Now before I start this piece, I want to make it clear that I'm talking about both genders, though males are the most regular offenders. A very good friend of mine worked for C.A.S.A. (the Centre for Sexual Assault) for a number of years, and I talked to her about her work often. Her experience was that physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse was not just something that happened in straight relationships. In fact it seemed to occur in gay and lesbian couples just as frequently, but was reported substantially less.
I'm not trying to damn or single-out any one group. Just making the point that it's very common across a portion of the population. The major difference was that in straight couples, there was a notable difference in how often guys were on the receiving end, and of course, fewer guys would report it when they were. There was a particularly sad trend of women who had been beaten by males, seeking out relationships with other women, because of the idea that it would be better, then finding themselves in the same pattern of abuse. My friend was a member of the gay scene and saw this up close.
Interestingly, one particular religious group stood out for the high level of abuse between husband and wife more than the others. No I'm not going to name it, but I will say don't assume it's the obvious target.
So I'm going to be referring to guys in our western culture and their interactions with women for the most part, because that is my easiest frame of reference for a bunch of reasons. But it's a just as much a problem for rich, poor, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, religious, non-religious...
I have a temper. Always have. I've never beaten a partner. I slapped my girlfriend once when she was hysterical but still with-it enough to ask me to slap her. I felt guilty for a long time afterwards. Never thought it was okay to hit a woman. That said I had one girlfriend who, for a little while, got regular punches in the arm. I'll explain that one shortly.
Decided for myself over the years that solving problems, frustration, or annoyance with violence was a mug's game. Lameo should be eternally grateful that I chose the path I did, cos God knows, it saved him from multiple beatings. This doesn't mean I won't haul off and belt someone, but I will hold off on that action and even turn the other cheek if they hit me first. I don't like who I am when I get angry enough to hit someone. I enjoy it way too much. Plus I'm old and arrogant enough to prefer having the moral highground.
And hell, let's be realistic, in my current state I think most eight-year-old girls could beat me in a fight these days. Glad I never came to rely on violence to get my way, because I'd be in a real sad and sorry state now.
Now a couple of personal stories concerning physical abuse.
One of my girlfriends used to say, "I'm sorry, I just lose control." She'd say it as I nursed a freshly bruised arm. She had the bad habit of punching guys in the arm if they said something she didn't like. It could be a mild joke at her expense, a comeback to something she said, anything. She didn't hold back, either, it was a full-on, very hard punch. It wasn't just reserved for me, most of our closer male friends copped this treatment. And anyone who complained to her about it got the same answer - Sorry, I just lose control.
She would hit them, then apologise almost immediately. But she was always smiling when she did.
She grew worse and worse over our first year together. I asked her repeatedly to stop punching me in the arm, always to get the same excuse. I just lose control. Then one day, I made a conscious decision. I was tired of having arms covered in bruises, tired of getting hit without any good reason, tired of pain, tired of the excuses. She never hit women, only men, and I felt it was because she thought it was safe to. Men weren't allowed to hit women.
I was going to punch her back, in the arm, just hard enough to sting.
It took weeks before I actually managed to push myself far enough to do it. It still went against the grain - you don't hit women! Then one day she punched me and finally I realised I could do it. I was being struck regularly while I never raised a hand to her. My sense of fairness kicked in straight after the punch, and I gave her her one and only warning. "That's it, I'm telling you now, the next time you punch me, I'm punching you back."
She immediately started on the excuses - I can't help myself, it's not my fault, I just lose control - and telling me that I shouldn't hit her back for something she can't control. I replied that I had asked her and asked her not to hit me, and I wasn't going to tolerate it any more. It was time she learned to control herself.
She knew I could fight, I'd learned to box from my father. Something like a week or two weeks went by without being punched. My bruises started to fade, then she started again, and in the intervening time my resolve had weakened. It took another few weeks of getting my arms turned black and blue, and a particularly painful punch in the arm, before I finally turned and hit her back. I should note that I was totally calm when I did.
'Ow, you bastard! That hurt!' And she hauled off and punched me again. Much, much harder.
I hit her arm again, around the same power as the previous whack, aimed where I had hit her the first time.
'Ow, that fucking hurt! Don't hit me!'
'Then don't you hit me. I told you ages back I was going to start hitting back. I didn't hit you anywhere near as hard as you hit me, either.'
She hit me a third time, I hit her back, same spot again. She hit me a fourth time and then ran out of the room. I didn't follow. Over the next week or two, she sullenly told me off a few times for hitting her for something she couldn't help, and every time she did I asked her how many times she had hit me, hit other men. And every time I heard the same words - 'But it's not my fault, I just lose control' - to which my reply was, 'well I'm the one with the temper, and I don't.'
I got punched maybe a dozen times over the next month, I struck back for each one. She stopped making excuses, then stopped hitting me, and hitting our friends. Over the next three years that we were together, the worst she gave anyone was a playful slap on the arm, barely more than a light impact. And even that was rare.
What that experience taught me was this - the thing about the vast majority of people who beat their partners, is that they are lying, scared, cowards. I say that because, to me, it's obvious. A guy goes home, slaps his wife around a little. Later he apologises and says he's sorry. Maybe even cries because he means it, he is sorry, he does feel bad. Of course that hasn't stopped him hitting her before, it won't stop him hitting her next time. And then he says those words...
"I just lose control sometimes."
Lying coward! You know why I say that? Because he doesn't lose control with people who could hit back. What he should be saying is, 'I'm sorry, I hit you because it's safe to!' The guys who beat their partners regularly rarely hit people outside the relationship. Why? Because it's unknown what the reaction will be. There's a chance that they will get hurt. So it almost never happens. In the same way most bullies pick on the smaller kids.
It's not about losing control. It's about anger, fear, and power. About feeling mighty because you've made someone cower, got someone scared of you, when you're the one who is truly afraid or powerless. How many people who beat their partners beg them to stay when it looks like they are going to leave? Fear and anger all over again.
Dad used to hit mum. He'd get drunk, the mad old bitch next door that made our lives a living hell for years would get to him, he'd take it out on mum in the wrong circumstances. He'd taught me how to box, so at nine years old, I started attacking my father when he held my mother up against the wall and hit her. On more than one occasion, through a mixture of having been taught well by him, and dad being three-parts pissed, I not only got him off her, I had him on the floor. I think I was eleven the first time I knocked my father out, though the booze would have helped a lot in that victory.
He wasn't evil, and I don't think he was a coward in any other way. I worked with him, and he wasn't noticably afraid of anyone. Drunk or sober, he'd take on guys much bigger and younger than himself. Of course, the sad irony is that, more than once I saw him go after a guy who was mistreating his partner. He was very much of the opinion that cowards hit women. But the stress would rise at our house, the old bat next door would have had the cops down to our house three or four nights in a row, claiming we were deliberately playing loud music, stomping around to upset her, etc; mum would be banging and crashing things around in her schizophrenic haze; dad would have been down the pub all afternoon.
We'd watch the telly with the sound so low it was barely audible. Mum would make noise as she did stuff, dad would tell her with increasing urgency and anger to keep the noise down. My father, who would take on men bigger than him, who would get into a pen with a mad bullock, was scared of the old woman next door. And terror would drive him. He'd go from telling mum to be quieter, to yelling at mum to be quieter, to angrily attacking her, saying she was going to have the cops on us again.
My father wasn't a bad man, but when it came to his fear and anger, he was a weak man. He lashed out at mum, not to have her cower, but in desperation to stop the bad things from happening. For the last several years that we lived in Armadale, it happened probably one to three times a year. Once we moved, it stopped. Once the hell-ish pressures of our next-door neighbour were removed, so was the violence.
But the things I wrote above are some of the reasons he hit mum, they don't excuse that it happened. It shouldn't have. I forgave him for it because he's only human. We all make mistakes, we're all weak in some way, we all lash out once in a while. But the people who lash out regularly never cease to sicken me with their weakness.
Saying sorry doesn't make it alright.
No-one deserves to regularly play the victim at the hands of another's fear and anger. Be it physical, verbal, emotional or sexual. And I dislike myself when I get needlessly angry or grumpy with someone. I'm especially aware of it because Sharon deals with confrontation so badly. In over ten years of being around each other, I think she's seen me really angry once.
I still remember approximately ten years ago, when an Australian survey was done about whether it was alright for a man to give his partner a slap around for being late with dinner, or overspending, or other small things. Something like 85% of guys said that in some circumstances it was still warranted... and so did something like 70% of women! I still remember being sickened by it. That in this day and age, so many men thought it was still appropriate, I felt ashamed on behalf of my gender, I felt ashamed on behalf of my country. What made it even worse was that more than fifty percent of women agreed! What the fuck were they thinking? Who the hell did they survey to get these results?
And why would anyone think there was ever a time when this behaviour is an acceptable way to treat someone you're meant to love?
I have a serious weakness for the strawberry ones. I once got given a whole box by a convention committee as a thank you, I was in sugar heaven. There's not much more I can say about them, except that I love them.
Oh, but I can tell you how to play Hunt The Alien.
You line up 10 Freddo Frogs, 9 strawberry ones, with an additional peppermint Freddo Frog randomly hidden amongst them.
Then you take your motorised water pistol, filled with really hot water.
Take aim at your first 'suspect'.
Fire streams of liquid death at the potential alien! If it bleeds red, you were wrong.
Keep going until you get the one that bleeds green. First person to get the green one is the winner!
Best to have someone on hand who doesn't mind eating the molten remains of the dead Freddos.
Dead Freddos... Sounds like a good name for a band.
Can you tell I melted my brain on the previous post?