Isn't there a really dodgy bit in Why Does He Do That? I read somewhere that it says a man who says he's being abused is the abuser in a relationship, which... no, male victims of domestic abuse exist too...
Yes. I was actually going to post about this.
It’s not just a “dodgy bit”. There are multiple points at which he says things that I didn’t care for.
The “male abuse victims are probably lying” thing is is the biggest flaw in the book, but the book is still absolutely vital, and people should still read and recommend it. Full stop. Because a thing is flawed does not mean it has no value and should not be circulated to those people that it could help. If the book were less shockingly accurate and unflinching in its portrayal of abusive men, if it were less good in the ways that it is good, perhaps I would feel more hesitation.
I’ve read basically the whole thing so far (I’m about 20-30 pages from the end in the PDF), and here’s the deal.
He doesn’t say unilaterally that men lie about being abused. He says that abusive men lie about being abused by women. It’s a fine distinction, and not really much better, but I want to be clear that that is what he is saying. Not that men lie about all abuse, but that they lie about being abused by women. Abusive men, especially, will tell this lie to get the upper hand.
Based on what he has seen after dealing with a couple thousand men who abuse women, I do not doubt that this is true.
But he seems to think the number of abused men is smaller than the number of abusive men who are lying about being abused. Even if that is true, abused men are not acceptable collateral damage. It’s not okay to act like the issue isn’t important just because liars exist.
He uses SOME qualifying language. I’m not going to go digging for it, but it’s along the line of “Male victims of domestic violence are really rare compared to the number of female victims.” After that he kind of treats it like they either don’t exist, or the fact that they do is irrelevant in the face of the much more widespread problem of men who abuse women. I won’t lie, that’s not good.
To be frank, he does not seem all that aware of social justice issues the way that all us gigantic queers on Tumblr are. His awareness of LGBT issues is peripheral. When he says “men” and “women”, he definitely means “cis men” and “cis women”. And the book definitely reads like a book written by a cis dude to me. But honestly, this is a book that only a cis dude could have written, because only a cis dude could have worked with other (cis) men the way he has, and it is precisely that experience that makes it so valuable.
The fact that he’s biased doesn’t mean he is talking out his ass the rest of the time. He’s not. At the time of publication (2002) he had worked with over two thousand abusive men whose targets were women. He pioneered recovery programs for these men. He was the first to really get down and work with them on a daily basis, both in group and personal therapy settings. And that experience shows.
No. He really really doesn’t understand abused men.
But he understands abusive men. Specifically, he understands men who abuse women.
On the one hand, it’s given him an unprecedented level of insight into abusers’ mindsets, and that is so valuable.
On the other, the graphic and awful examples he has seen of men who are lying to get themselves out of trouble or justify their behavior have definitely colored his views of male victims. These men – men, I emphasize, referred to him by the legal system, meaning they were entirely confirmed abusers – WERE almost always lying about it. I think he mentions two exceptions? And yeah, that sounds like shit abusers fucking do. I believe him.
Within his setting, within his sample, I believe he is 100% correct in his assessment – abusers are likely to be lying about having suffered partner violence.
That setting absolutely is not the rest of the world, and I think he loses sight of that, if he ever had sight of it to begin with. That’s a terrible flaw.
Another flaw is that it gives very little face-time to same-sex relationship abuse. It goes into it a little, and does it a little ham-handedly but not too badly, but mostly it gets ignored.
Rather than raise these issues at all and then doing it badly, I wish he had said “The issue of abuse in LGBT relationships, as well as the issue of women abusing men, is sadly beyond the scope of my experience, and therefore this book is not about those issues.”
There is nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect of the issue of intimate partner violence. That he did so is not a bad thing. The bad thing that he did is to treat the rest of it like a non-issue, when it isn’t, and that he said some things that encourage the reader to be generally suspicious of men who say that women have abused them. Those are bad things.
Would I recommend it to a man who is being/was abused by a woman? No no no. Absolutely not. Those dynamics are completely different, and the abuse is likely to look very different, and I feel like very little of it will be accessible to someone in that situation. I think it would do more harm than good.
Would I recommend it to someone in a non-cishet relationship? Maybe, but probably not, unless I had a little insight into the relationship and felt like it would be a good match.
Would I still recommend it to women, or to people who want a general understanding of the dynamics between abusive cis men and abused women? YES. YES A THOUSAND TIMES.
The book is not “good” in a morally/ideologically pure, okay? It is flawed. But for what it is, which is a book about men who abuse women, it is very good. He is on the side of abused women, all the fucking way. And that is still an astonishingly rare thing to find.
It validates the experiences of women abused by men by showing different types of abusive behavior and different types of abuser. He says at multiple points “If you’re wondering whether it’s abuse, then it probably is.” And that is still such a radical, necessary, healthy and badly-needed thing to say.
I’m not going to defend the way he treats the issue of abused men, or abuse in LGBT relationships, He barely deals with these issues at all, and when he does, it’s halfhearted at best and actively regressive at worst. In that regard, it’s shitty. If that is what you are needing, this book won’t give it to you.
I am going to defend it as an excellent starting place for women abused by men, or in toxic almost-abusive relationships with them.
I would prefer it not be flawed, and if it has to be flawed, I would prefer it come with a disclaimer, but I would rather it circulate flawed and without a disclaimer of any kind that fail to reach someone who really, really needs it.
We could be waiting a long time for a better, more inclusive book to come out. There’s not time to wait. This book is needed now. TODAY.
That said, I am always glad to reblog helpful resources for abused men, or for people in non-cishet relationships, if you know of any. I would love to know about comparable GOOD books for LGBT people, if you know any, or would love to know about GOOD books written for male victims of domestic violence.