Can a man be psychologically abused by a woman?
Can a man be physically abused by a woman?
Can a man be sexually abused or raped by a woman?
Can a man be financially abused by a woman?
The answer to these questions is a resounding YES. Women are every bit as capable of being abusive as men. Women, by virtue of their sex, aren’t inherently more noble, peaceful, wise, better able to express their emotions or [insert supposed exclusive female virtue here] than men. To claim otherwise is sexist.
That’s right. SEXIST.
Women Are Just as Physically Abusive as Men
High-conflict, abusive jerks seem to be fairly distributed between the sexes. In fact, women excel and surpass their male counterparts in psychological aggression (Muñoz-Rivas, et al., 2007). Women’s use of physical aggression is nearly equal to men (Parity, 2010). Aggression between partners is usually engaged in by both partners (Straus & Gelles, 1990; O’Leary & Slep, 2003) and physical aggression is often considered normal behavior within the couple (Avery-Leaf, Cascardi, O’Leary, & Cano, 1997; Foshee, Linder, MacDougall, & Bangdiwala, 2001; Hilton, Harris, & Rice, 2000).
Parity, a UK charity group, published the report (2010), Domestic Violence: The Male Perspective, which found that 40% of domestic violence victims in England and Wales are men (these findings were replicated in 5 other English-speaking countries including the US). One wonders if it’s not 50% due to under-reporting. Nevertheless, despite overwhelming empirical evidence, the fact that men are just as likely to be the targets of abuse as women is a controversial and disputed subject.
Data supporting the roughly equal rates of abuse perpetrated by women have been discredited by its critics. Criticism isn’t based upon the scientific principles used to gather the data, but on fear-based, unsubstantiated beliefs that all men are abusers from whom women and children must be protected (Farrell, 1999; Straus, 2006; Straus, 2007).
Women initiate and carry out physical assaults on their partners as often as men do. . . Despite the much lower probability of physical injury resulting from attacks by women, assaults by women are a serious social problem, just as it would be if men ‘only’ slapped their wives or ‘only’ slapped female fellow employees and produced no injury” (Straus, 1997, p. 210).
Why is this a social problem for men and women?
- Because women who initiate physical aggression against their male partners often end up on the receiving end of more injurious retaliation by their partners (Feld & Straus, 1989).
- It perpetuates the cultural norm that it’s okay for women to hit and emotionally abuse men.
- It models physical and psychological violence as acceptable for the children of these partners (Jaffe, Wolf & Wilson, 1990).
As of 2010, there are over 250 and counting worldwide academic studies that consistently show women, by their own admission, can be as aggressive as their male counterparts (Parity, 2010, Fiebert, 1997, 2004, 2009; Dutton, 2007). Severe physical abuse of women in marriage and dating has decreased significantly since the 1970s, but severe abuse of men in marriage and dating has held steady or increased (Straus, 1995; Hampton, et al., 1989; Mallory, et al., 2003). Furthermore, two studies found that women attributed their male partners’ physical aggression to self-defense (Follingstad, 1991; Sommer, 1994).
A 2000 meta-analysis found that women are slightly more likely to commit physical aggression while men are slightly more likely to injure their partner overall (Archer, 2000). Two-thirds to three-quarters of aggression in relationships is bi-directional (i.e., both partners are aggressors). However, in the minority of relationships with one-sided aggression, women are two times more likely to be the aggressor (Straus & Ramirez, 2007).
While physical abuse is awful and not to be condoned, it’s “not necessarily the most damaging type of abuse. One can hurt a partner deeply—even drive the person to suicide—without ever lifting a finger” (Straus, 1997, p. 210). Psychological aggression is often more damaging and long-lasting than physical violence (Vissing, Straus, Gelles & Harrop, 1991).
Women Are Often More Psychologically Aggressive Than Men
The term psychological aggression is often used interchangeably with verbal abuse, non-verbal abuse, psychological abuse and emotional abuse. Psychological aggression is defined as behavior by a partner such as depreciation or rejection that causes injury to the other partner. It’s comprised of “any of about 20 behaviors that are unambiguously intended to cause pain, confusion, shame or anxiety” (Kiggins).
Psychological aggression includes the following behaviors (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy & Sugarman, 1996):
- Insulting or swearing at one’s partner
- Shouting at one’s partner
- Stomping out of the room
- Ignoring one’s partner
- Threatening to hit or throw something at one’s partner
- Destroying something that belongs to one’s partner
- Calling one’s partner fat or ugly
- Accusing one’s partner of being a lousy lover
To date, studies have shown that psychological aggression in dating couples is considered normal behavior and takes the form of hostile attitudes, dominating or intimidating the partner, degrading and restrictive control (Harned, 2001; Hird, 2000; Jackson et al., 2000; Murphy & Hoover, 2001). Psychological aggression is so widespread that intimate partners routinely and intentionally hurt each others’ feelings and women are substantially more likely than men to use psychological aggression (Muñoz-Rivas, et al., 2007).
Yet, despite all of this data, men who seek support for and shelter from abuse have very few options. They have virtually no programs, shelters nor advocacy groups. Men who call most domestic abuse hotlines seeking support or a safe place for themselves and their children are told, “Sorry, we only serve women” and are referred to a local homeless shelter.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Ultimately, this is an epic and appalling failure of the mental health field, including university training programs as well as mental health professional governing parties. Many mental health professionals are horribly biased and/or woefully and willfully ignorant about men who are targets of female perpetrated abuse in addition to being female biased or gynocentric.
These ignorant and biased therapists frequently blame their male clients for the abuse they’re experiencing (What did you do to her to make her treat you like that?), encourage them to stay in the relationship with their abusive wife or girlfriend and to be more understanding of her issues.
That’s not how things work at Shrink4Men.
If you’re a man who’s being emotionally, psychologically, sexually, physically or financially abused by a woman it is not okay. You’re not alone and there’s no shame in admitting the abuse. It’s your abusive wife or girlfriend who should feel ashamed and the same goes for anyone who encourages you to stay in your abusive relationship. Seek support and make a plan to get out as safely as possible.
You matter and you deserve better.
Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.
Shrink4Men Coaching, Counseling and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service coaching, counseling and consulting to both men and women via telephone or Skype. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.
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- Farrell, W. (1999). Women can’t hear what men don’t say. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
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