This is an earlier post that I felt was worth re-posting in light the current press about Ray Rice and domestic violence.
Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate they too are significant.
—Rollo May, Power and Innocence
One hazard of intimate relationships is that, because of the intensity of feeling which they engender, they may provide the stimulus for violence. Occasionally, that may involve women being violent with men; but when violence occurs, it’s most often men being abusive with women. Male strength is vastly superior to that of women. Even relatively small
and frail men have a disproportionate advantage, and when that edge is fueled by fury, then it’s a clear and present danger.
Conflict is inevitable in almost all intimate relationships, and some of that conflict is potentially violent. This fact of life, less pleasant than other facts of life, is something that should be taught to all young girls. It’s a reality that a woman of experience must learn to accept and to take into account. She cannot avoid it entirely, but she can learn to minimize the odds.
In our culture, as in many other cultures, there is, for many people, an implicit association between sex and violence. It’s apparent in some pornography, which equates eroticism with dominance and brutality. This sex-violence link is apparent in much of the old folk wisdom, which endorses wife beating as legitimate and even as necessary under some circumstances. Such attitudes are not restricted to the uneducated or to the unsophisticated. The philosopher Nietzsche offers the questionable advice: “When thou goest to a woman, take thy whip.” Noel Coward quips, “Certain women should be struck regularly like gongs.” If a man is not free to beat any woman, he’s often perceived to be free to beat his own, especially if he’s provoked.
Ordinarily, it’s not feasible to ask a man directly whether or not he will hit you. Even if you were to ask, his answer would not necessarily be very informative. You can, however, find many occasions where you can ask him how he feels about corporal punishment for kids. The man who feels that it’s all right to spank, beat, or whip a child “if he deserves it” may very well feel it is also all right to spank, beat, or whip a woman “if she deserves it.” Guess who gets to decide if the deserving child will be improved by abuse? Guess who gets to decide if the deserving woman needs to be corrected?
Some potentially violent men are easy to spot. They tell you outright that they believe that might is right and that their own judgment of the appropriateness of the use of force and pain is justification enough. Don’t be surprised if an argument with such a man eventually leads to him emphasizing his point with the back of his hand.
While you’re talking about life in the abstract, you can always ask a man about his own parents. If he reports that his old man used to knock Mom around, that’s not necessarily a danger signal. Listen to how he describes it. If there’s an undertone of pride in his old man, who really knew how to handle women, then don’t be surprised if eventually he attempts to handle you the same way. If, however, he’s full of sympathy for his mom’s plight and if the story ends as such stories often do, with the boy finally challenging his father successfully thereby being able to protect the mother, then he may be more sensitive to violence against women than are other men. He may, in fact, be the kind of man with whom you will be most safe.
Some philosophers would contend that there’s a potential for violence in all of us and that it only requires sufficient provocation for it to erupt. This may well be true, but it’s difficult to prove or to disprove. If all men are potentially violent, it doesn’t follow that all men are potentially violent in terms of women.
The code of chivalry asserts that although violence is often necessary, it’s not appropriate in those circumstances involving assaults on people who are relatively powerless and defenseless as, for example, women and children. With men living by a chivalrous code, the possibility of violence is virtually negligible. When you fight with them, they will fight back; when you offend them, they make you pay one way or another, but they will not take out their rage physically.
Other men, however, are prone to violence in varying degrees. Many women, at least one in ten, perhaps more, have experienced the violent laying on of hands by a boyfriend, husband, or lover. The violent lover is trouble and is to be avoided no matter what his other attractions may be.