Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

The "Great Taboo" and the Role of Patriarchy in Husband and Wife Abuse

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

The "Great Taboo" and the Role of Patriarchy in Husband and Wife Abuse

Article excerpt

The role of historical memes such as the "Rule of Thumb" is explored and documented to illustrate how the notion of patriarchy defined as "male dominance over women" is deeply flawed. The "Rule of Thumb" as anything other than a rough and ready measure is shown to be both a historical myth and the result of sophistry by some women's activists. The continuation of the ancient meme of patriarchy, as expressed, for example, by the Skimmington, is shown to predict the controversy over the existence of female-perpetrated violence and male victims, a controversy that saw academics who sought to expose such violence being subjected to intimidation and abuse. Patriarchy is proposed as an influence on the occurrence and prevalence of both husband and wife abuse, operating through the patriarchal meme that "men should not be victims." The importance of these considerations for men's emotional and physical health is emphasized.

Keywords: Rule of Thumb, intimate assaults, patriarchy, male victims, Skimmington


   He can chew iron bars, Cutalianos can. He can halt trains,
   Cutalianos can. He can grind stones, Cutalianos can. What if he can
   chew iron bars? Bold as a lion as he is Once in his humble home
   Cutalianos shakes like a jelly before his Missus. Oh, how
   frightened poor Cutalianos is of her. But, let no one know about
   this. (1, at next page)

In the thirty years since violence and abuse between intimate partners came to prominent public awareness and became the subject of academic study, one topic has remained controversial: the plight of men who are the victims of assaults by their female partners. This "Great Taboo" (George, 1994) is the coalescence of two forbidden beliefs in society: first, that a man can be beaten by a woman, which is an anathema particularly to men; second, the uncomfortable reality that women can be aggressive and violent, which contravenes stereotypical notions of femininity and is an attribution that neither men nor women wish to acknowledge (Oglivie, 1996).

Murray Straus, Richard Gelles, and Susan Steinmetz (Gelles, 1974; Gelles, Straus, & Steinmetz, 1975) first identified intimate violence as a phenomenon and found that it existed in both male-to-female and female-to-male forms. The latter revelation proved to be controversial and provoked a debate which, while much more balanced and open now than it was then, is still contentious. The debate is one enjoined by many academics (Fiebert, 2004) but also exists as a lay phenomenon argued among interest groups, including those who advocate on behalf of men's or women's rights.

Much of the debate has centred upon the ever-growing body of studies, using the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) (Straus, 1979), that demonstrate conclusively that women are as assaultive (if not more so) as men in heterosexual relationships. This conclusion is based on answers given by women themselves (Archer, 2000, 2002). It is not the intention of this paper to review arguments that have arisen out of criticism and defence of the CTS-based studies and their implications. That has been done elsewhere by a number of authors using different viewpoints and approaches. The purpose of this paper is to address the fact that battered husbands and intimate violence against men by female partners has existed within the context of a taboo that appears to have originated long ago (George, 2002, 2003).

Ancient Memes, Modern Myth

During thirty years of research into intimate abuse, the plight of women victims has been the major focus of study. This has taken place against the backdrop of political advocacy for women's rights in which, in the early years at least, the plight of female victims included an important call for public sympathy. By defining the problem as one based on patriarchy and the oppression of women, it was possible to assert a worldview in which only men were perpetrators and only women were victims (Dutton, 1994). …

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