Riding the Donkey Backwards: Men as the Unacceptable Victims of Marital Violence – November 94

In post-Renaissance France and England, society ridiculed and humiliated husbands thought to be battered and/or dominated by their wives (Steinmetz, 1977-78). In France, for instance, a “battered” husband was trotted around town
riding a donkey backwards while holding its tail. In England, “abused” husbands were strapped to a cart and paraded around town, all the while subjected to the people’s derision and contempt. Such “treatments” for these husbands
arose out of the patriarchal ethos where a husband was expected to dominate his wife, making her, if the occasion arose, the proper target for necessary marital chastisement; not the other way around (Dobash & Dobash, 1979).

Although the patriarchal view supporting a husband’s complete dominance of his wife persisted into the twentieth century (E. Pleck, 1987), during the latter half of this century, we find a definite shift in people’s attitudes toward
marital relationships. Beginning in the 1970s, for instance, advocates like Del Martin (1976) and Erin Pizzey (Pizzey 1974; Pizzey & Shapiro, 1982) exposed the “hidden” secret of domestic violence. As a result, terms like “domestic violence,” “domestic abuse,” and “battered wife” have found their way into our everyday speech.

Finally, society seems to be taking the issue of domestic violence against women seriously and looking for solutions to stem if not to end the violence.

Most of the early research dealing with domestic violence focused solely on the female victims and the social factors that supported the victimization of women (Smith, 1989). Consequently, a voluminous literature now exists that portrays domestic violence as a unitary social phenomenon stemming from a patriarchal social order where women are portrayed as the victims and men perceived as the perpetrators (Dobash & Dobash, 1979). Such research has had a significant impact upon the evolution of recent changes in civil law, enforcement of criminal law, and the ways law enforcement and social agencies respond to the needs of battered wives (see Victim Support, 1992).

In this paper it will cover the following topics supporting the above agrument:

  • The Conflict Tactics Scales, devised by Murray Straus (1978, 1979) and several coworkers at the University of Minnesota, consists of several scales designed to assess the various ways that family members try to deal with conflicts in the
    home. The Conflict Tactics Scales is divided in three parts, with one part asking a series of questions about escalating levels of threatened or actual physical assault between adult partners. Starting with “Threatened to hit or throw something
    at the other,” it concludes with “used a knife or gun on the other.” The eight point scale is often analyzed by researchers in terms of less serious and more serious violence; more serious violence being those acts more likely to cause injury.
    See Straus (1993) for a recent discussion of the validity and criticisms of The Conflict Tactics Scales.
  • We could argue that “husband-battering” is a more emotionally contested and politically charged issue in the U.S. than in many other industrialized countries. In Sweden, for instance, refuges have been established for male victims of domestic
    violence (Kirsta, 1994). In another example of the difference in attitudes toward male victims, Detective Inspector Sylvia Aston, West Midlands Police Force (UK), reported:

We’ve made absolutely sure through our training that no officer will ever dismiss a male domestic violence victim just because he’s a man. We don’t take the attitude that a man can leave—many can’t And it’s invariably the nice sensitive
ones who get battered. I think we risk going down a very dangerous path by discriminating between the sexes in these offenses. Some of the most violent people I’ve dealt with as an officer are women, and if you don’t judge a woman by
her crime, but by her gender, then not only do you perpetrate the old, misleading stereotypes but you risk such offenses recurring, perhaps in another relationship. Domestic violence as we see it is not a women’s issue—it’s a social issue. (quoted in Kirsta, 1994, p. 229).

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