minutes I spoke about the scientific literature on women's violence against men, and distributed a handout with the facts and references to the literature. The official task force report states that I spoke on wife-battering!

To understand how such distortions are accomplished with the illusion of integrity, we must follow a convoluted trail, and though the starting point is arbitrary, it is useful to begin with a discussion of the importance of differentiating between that which is understandable and that which is justifiable. Social sciences, psychology and sociology in particular, are in the business of explaining and predicting behavior. Two conceptual mistakes have frequently occurred. The first is a failure to differentiate between distal and proximal causes of behavior and the second is that prediction and explanation come to mean that behavior is externally controlled, in turn absolving individuals of personal responsibility for their behavior. Thus, crime became a result of poverty, disenfranchisement, and alienation rather than a personal choice of the robber or rapist.

In fact, I believe it is clear that these are causal factors in crime, but they are distal causes. An appraisal on the part of the robber or rapist that (a) he can very likely get away with it and (b) there are tangible rewards to be had are the proximal causes of crime. Both proximal and distal causes are likely true. However, does the existence of a valid distal cause therefore mean that the robber or rapist cannot/should not be held accountable for his or her actions? Surely not. To do so necessarily means no one is ever responsible for anything. Distal causes help us understand a behavior; they do not justify it.

A conundrum for feminist writers here that I have not seen addressed is this: If women are the way they are because of how they are socialized, and therefore, because they are that way through no fault or choice of their own, then they bear no responsibility for being how they are or for what they do. This sounds circular, but it is not. If the above argument is held to be valid then how is it possible not to agree that men are the way they are because of how they are socialized, and are also not responsible for being how they are or what they do?


These have specific bearing on the issue of power. That a differential in power explains and accounts for specific behaviors of both parties may well be true; that does not mean that only the individual holding more power can be held accountable for his or her actions. A power differential is a polarity, not a duality; consequently, a power differential does not imply the one with less power is powerless and therefore has no responsibility for the decisions and actions the individual takes. Further, when the one with less power takes an action, the action taken may be understandable in light of the particular circumstances but that does not imply the action was justifiable.

However, even the least skilled propagandist knows that a lie told often enough, and in the absence of contradictory information, over time becomes regarded as truth. It is axiomatic among feminist writers that men are socialized to behave in aggressive ways, especially toward women, sexual and otherwise; indeed, aggression per se is seen as a masculine trait. Thus, Diana Russell has stated "men are socialized to behave in a predatory manner toward women" (Kohn, 1987). More formally, Lenore Walker, a past president of the division of the Psychology of Women of the American Psychological Association, in an address reprinted in The American Psychologist (1989) has virtually codified this belief:

A feminist political gender analysis has reframed the problem of violence against women as one of misuse of power by men who have been socialized into believing they have the right to control the women in their lives, even through violent means. Although this analysis acknowledges that women sometimes abuse other women, children, and men, the underbelly of interpersonal violence is seen as the socialized androcentric need for power. Feminists believe that violence against women is at the core of all violence in the world and frequently apply such an analysis in trying to understand men's need to control others, including making war against other nations (my emphasis, p. 695).

I believe Walker's discussion vis--vis the "androcentric need for power" represents a deliberate self-deception and thus is in bad faith on two counts. First, the need for power is identified as a male attribute, as if it were bad and as if it were common only among men but not among women. Dovetailing with this is the implicit assertion that power is manifest only in overt control over another. These are both wrong, and reflect, in my opinion, intentional misstatements in service of Walker's political agenda.

Power in its purest form is (merely) the ability to have impact on another, and can be covert as well as overt. When what one wants from another is deference, affirmation, or reciprocity, it is the other who holds the ultimate power. The man who wants most to be sexually desired by a woman is at her mercy even if it is he who can take her life. Thus we have the lesson the Romans learned at Masada (and perhaps the FBI learned from the Davidians). In its most brutal form, covert power is found in studied indifference. To be ignored, to be treated as if one did not exist or as if one's existence held no value at all may not be the dramatic power of brute force, but to ignore it as if it were not power in its own right is bad faith of enormous proportions2.

To the extent that one has power, either overt or covert, in a particular situation is the extent to which one bears personal responsibility for the state of affairs.

Media Images

Returning to feminist notions of men, Mosher (Mosher & Tomkins, 1988) has fleshed out the foregoing sentiments in his elegant description of the "macho" male, describing a "hypermasculine" personality whose fundamental beliefs are summed up in the triad that danger is exciting, violence is manly, and calloused sex with women is an entitlement. Whereas Mosher would not attribute this personality type to all men in the manner that Walker and Russell would, there would clearly be agreement among them that this warrior model of masculinity is a dominant theme in cinema and television. Or, as Mosher states "The mass media ensures universal exposure to the ideology of machoism . . ." (p. 83, my emphasis).

An argument still fiercely debated is whether media images either create or reflect cultural norms and values. It seems to me neither a hedge nor waffling to assert that both are true. Images and ideas do not emerge out of a vacuum, and neither would it seem plausible that images and motifs are so inconsequential that potential effects can be held as irrelevant. A detailed discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this writing, but it seems to me that two conclusions follow logically from feminist axioms about men and beliefs about the media. First, media images should impact, to some degree or other, on the attitudes and behaviors of the viewer. Second, a dominant theme in entertainment media concerned with warrior images should be degradation, sexual and otherwise, of women by men. At this juncture, my question is this: Is it a fact of the matter that macho males in popular cinema and television are depicted as sexual victimizers of women vis--vis the warrior's entitlement to calloused sex and socialization to behave in a predatory manner toward women? Further, is it true that these representations suggest that danger is exciting and violence is manly?

Jabba the Hut

The Star Wars trilogy of the 1970s-80s provided high-tech special effects to old fairy tale themes — good/bad, powers of darkness against those of light, complete with a princess to be rescued by a knight. One of the technological marvels is found in the character of Jabba the Hut. A huge slug-like creature, it required three men inside the costume to provide the lifelike motion. Jabba had large snake-like eyes, a huge mouth and slimy purple tongue and ate small living critters at his leisure. Jabba is perhaps one of the most visually disgusting villains in cinema of the last several decades.

In Return of the Jedi, we first encounter Jabba holding forth court. The entertainment is a voluptuous alien female tethered to Jabba with a long cord and dancing sensuously. Though Jabba's language is not English, the discourse with the dancer is clearly sexual in nature and when the woman (female alien?) resists his advances, Jabba dumps her into the cavern below where she is eaten (presumably, as we do not see her eaten as we do a male guard shortly thereafter) by the pet monster. Princess Leia (in contrast to traditional fairy tales) has infiltrated Jabba's domain in order to rescue Han Solo. As things go awry, Leia is captured, and it is she who is next tethered to Jabba. She is dressed, but not much. Her breasts are covered as is her groin area. In one scene Jabba can be seen in the background talking to Leia, and has draped across her shoulder a small, slimy hand. In a subsequent scene, with his eyes leering and tongue lolling out, Jabba tells Leia that she will soon appreciate his talent (he still does not speak English, but the subtitles translate for us3).

Jabba the Hut is hyperbole for the villainous male. Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood is prototypic of the less than hyperbolic villain. Not only is he degrading to women, sexually and otherwise, it is during his attempted rape of Marion that Robin rescues her. Warrior males or not, it is always the villain in such portrayals who sexually degrades and/or rapes women. The most macho warrior, that is, the hero warrior who inevitably defeats the villain, virtually never is portrayed as having a belief of entitlement to calloused sex with women. Rather, the role of the hero-warrior is to protect the innocent and weak and especially women. A review of the hero-warrior characters and actors whose persona is that of the hero-warrior male is illustrative here.

Hero-Warriors and the Entertainment Media

This roll-call is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and for convenience I have divided it into those characters/actors of cinema and those of television. There is, of course, overlap.

Beginning with cinema, it is difficult to imagine any character/actor who embodied the hero-warrior in the films of the 1950s and 1960s more than John Wayne; he is the epitome of the macho male whether he portrayed a cowboy, soldier, or sailor. He is followed closely in his era by Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson. Earlier cinema would include Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, and all the men who portrayed Tarzan.

The western and the war movie were the principle motif of the warrior-hero. The 1960s saw the emergence of a new genre of movies, what we now call the action/adventure movies. These had varied motifs that included westerns and war, but the emphasis shifted to action and violence more than themes. A good starting place for these is the Clint Eastwood westerns.4 Thus, we can add Eastwood to our list of actors, whether in the role of the man with no name or Dirty Harry.

Probably the most pure hero-warrior of this new genre is Sylvester Stallone and the Rambo character, though the Rocky Balboa character is not far behind. Similarly we have Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator, Raw Deal, Commando The Running Man, True Lies, Last Action Hero), Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier, Sudden Death), Patrick Swayze (Red Dawn, Roadhouse, Next of Kin), Steven Segal (Under Siege), Charles Bronson (Death Wish series), Mel Gibson and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon I-III), Rutgar Hauer (Lady Hawke), Chuck Norris (all of his martial arts movies), Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee I and II), Bruce Willis (Die Hard - III), Burt Reynolds (Malone, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Sharkey's Machine), Tom Cruise (Topgun), Michael Douglas (Jewel of the Nile), James Caan (Rollerball), Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones trilogy; Star Wars trilogy), Michael Biehn (Aliens, The Terminator), Kevin Costner (Robin Hood, Dances with Wolves, The Body Guard), Paul Newman and Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting), Jack Nicholson (The Missouri Breaks), or Tom Selleck (Quigly Down Under).

Early television would include The Cisco Kid, Zorro, Ed Burns and Ephraim Zimbalist, Jr. (77 Sunset Strip), Lloyd Bridges (Sea Hunt), James Garner (Maverick), Clint Walker (Cheyenne), Ty Hardin (Bronco), James Arness (Gunsmoke), Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel) — which was revived in the 1980s by Edward Woodward's The Equalizer, all of the Cartwright characters from Bonanza, all of the male characters from The Big Valley; Chuck Connors (The Rifleman), and Fess Parker (Daniel Boone).

Later television would include Tom Selleck (Magnum, P.I.), Paul Michael Glasser and David Soul (Starsky and Hutch), Telly Savalas (Kojak), Bruce Boxlightner (Scarecrow and Mrs. King) Rock Hudson (McMillan and Wife), Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger), Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice), Jimmy Smits, Dennis Franz, David Caruso (NYPD), Carroll O'Connor and Carl Weathers (Heat of the Night), Robert Conrad (Search and Rescue), all of the characters from The A-Team, Fox Mulder (The X-Files), most of the male characters from Hill Street Blues, Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger, Malik Yourba as J.C. Williams and Michael DeLounza as Eddie Torrez in New York Undercover.

The purpose of listing as many — and as indicated above, it is not an exhaustive list — is to impress upon the reader the sheer magnitude of the presence of the hero-warrior in the entertainment media; it is an image that literally saturates these media. Outside of the pervasiveness of these images is the outstanding fact that entitlement to sex, calloused or otherwise, simply does not exist in these depictions.5 Of Mosher's other factors constituting the macho personality, it seems very clear that the idea that danger is exciting is a very common theme. Of the idea that violence is manly, I believe a more accurate description would be that the manly man is willing to resort to violence when he or his loved ones are threatened. That is, in most all of these depictions, the hero-warrior is a reluctant warrior who is violent as the result of violence perpetrated by the villain.

I will return to the entitlement to sex below, but I believe it is instructive to take a moment to address the general issue of violence in these depictions, as I believe it helps present a context in which to understand them more fully and their relationship to violence against women. Several years ago, I recall reading an interview with Clint Eastwood. He was asked whether people came to his westerns because of the violence. His response was most insightful. He replied that it was not the violence that drew the audience, but the vengeance. The single most common theme among all of the movies and television shows listed above is that each begins with an innocent and helpless individual(s) being victimized by a ruthless and malevolent perpetrator. Often those wronged are the family or friends of the hero-warrior, though often he just happens on to the injustice.

Whatever the case, the balance of the movie or television episode is the bringing to justice the perpetrator in the final shoot-out scene. Old Testament justice it is, but justice nonetheless. What we have here at its most basic is melodrama. The use of women as victims in these portrayals is a theatric ploy which in turn enhances the evilness of the assailant vis--vis preying on the helpless and innocent. It has nothing to do with subliminal or overt messages to women that bad things will happen to them if they step out of their place, as some feminists contend (e.g., Stock, 1983).

If behavior is controlled by its consequences a la Thorndike's Law of Effect, and if what is modeled in the media is absorbed as one part of socialization, the message of the cinema and television vis--vis women is this: it is the role of the good and manly man to protect women; contrariwise, the man who behaves in a predatory fashion toward women will sooner or later forfeit his life.

How is it then, that this message of socialization can be at such a variance to what feminist writers would predict and lead us to expect? How can Mosher's macho male personality be so wrong when applied to cinema and television?6 I believe the answer to this lies within the domain of what I refer to as the politics of victimization (Mould, 1984b).

The Politics of Victimization

The politics of victimization is the most popular political strategy in today's world. Indeed, the creation of socially-sanctioned victims seems to have become a pastime of the media as well, a phenomenon interacting with special interest groups and bringing a new facet to the contest between political groups vying to establish who has been victimized most grievously. Though it has been used skillfully most recently to depict white males as victims, feminist writers have employed the politics of victimization extraordinarily well over the last three decades. It is a uniquely powerful strategy for the group, but one having, paradoxically, an almost necessarily damaging effect on the individual members of the group who take seriously the mythology created. The strategy — and the mythology — hinges on blurring the distinction between one who is actually a victim and one who takes on the victim role. A victim, by definition, is an injured party. The victim role is something altogether different.

The victim role entails dichotomizing two aspects of the relationship between the injured party and the source of the injury; the first is a power differential, and the second is a moral differential. In constructing the victim role, the injured party is always portrayed as helpless, with that helplessness contrasted sharply against the power of the assailant or oppressor. In the moral differential, the victim is always cast as an innocent whereas the adversary is always malevolent. The creation of the victim role is remarkably simple and parallels the formulation of melodrama; indeed, part of its appeal as well as its power lies in how easily it is constructed and the fact that it does not require much thinking to understand it.

The logical and utilitarian consequences of the victim-role mythology are in sharp contrast to the simplicity of its formulation. First and foremost, the individual or group ascribed the victim role need take no responsibility at all for the state of affairs under which the injury occurred. Indeed, if any contention of responsibility is made, it is met with the ad hominem argument that one is "blaming the victim."

Secondly, the individual or group taking on the victim role has not only the right but the moral imperative to retaliate and defeat the adversary. If the victim is the innocent, and the perpetrator of the injury is malevolent, then justice can only be served if the wrong is righted, with good overcoming evil.

Thirdly, in defeating the adversary, the individual or group employing the victim-role mythology has the right to use whatever means are necessary and available to win; there is no obligation at all for fair play. This is derived directly from the power differential that is proscribed by the mythology, and indirectly from the moral purity that is also proscribed by the mythology. Thus, those in the victim role cloak themselves in the mantle of righteousness while freely indulging themselves in whatever tactics fit their needs.

In some cases there is more than a kernel of truth to the cry of injustice; yet in few instances is the injustice as pervasive and unilateral as portrayed. However, the political value of ascribing to oneself "victim" status is self-evident. One's position and political goals are automatically validated, one's motives above reproach, and one's tactics defendable.

For the individual, there is a very seductive side to this. The victim role subtly offers the individual the illusion of self-esteem through self-righteousness. By virtue of the appointed evilness of the oppressor, those in the victim role gain the status of righteousness-in-the-face-of-adversity, a truly noble role. Such a device for elevating self-esteem is illusory because it rests on the bad faith inherent in assigning dichotomous roles which rarely reflect reality. As the bad faith of the mythology must ultimately occur to all but the most myopic, the self-righteousness is empty, and bitterness and cynicism will prevail. It is the nature of things that the self-made martyr can nail only one hand down.7

It would be foolish for me to argue that men and women in today's America meet on equal footing where overall power is concerned; the fact that men have an advantage over women seems to be quite clear. To argue that women vis--vis men are without power is equally stupid, but, as described above, politically adroit. Where domestic violence is concerned, this translates into the simple fact that if the average woman were to hit the average man in the cheek as hard as she could, and the average man hit the average woman in the cheek as hard as he could, the results would be different. This is an important difference that cannot be ignored; to discuss the matter as if this is the only relevant difference is an exercise in bad faith.

However, that said, to return to our convoluted trail, it is my contention that the enormous discrepancies between what feminist writers often state are the facts and what the facts actually are, and the discrepancies between what many feminist writers hold as opinion over against others equally knowledgeable have as their opinion, is more often the result of the politics of victimization. It is acceptable to feminist writers to ignore, twist, and even lie about facts concerning women's violence against men because the mythologies of victim-role politics provide adequate and compelling justification to do so. This is why there is such a vast difference between what feminists contend is the content of cinema and television vis--vis male roles and what is really there. It is the purpose of the following section to document many of the facets of this phenomenon.

Applications of the Politics of Victimization

A "Fact Sheet" on domestic violence widely distributed among battered women's shelters by the Center For Women Policy Studies states, "According to a 1976 national survey, at least 1.8 million American women are beaten in their homes." The reference given is the seminal study on domestic violence of Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, Behind Closed Doors (1980, my emphasis). The italicized portion is worth noting because it is representative of how subtly facts can be distorted. In fact, Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz write that "almost" 1.8 million women are beaten in their homes. The difference is whether the figure is regarded as an upper limit or a lower limit. Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz use it as an upper limit whereas the Center for Women Policy Studies uses it as a lower limit, which is a significant distortion of the fact of the matter.

If such linguistic distortion seems of little consequence to the reader, consider that in the paragraph immediately following that quoted by the Center for Women Policy Studies from Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, it is written, "Staggering as are these figures, the real surprise lies in the statistics on husband-beating! These rates are slightly higher than those for wife-beating!" (p. 40, my emphasis). Do these statistics find a place in the "Fact Sheet" on domestic violence distributed by the Center for Women Policy Studies? Silly me.

It seems to me to be distortion of the most profound sort to use a set of data to support one's factual position knowing that the same set of data refute one's fundamental contention. But the politics of victimization allows for this.

In A Survey of Spousal Violence Against Women in Kentucky, Schulman (1979) conducted a random telephone survey of 1700 women. As have several other studies, he employed the Conflict Tactics Scale to assess the types and level of violence. However, not only were the women asked about the violence they had received from their spouse, they were also asked to rate their own violence toward their partner on the Conflict Tactics Scale. Even though this information concerning the women's violence towards men was gathered, it was not included in the results of the study. Just on a commonsense basis, even though the focus of the study was the violence the women had experienced, doesn't it seem odd to also gather data on the women's violence, but make no mention of these findings at all in the report?

The data were gathered by the Harris organization and I was able to obtain a copy of the raw data from the Harris Archives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Similar to the findings of Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, virtually across the board the women reported perpetrating more violence against their partners than they reported their partners perpetrating against them. It is worth noting that in a 10-year follow up to their original study, Straus and Gelles (1986) found a 27% decline in wife-beating and a slight rise in husband-beating compared to the original study; the rate of serious violence was almost 50% higher by women than by men. Referring to violence by women against men Straus and Gelles write "This highly controversial finding of the 1975 study is confirmed by the 1985 study and also by other investigators" (p. 470). They list 13 other references with similar findings.

Mary Koss, in 1990, calling for a "research agenda" on violence against women, does not mention the Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz book; or Straus and Gelles' follow-up study. Indeed, she does not mention a single study listed by Straus and Gelles as supporting their findings regarding women's violence against men, in spite of the fact that I had written her two years earlier pointing out the data on women's violence toward men. In 1989, Lenore Walker, in the article on violence against women in The American Psychologist noted earlier, also fails to reference any of the literature on violence against men.

These deletions appear to be clear and unequivocal violations of the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association in force at the time. Interestingly, in the latest revision of the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association, all references requiring a fair presentation of contrary data, and indeed, suppression of data,8 have been eliminated.

The American Psychologist printed a letter I wrote concerning Dr. Walker's contention that any violence by women toward men was reactive to men's violence (Mould, 1990). I pointed out that in Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz (1980), Straus and Gelles (1986), as well as Schulman (1979), all one had to do is look at the data in those studies as to whether the violence was unilateral or bilateral to assess whether the women's violence was reactive or not. That is, in fact, a large proportion of the women were reporting they had been violent with their husbands in the absence of their reporting their husbands having been violent with them.

These are data absolutely contrary to Walker's assertion. In the rejoinder to me printed in The American Psychologist, Walker side-stepped the issue; nowhere in her response did she dispute or even acknowledge the issue I raised. Thus, it is not surprising that the report of the task force on domestic violence of the American Psychological Association repeats the feminist mythology that women are the victims and men the perpetrators, both overtly as well as covertly (Goodman, Koss, Fitzgerald, Russo & Keita, 1993).

The latter is well illustrated in the title of the task force: Male Violence Against Women. Hence the question: Why was the title of the task force "Male Violence Against Women" and not "Men's Violence Against Women?" This is a clear violation of the APA style, which dictates parallelness in form. Such a deviation is, in my opinion, clearly intentional. What purpose underlies such intentionality? Again, every propagandist knows the value of dehumanizing the enemy. Much has been written about this. Now a man is a man; necessarily human. But what is a male? Not necessarily human. It seems abundantly evident that the purpose served in using the term male rather than men was to dehumanize men and contrast it against the humanity of women. This is, in my opinion, a clear violation of the ethical code vis--vis sex discrimination. It is repeated in the first sentence of the task force report in the October, 1993 American Psychologist.

Importantly, in the first sentence also, which in part reads "Male violence against women is a major source of fear, distress, injury, and even death in the country . . ." (Coley & Beckett, 1988; . . . Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, 1980)" (p. 1054, my emphasis), the authors use the reference to Straus et al. to support their contention of how widespread the problem is of men's violence against women. As noted above, these authors go on to state that the incidence of women beating men is higher than that of men beating women. Goodman, et al. (1993) cannot have it both ways. They cannot use a reference to support their argument of how widespread is the abuse of women and at the same time ignore that the same reference demonstrates parity (in incidence) of women's abuse of men. To do so is dishonest and deceitful, and in my opinion constitutes a violation of ethics.

The defense against my charge is found in Angela Browne's (1993) paper in the same issue of The American Psychologist as the report of the task force. Whereas the paper by Goodman et al. (1993) simply ignores the issue of women's violence against men, Dr. Browne attempts to discredit the issue by referencing her coauthored paper wherein they write vis--vis the data regarding women's violence against men " . . . offending rates . . . for men are much higher than for women (Fagan & Browne, 1993) (p. 1078, my emphasis). In fact, quite the opposite is true. Fagan and Browne do a thorough review of the literature and demonstrate clearly the evidence of parity of incidence of violence. In concluding the section regarding the mutuality of violence, Fagan and Browne state:

Yet by classifying respondents as "violent" or "assaultive" on the basis of participation rates on CTS or NCS items, a framework of interpretation is imposed that suggests no gender differences (see Browne, 1993; Dobash et al., 1992) (My emphasis, p. 171).

They subsequently conclude:

Until there are (1) a more complete understanding of differential validity by gender of self-reports of marital violence, (2) calculations of offending rates as well as participation rates across a variety of sampling and measurement conditions, and (3) careful attention to definitional parameters of assaultiveness and violence, conclusions about the absence of gender differences are unwarranted. The weight of current empirical evidence on frequency, injury, victimization, and homicide suggests that such conclusions are premature and incomplete (p. 171).

Contrariwise, it is only under the presence of these three conditions that the argument for parity can be rejected! The report of the task force on male violence against women is an excellent example of "science" in service of political objectives.

There is no question that the effect of domestic violence is different for men versus women. That in and of itself is an important consideration. But the fact of the matter is, feminist political issues aside, there is very good evidence of a parity of incidence and initiation.


Political solutions to the problems of the human condition take time and patience and, as we move into the next millennium, are more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary. I believe that women in America are, on the whole, disadvantaged compared to men, but I give it a 45%/55% split in advantages. This in and of itself deserves attention and correction — and an appreciation for how much the status of women has changed in recent decades.

It simply is a lie to assert that men in America are socialized to aggress against women. The little boy who is told that in his father's absence he is "the man of the house" is not being told that he gets to run the show. Rather, it is a statement that the safety of his mother and siblings are now his responsibility. For most boys, to be in a fight with another boy is often a rite of acceptance into the peer group; to hit a girl is an act of cowardice. Men and boys are socialized to protect women, not harm them.

Victim role politics has been a powerful mythology and political tool. Perhaps it was useful; it is time to put it aside and begin recognizing the complexity of power and all of its accompanying ramifications for relations between men and women. For feminists to continue to tout the old line in today's world is a refusal to take responsibility for oneself, and in doing so displays an underlying agenda of refusing to become equal.


1. Several years ago I approached James Petersen, the editor of the Playboy Forum and asked if he was interested in a brief article on women's violence against men. He told me he thought it was an intriguing idea but that he would not consider the subject because of the negative responses he anticipated among the women editors at Playboy[Back]

2. Indeed, one of the few claims of major injustice that I grant feminists is the ignoring of women's contributions to society as has been taught in history texts of this century. At the same time, I temper this with the fact that one of the books in a "special" library ordered by my fifth grade teacher in 1961 was the biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman graduate of a medical school in the United States. It was one of two books I selected to read from the "special" library. The other was The Bridges at Toko Ri — William Holden, Grace Kelly, F-84 pilot killed heroically in Korea. Incidentally, the movie version is the first motion picture I recall seeing; my father took me to it when I was four.  [Back]

3. When I watched the videotape of this Star Wars movie for the purposes of this chapter, I was struck by the fact that the sexual nature of the interactions was more explicit than I had recalled. I think anyone who has never seen Jabba the Hut or who has not seen the movie in some time would be surprised at the explicitness. I should also note here that in contrast to most portrayals of this dynamic, it is Leia herself who kills Jabba rather than the knight.  [Back]

4. I have intentionally left out the James Bond characters because they are something of an interesting anomaly. The James Bond character is so attractive that all women, including enemy agents, want to go to bed with him. While germane to this discussion, space does not permit further exploration of this sort of macho male.  [Back]

5. I can find only a single exception to this, and that was in a Clint Eastwood movie, (High Plains Drifter, if I remember accurately) wherein the hero-warrior forces sex with the town prostitute, who of course, enjoys it and subsequently feels honored.  [Back]

6. Whereas I believe Mosher is wrong about the general construct of the hero-warrior and his generalized socialization, that does not mean that there are not men who are socialized as he describe and who do believe in entitlement to calloused sex with women. However, these are represented in the media as the villains.  [Back]

7. For the group, there is the powerful appeal of the scapegoat, found in its most grotesque form in Adolph Hitler's portraying the Jews as evil parasites feeding on a helpless, unsuspecting, but innately virtuous German people. By a sleight of hand, the Holocaust becomes justified on the moral grounds founded in the victim-role mythology of the Reich. For Marxist hyperbole, one can substitute the word capitalist for the word Jew and for most feminist writers, one need only take the writings of Marx and substitute the word patriarch for capitalist. Thus, creating victims is largely a political endeavor for feminists, one having a strong and immediate appeal.  [Back]

8. Dr. Charlene Muehlenhard reported at a conference in 1991 that she had received pressure from female colleagues to discontinue her research on women's sexually coercive strategies. She went on to state that a female editor of a journal had told her that she (the editor) would not publish research on women's aggression as it would hurt the women's movement. I wrote to Dr. Muehlenhard regarding the ethical stance of the American Psychological Association, but she did not acknowledge my letter. Parenthetically, as noted above, in 1984, I talked via telephone with Suzanne Steinmetz regarding the data in Behind Closed Doors. In the course of that conversation, Dr. Steinmetz indicated to me that she too had been pressured, to the point of death threats, by women who thought her research could hurt the women's movement. Dr. Steinmetz declined to participate in the follow-up study with Drs. Straus and Gelles.  [Back]


Browne, A. (1993). Violence against women by male partners. American Psychologist, 48, 1077-1087.

Fagan, J., & Browne, A. (1993). Violence between spouses and intimates: Physical aggression between women and men in intimate relationships. In A. Reiss, Jr., & J. Roth (Eds.). Understanding and Preventing Violence: Vol. 3. Social and Psychological Perspectives of Violence (Paperback). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Goodman, L., Koss, M., Fitzgerald, L., Russo, N., & Keita, G. (1993). Male violence against women. American Psychologist, 48, 1054-1058.

Kohn, A. (1987). Shattered innocence. Psychology Today, 21(2), 58.

Koss, M. (1990). Violence against women. The American Psychologist, 45, 374-380.

Mosher, D., & Tompkins, S. (1988). Scripting the macho man: Hypermasculine socialization and enculturation. The Journal of Sex Research, 25(1), 60-84.

Mould, D. (1984a). Men, women, and abused statistics: An examination of frequently-referenced wife-battering data. Unpublished manuscript.

Mould, D. (1984b). The politics of victimization. Unpublished manuscript.

Mould, D. (1986). Drama, melodrama, and sexual victimization. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, St. Louis.

Mould, D. (1987). Feminist myths of the macho male. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, Atlanta.

Mould, D. (1990a). Data base or data bias? The American Psychologist, 45, 677.

Mould, D. (1990b). A Consideration of men as the victims of domestic violence. Paper presented to the Spring conference of the Kansas Psychological Association.

Schulman, M. (1979). A survey of spousal violence against women in Kentucky. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Straus, M., Gelles, R., & Steinmetz, S. (1980). Behind closed doors: Violence in America (Out of Print)(Out of Print). New York: Doubleday.

Straus, M. A., & Gelles, R. J. (1986). Societal change and change in family violence from 1975 to 1985 as revealed by two national surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 465-479.

Stock, W. (1983). The effects of violent pornography on women. Paper presented at the national meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, Chicago.

Walker, L. (1989). Psychology and violence against women. The American Psychologist, 44, 695-702.

Douglas E. Mould is a clinical psychologies at 9415 E. Harry, Suite 302, Wichita, Kansas 67207.  [top]

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