A Marked Man: Female-Perpetrated Intimate Partner Abuse

By Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn | International Journal of Men's Health, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

A Marked Man: Female-Perpetrated Intimate Partner Abuse


Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn, International Journal of Men's Health


Concepts of intimate partner abuse and violence are shifting, complex, situational and multifaceted. Whilst women's narratives of abuse have provided much needed insights into the subjective experience of intimate partner abuse, men's accounts of female perpetrated abuse have been slower to emerge, generating much controversy and hostility. This paper seeks to add to a small, but developing qualitative literature on male victims' accounts of intimate abuse and violence. Drawing on case study data, the article charts some of the salient themes emerging from a series of in-depth interviews and the personal diary of an abused heterosexual male victim. It explores the congruence with elements of other accounts of intimate abuse and violence. The paper concludes with a discussion of the ways in which male victims of intimate abuse might be understood within contemporary frameworks of masculinity.

Keywords: intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence, male victims, female perpetrators

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   He closes the bedroom door slightly in order to get undressed. His
   wife interprets this as slamming the door in her face ... She
   delivers a full force blow to his face. It is like a thunderstorm: he
   sees a panorama of fork lightning, somewhat speeded up, followed
   perceptibly later by a searing pain right across his face and a
   hissing in his ears. The pain abates, but this hissing does not.
   His vision becomes blurred. He pleads to her to stop this. She hits
   him again. He goes down to the kitchen, hoping that she will calm
   down. She is there immediately. She pushes him into a corner and
   takes a kitchen knife with an 8" blade from the block. She is now
   holding this over-arm, above him, threatening to stick it in
   him.

This extract is from the personal diary of a white, middle-aged, senior professional man who charted a period of two years the abuse to which he was frequently subjected by his wife, abuse and violence which began over 20 years earlier and subsequently escalated in both frequency and extent to the point at which he was forced to leave the family home with only a few clothes and some personal possessions. It was deliberately written in the third person in order to modify its emotional impact. The diary and the transcripts of a series of five in-depth interviews constitute the case study data upon which this paper is based. Although the purpose of this article is not to examine prevalence rates or the gender symmetric/asymmetric nature of intimate partner abuse, some brief background will provide context.

As Palin-Davies (2006, p. 11) notes, domestic violence is extremely complex in terms of its dynamics and how and by or for whom it is presented. The "ethics of presentation" (Katz Rothman, 2007) and indeed non-presentation are key in this area. A range of empirical studies and meta-analyses of empirical research dating back to the 1970s exists which indicate that intimate partner abuse (IPA) and intimate partner violence (IPV) are perpetrated by women and girls in heterosexual relationships as frequently, or according to some studies, almost as frequently as they are by men and boys (Allen, 2004; Archer, 2002; Cook, 1997; Fiebert, 1997; Morse, 1995; Straus, 1997, 2006; Walby & Dutton, 2007) and for very similar reasons (Medeiros & Straus, 2006). Such "gender symmetry" findings, it should be said, have in turn been strongly challenged and stingingly critiqued (Kimmel, 2002; Pagelow, 1985). Indeed, quantitative studies in the area of domestic violence have been criticised on a variety of grounds, including their methodologies (Nazroo, 2000), inconsistent use of terminology, ways of reporting and recording differences, problems with the construction of official statistics, and decontextualisation of the abuse (for example, by not addressing whether the violence was unilaterally initiated or responsive in self-defense). …

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