Ending Domestic Abuse

Nearly one week ago E’Dena Hines, the granddaughter of A-list actor Morgan Freeman, was allegedly brutally murdered by her boyfriend. A few days before Ms. Hines was killed, Valerie Jackson, her six children and her husband were reportedly killed execution style by Mrs. Jackson’s ex-romantic partner. Days later, Alma Hernandez’s ex-partner showed up at her place of employment and shot her to death before killing himself.

To be clear, these are only the individuals I am aware of and nowhere close to the actual number of women killed in the last seven days in what’s called intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence (DV). Every day three women are killed by a current or ex-romantic partner in the United States. Nearly five million women “experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year.”

Where is the outrage for the taken lives of these women? Where are the marches and protests in resistance of male violence against women? This issue should headline every Sunday news show; talks of the prevalence of IPV should be on the front page of local and national newspapers tomorrow morning (and every morning). Occasionally an online search engine will footnote an article with a vague description of events such as “two people shot dead in murder suicide.” This phraseology misrepresents the issue ignoring the gendered nature of the crime, in that a male killed a female before ending his own life.

I prefer the phrase male violence against women as calling this abuse ‘domestic violence’ does not acknowledge that it is often men abusing women. To be clear, men are also victims of family violence; however, male perpetrated IPV is more severe and women are more likely than men to be homicide victims of IPV. The crime is also grossly under-reported; we can therefore reasonably presume that the overall numbers of women being abused is much higher than above.

Keep in mind that IPV is more than physical assaults. Male violence against women is any attempt to exert control over a partner, ex-partner, and family member. This includes (but is not limited to) financial control, any type of manipulation, verbal and non-verbal threats, attempts to instill fear, intentional or unintentional controlling behavior, gestures, looks, or correspondence designed to manipulate, any form of stalking, attempts to check up on whereabouts, asking her friends, family, acquaintances, or children about her whereabouts, cyber-stalking, cyber harassment, using social media accounts to control or manipulate, or seeking to manipulate and abuse through spreading information about her in an attempt to destroy or defame her character. The reader is referred here for a more exhaustive list of the types of abuse.

The endorsement of patriarchal socialization and its concomitant traditional gender roles contributes to male violence against women. In the context of domestic violence, men internalize a sense of entitlement to control their female partners. Violence against women is then seen as an aspect of systemic oppression which serves to perpetuate male privilege and thereby male domination of women. Abuse is therefore a choice that the abuser makes to sustain his control over his partner, not a reflection of ‘lost control.’

Black women are three times more likely than their white peers to be killed by a known male acquaintance. Nearly one third of black women have endured physical or psychological abuse by a current or previous intimate partner. Black female IPV victims likely do not receive marches or protests, and their stories are often unheard. A combination of racism and patriarchy, both deeply seated into every fabric of American society ignores the brutality inflicted on Black women and women of color in general.

To be clear, male violence against women is endemic in U.S. society and pervasive across diverse ethnocultural communities. In her seminal book “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity” author bell hooks explained “white patriarchy is just as misogynist as black patriarchy and offers death as the price all women must pay if they ‘get out of their place’… black male violence simply mirrors the styles and habits of white male violence. It is not unique” (emphasis added). In the same book hooks later revealed “sadly and strangely, individual black males have allowed themselves to become poster boys of brute patriarchal manhood and its concomitant woman-hating.”

It has been said that black male abuse of women is a reaction to enduring a racist world intent on preventing black male participation in society. I believe there is validity to this notion; I also believe that black male domestic abuse is about patriarchal socialization as well as coping with a racist world.

I am sick and tired of hearing questions like “why does she stay in that relationship”? As author Christi Paul rightly revealed this is “the wrong question” to explore. Fact is her risk of being killed is at its highest when she disconnects from the relationship.

For men especially, the question we should be asking is “who the hell told him he had the right to abuse her? What gave him the right to menace, threaten, or control his partner/ex-partner”? I hope you are looking into a mirror when you ask yourself that question my brother, because the answer is staring right at you!

To the degree that we collude in promoting patriarchal masculinity we are culpable for male violence against women.

To the degree that we collude in promoting patriarchal masculinity we are culpable for male violence against women. It is my belief that each time we blame women for being abused with ridiculous comments such as “she hit him first” or “why would she take him back.” Each time we refuse to speak or write about the prevalence and brutality of domestic abuse we are condoning such behavior. Each time we refuse to call out other men on their abusive behaviors we are sending the message that domestic violence is acceptable. We are responsible. The good news is, we can all play a role in eradicating male violence against women.

Being part of the solution requires a respectful, non-abusive, egalitarian approach to all relationships. However more is needed to eradicate domestic violence. We must confront the abusive behaviors of other men. We cannot allow intimate partner abuse to breed in our communities. The problem of domestic violence is that males are choosing to be emotionally, financially, sexually, verbally, and/or emotionally abusive towards females. Therefore eradication of domestic abuse requires males holding themselves and every other male accountable to being non-abusive. This also means we have to stop asking questions like ‘why does she stay’ in an abusive relationship and declaratively stating ‘he should not be abusing her.’

When a male chooses to abuse his partner or someone in his family the entire community suffers. In order to help reduce the prevalence of male violence against women and children I believe men must be willing to become outspoken critics of patriarchal terrorism and domestic abuse.

Reducing domestic violence requires redefining ideas about male identity away from power and control over others. Additionally, we must break the community silence about male violence against women. In order to do this we must commit to talking about domestic violence in our churches, schools, community centers, hospitals etc… Furthermore, more needs to be written about the insidious nature of male violence against women.

We need to do a better job of connecting maleness and masculinity to the affirmation of emotional vulnerability while rejecting narcissistic rage. Also we have to be willing to confront the men in our lives on their misogyny. All too often the chore of challenging domestic abuse falls on the shoulders of women, yet as men, I believe we have a responsibility to be among the first to draw attention to this issue. This can include talking with your sons, nephews and young males and educating them about male abuse instilling in them the idea that male violence is wrong.

By Bill Johnson II

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