Sunday, April 25, 2010

Partner Abuse 2010

“Abusive men come in every personality type, arise from good childhoods and bad ones, are macho men or gentle, “liberated” men. No psychological test can distinguish an abusive man from a respectful one. Abusiveness is not a product of a man’s emotional injuries or of deficits in his skills. In reality, abuse springs from a man’s early cultural training, his key male role models, and his peer influences. ***In other words, abuse is a problem of values, not of psychology.***”

-Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That p.75

For the person who is invested in the therapeutic model of self-knowledge, the last sentence of the paragraph above fairly leaps off of the page. The therapeutic model asserts that there are no “bad people,” only personal injuries that lead to bad behavior. Interestingly, this model is in complete harmony with the abuser’s story about himself. Although an abusive man may describe his behavior as a loss of control, a dysfunction, or a mental illness, Bancroft makes it very clear that nothing could be further from the truth. This is a smokescreen to distract people from the real issue, namely that the abusive man is asserting control, not losing it. He is creating a highly functional home life, from his perspective, through bullying and intimidation that, far from being problematic for him, he actually reaps numerous benefits and advantages from.

Time and again, Bancroft unreservedly attacks the idea that abusers should go into therapy. He even goes to far as to explain in detail how therapy can make someone a more effective abuser. I was struck by a certain similarity to my own observations about politically correct culture during the ‘90s. As a teenager I noticed that what was taking place was a shift of language, not of values. For all their ambitions, the political correct crowd only seemed to succeed in doing one thing: teaching assholes how to hide their prejudices under a polite disguise.

This post examines the way in which society and technology has facilitated this shift in our cultural narrative while simultaneously providing the means to sustain misogynistic values.



Without the fa├žade, the abusive man is unable to get what he wants. In some cases this is of a wild, emotional type who “just doesn’t know what he’s doing,” probably because he “feels too much.” In other cases, this is of a stern, authoritarian father figure, who “knows best” and is therefore not to be challenged or contradicted. Perhaps he is of the romantic flavor. In the television series “Californication,” David Duchovny portrays a “sex-addict” writer who frequently waxes poetic about how his flagrant indiscretions come from his desire to “show each woman that she is special.” But success is your proof! Or, “by their fruits ye shall judge them,” as the other guy said. The result of his behavior is the total opposite of his stated intention. This is fairly common for an abusive mentality. The “helper” creates problems. The “father figure” is incompetent. The “wild lover” does not really experience the emotion “love” at all.

In all of these cases, the abuser is greatly aided in his mission to create a false reality and cause his partner to question her own judgment and doubt her own perceptions by a visit to a psychologist.

“An abusive man who is adept in the language of feelings can make his partner feel crazy by turning each argument into a therapy session in which he puts her reactions under a microscope and assigns himself the role of ‘helping’ her. He may, for example, ‘explain’ to her the emotional issues that she needs to work through, or analyze her reasons for ‘mistakenly’ believing that he is abusing her.”

-p.26

Once again, it should seem like this is obvious. Instruction in the therapeutic model is bound to help someone who is determined to dominate another person. If an abuser begins to see the destructive behavior that is the result of implementing their values as a legitimate expression of their “feelings” or as a “mental-illness,” it becomes even more unlikely that they will ever change, and even gives them a weapon to use against anyone who suggests that they should.

The basic idea here is that the intent behind this behavior is concealed, or disguised as something else. It will generally be impossible to get the person behaving in this way to admit that it is intentional behavior, especially considering that society in general has come to frown upon the abuser’s value system in the last twenty years, but one must look at the results of a person’s behavior to understand what they truly intend. The values and thought processes that create abuse were institutionalized in the family long before these social changes. Our cultural narrative about the roles of men and women has changed very rapidly in the last forty years, but human behavior has not. Therapy, the liberal secular humanist’s version of a priesthood, can be beneficial for people with no other emotional outlet, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for the matter in question.

“My clients are not unusually repressed. In fact, many of them express their feelings more than some nonabusive men. Rather than trapping everything inside, they actually tend to do the opposite: They have an exaggerated idea of how important their feelings are, and they talk about their feelings-and act them out-all the time, until their partners and children are exhausted from hearing about it all.”

-p.31

At the end of the day, the abuser’s intention is to focus everything on himself. Therapy is a great help in this regard. Many people, especially young people who have no concept of what life was like before 1995 (for the record, you don’t actually have to have been alive at a particular point of time to find out what life was like, but you do have to be literate, as very few people below the age of 25 today are) see politically correct language, the therapeutic model of self-understanding, and the kind of bubblegum feminism promoted by the mainstream media as “progress.” “Why are we still talking about these things?” is a question I hear, not just from young men, but from young women as well. “So much has changed.”

Really? Changed? Maybe. But what has changed, and how?

“A boy who grows up in a home where his father assaults his mother may observe over the years that his father never seems to get in any serious trouble, indicating to him that his father’s behavior is not viewed as wrong by the community. (In fact, any male who is older than ten or fifteen years of age today is unlikely to have ever seen his father prosecuted for domestic violence, since such prosecution was uncommon before 1990).”

-p. 321

Given that abusive behavior is generated by a set of values that is taught by male role models, this neat little observation pretty much leaves the whole “but we’ve already come so far, why are we still talking about this?” ship dead in the water. Not only that, but there is a deeper issue at work that Bancroft touches on, but does not go into great detail about. This issue dovetails the rise in prosecutions of domestic abuse cases that he describes above, and does a great deal to undo the work that has been done by the feminist movement since the 1970s. The boy who is growing up today may be able to see that outright abusive behavior is viewed as wrong, but what makes up that boy’s community? What information is he taking in? What are the sources? With the internet, the “community” is not just your neighbors and the local cub scouts, the community, the regular social network that surrounds the developing child, is defined by digital space.

Q. What major cultural phenomenon, almost completely ubiquitous among men but rarely discussed or analyzed seriously, arose in the 1990s, around the same time that laws against partner abuse became more frequently enforced?

A. Internet Pornography.

This is… huge. As Bancroft says, abuse is a problem of values, not of psychology. And men now have almost limitless access to images, not just of sex or of naked women, but of highly specialized, specific pornography which can serve as a strong confirmation of the values they have about sex and the value of women as people. It’s true that you can look at pictures of naked women, jerk off, and leave it at that, but if a man has a value system comprised of negative attitudes toward women, porn can provide a deep and intense confirmation of those values.

In a sense it’s true that we have “come a long way” culturally, but internet pornography is, in a clandestine manner, taking us a thousand steps in the wrong direction. It’s true that it is considered socially inappropriate to honestly express the kind of value system that creates abusive men. They may know that they are supposed to interact with women in a particular way, talk about women in public in a particular way, and they may even believe themselves. But porn doesn’t lie. You can find out what kind of person a guy really is by looking at what gets him hard and makes him come. Any attempt to deny this basic fact is an obvious lie.

In spite of the cultural changes that have taken place in the last forty years, it is now possible for a man to, behind closed doors in the privacy of his own home, view hundreds of thousands of images and videos that validate the practically ubiquitous misogyny that is deeply held, publicly denied, and rarely seen for what it is, even (or especially) by the man in question. And I’m not just talking about tits and ass. There’s a lot of pretty brutal stuff that’s disturbingly easy to find out there.

Misogyny is in the closet in 2010, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. In fact, as we all know, when something is hidden away like that it becomes far more intense, far more perverse, and far more dangerous.

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