One of my loooong replies to a discussion on Feministing. It was a discussion I started on a skit on SNL that made fun of Tiger Woods’s saga, but also wound up making fun of violence against men – not funny. Just thought I’d share my thoughts:

from reading the various insights and experiences shared so far, it seems like domestic violence against men brings up some important issues:

1) statistics are confusing because there are many important things they might not explain. many men might report experiencing some sort of violence from their wives, but often it is minor and doesn’t fit the cycle of abuse (which is not to say that it’s not important). i remember that in college a survey reported that ~30% of male students experienced “sexual harassment” from women, while the vast majority of female college students did too. but the study also showed that the quality of harassment was different. for example, many male students thought of sexual comments of notes as harassment, but were not intimidated or even bothered by it. on the other hand, harassment experienced by many female students were more predatory, and had a bigger affect on them. so i suspect it’s the same case with domestic violence, where men as a group have the power of the system, and it victimizes women as a group.

2) there’s a notion that because men are generally physically stronger than women, that violence can’t happen to them. that highlights the important point that domestic violence isn’t about strength, it’s more about the intention behind it. just like men are expected to defend themselves, so can women defend themselves, although the attacker’s physical strength can be overpowering. the common theme between male and female DV victims is that they felt they deserved punishment, or that they should do better to avoid beatings, or they can’t leave their partner, etc. and again, because we live in a patriarchal society, women are victimized more.

“Both genders need to be taught the signs of an abuser NOT just to avoid them but to be able to recognize those signs in themselves.” – Phenicks

that is so true! all of us have a tendency to take advantage of, use, abuse, or just not care about those who’re less powerful than us. women often direct their violence and abuse (even sexual abuse) towards children. i’ve experienced this growing up in bangladesh where many people consider it okay to beat children to “discipline” them, just like many consider it okay to beat women. there are news stories of women torturing and even killing their domestic servants, especially if they’re child servants. within the family, parents often beat their children inhumanely in the name of discipline.

this is also why many feminists are environmental activists and animal rights activists, because both men and women justify superiority over animals. not many justify torture of animals, but still many women don’t recognize the abusive premise of animal industries.

the reason feminists mainly focus on violence and rape against women is that in a patriarchal society, violence is considered natural for men, and often justified against women. thus, it’s a woman’s fault for making her husband angry, or it’s a woman’s fault for arousing a man who raped her. non-feminists don’t realize that rape happens because men feel justified to use women’s bodies, or use rape to “discipline” or “teach a lesson,” or simply, just use it for their own pleasure.

i think when we see abuse from women against men or other women, it seems either horrifying or funny because it’s so “unnatural” for women. for feminists, this is an opportunity to point out that abuse and violence result from a sense of entitlement, not because it’s a male characteristic. and it’s because of patriarchy that more men feel entitled about women than vice versa.

DV shelters and sexual support organizations often perpetuate this stereotype about men while trying to help victims. but that doesn’t help change society, and also ignores abuse in non-heterosexual settings. as feminists, we should raise awareness about it, amongst ourselves and others at such opportunities.

Compare “Man arrested on charges of murdering and decapitating his wife,” to “The founder of an upstate New York TV station aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes has been arrested on suspicion of killing his wife, who was beheaded, authorities said,” which was the way CNN put it.

I admit, it’s ironic that the man who wanted to counter stereotypes of Muslims himself was a perpetrator of domestic violence. But then again, he’s not representative of Muslim men any more than George Bush is of white men. We don’t call white men idiots because of George Bush…but I digress.

Second note of interest is the use of the word “beheading” instead of “decapitation.” This is after quite some time that I saw the word “beheading.” The last time I saw it was about the beheading of an American contractor by a violent insurgent group in Iraq. Is it “beheading” when a Muslim does it and “decapitation” when anyone else does it? The use of the word beheading almost implies that it was some ritualistic murder rather than a murder where the method was decapitation.

The mainstream media isn’t very sensitive to many issues, and often sensationalizes stories based on what will sell to the public. But what bothered me is the discussion of this story on a feminist blog, where commenters who claim to be “feminists” say things like “Islam could be a cause for this domestic violence case,” or “shouldn’t be ruled out as a cause.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Even if this guy himself said Islam is the cause for murder, Islam is not the cause of the murder, anymore than Christianity is the reason the Santa shooter killed people. One person’s misogynistic interpretation of Islam does not make Islam misogynistic! Feminist Muslims have different interpretations of some of the same verses that other people cite for misogyny and feminist Muslims use Islam as an example of progress where patriarchal Muslims will use it to stop progress. Now we could use this story to highlight how domestic violence isn’t taken seriously until someone ends up murdered, and even then not taken seriously sometimes. We could use this story to stress the need for DV shelters and the need for law enforcement to be more serious about it. Instead some of us having to defend Islam because some other ignorant people are arguing that Islam could have something to do with the murder. It’s not that Islam has nothing to do with the murder; the problem is that what is the point in saying that? Christianity could have something to do with a murder by a Christian person. Heck, Christians had a lot to do with colonization and exploitation of third world countries. But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with Christianity, there’s just something wrong with some Christians.

The final point I want to make is that feminists (presumably white) who think they’re being knowledgeable and critical in examining the “role” of Islam in this case are actually being very counterproductive. This is the issue many minority feminists have with white feminists. I think they forget that when they’re criticizing Islam or South Asian cultures as if they have something inherently wrong with them, they’re insulting and alienating the very feminists who could build solidarity with them. Such ignorant criticism forces minority feminists to defend their cultures (because there are many good things about the cultures) and be less vocal about the problems in their communities. There is a big difference between criticizing something from within and criticizing something from outside. When you’re criticizing from within, you have a stake in improving the community. When you’re criticizing from outside, you don’t even understand the community. That doesn’t mean American white feminists can’t criticize domestic violence in minority communities from within; it means that in order to be effective, they have to listen to the minority feminists on what they actually need.

P.S. Since I already made my final point, this is an afterthought. Mostly I’ve talked about American white feminists and Islamophobia. But I know from experience that non-Muslim South Asians can also be Islamophobic. Here’s my two cents on why that’s detrimental. You might think it’s ok now to agree with Western Islamophobes, but remember, ignorant people don’t understand the other South Asian religions either, so good luck explaining why Hinduism is not an inherently misogynistic religion. – vidyarthi