Is the Way He is Treating Me Abusive?

The book Why Does He DO That? by Lundy Bancroft was recently recommended to me by Teh Bewilderness, and by the domestic violence shelter I’ve started volunteering at. It is exceptionally good. It’s written in 2002 by a man who runs programs for abusers, and it shows what tactics they use, as well as how their behavior can be crazy-making for women. Bancroft is very clear that MEN abuse women, and that women do not have the ability to terrorize and undermine men in the way men abuse women. He also discusses the ways in which friends, family, courts, and therapists can often take the abuser’s side without meaning to. He emphasizes that being “neutral” in cases where it is known that abuse is occurring is in fact choosing the side of the abuser.

Anyway, this is a great book, and I recommend every woman read it. We’ve all known (or been) women in abusive situations.

I thought the below checklist was very helpful in helping women discover whether they are in an abusive relationship. The list is taken from pages 124-130 of the book.

About his behavior, he is abusive if:

He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior.

He tells you that your objections to his mistreatment of you are your own problem.

He gives apologies that are insincere or angry and he demands that you accept them.

He blames you for the impact of his behavior.

It is never the right time or the right way to bring things up.

He undermines your progress in life.

He denies what he did.

He justifies his hurtful or frightening behavior or say that you “made him do it”.

He touches you in anger or puts you in fear in other ways.

He coerces you into having sex or sexually assaults you.

His controlling, disrespectful, or degrading behavior is a problem.

About you, if you show signs of abuse such as:

Are you afraid of him?

Are you getting distant with your family and friends because he makes those relationships difficult?

Is your level of energy or motivation declining, or do you feel depressed?

Is your self opinion declining, so that you are always fighting to be good enough and to prove yourself?

Do you find yourself consistently preoccupied with the relationship and how to fix it?

Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?

Do you feel like the problems in your relationship are all your fault?

Do you repeatedly leave arguments feeling like you’ve been messed with but can’t figure out why?

If you think you may be in an abusive situation, please contact your local shelter or crisis line. You can just call to talk. They can help. They want you to call. Please call. Also, you can buy the book here.

EDIT: This post got a lot of negative feedback and accusations of misandry (lol) so I wanted to clear up what author Lundy Bancroft of Why Does He DO That? actually says about men and abuse.

This is from page 288-289 of his book, under the subheading “How Society Adopts the Abuser’s Perspective”:

“To the person who says “These abuse activists are anti-male”:

How is it anti-male to be against abuse? Are we supposed to pretend we don’t notice that the overwhelming majority of abusers are male? This accusation parallels the abuser’s words to his partner: The reason you think I’m abusive is because you have a problem with men!” One of the best counters to this piece of side-tracking is to point out how many men are active in combating the abuse of women. Remember also that abused women are the sisters, daughters, mothers, and friends of men. Men’s lives are affected by abuse, because it happens to women we know and care about.”

Additionally, from page 290:

“Everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man’s claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence. The great majority of allegations of abuse– though not all– are substantially accurate, and an abuser almost never ‘seems like the type’.”

There is a System

In 2007 I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter as a crisis line operator.

The building we were housed in was yellow with white trim, with a wrap-around white porch. From the outside, it had a very homey feel.

This volunteer work helped me on my path of discovering baby feminism. Before this period, I often thought of myself as an Exceptional Woman™ who was smarter, more powerful, and more awesome than the rest of “those women”. I was one of a very small number of female graduate students in an analytic philosophy program, and I had just completed my Master’s degree. “Why aren’t there more women in Philosophy?” the ladies in the program asked. But we knew that our answer was, “Because philosophy is hard”.

If I was an Exceptional Woman™, then I got to identify with men. I can remember talking with K, the only other female grad student in my cohort (year), and she offered me a “high five for rape jokes”. I think I left her hanging, but I don’t remember telling her how massively misogynistic she was being, and we were being, by thinking we were exceptional compared to other women, and how utterly stupid we were for thinking that hating women ourselves is an escape hatch from being the target of misogyny.

Looking back, I can see that this behavior was clearly a coping mechanism. We Exceptional Women™ don’t want to be hated, so we try and remove ourselves from the group of women who we characterize as “girly” (whatever the f that is), and loathsome, and stupid, and concerned with frivolity. We remove ourselves by enacting the same hatred for “those women” that men do. This makes it easier to be taken seriously at the seminar table and around the pitcher of PBR with our colleagues.

I hadn’t even read my first feminist book at this point (Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy). My personal favorite “progressive” issue at the time was raising awareness about contraception. Women shouldn’t be stupid with sex, I thought. They should have a lot of it, as much as they want, as much as the men do, and they should use condoms condoms condoms (!) while they do it. That way they won’t have babies, and overpopulate the planet, and they can be free to have more sex, which liberates them. Orgasm politics horray. These women need me to tell them about the best way to be free! I wanted to volunteer at some place that raised awareness about contraception (I called it “Condom Flinging”), but the opportunity that popped up first was the domestic violence shelter, so I went there.

I had several duties at the DV shelter. As a crisis line operator, I would take messages for shelter residents (I cannot confirm or deny that Sandy is here, but if she is, I will pass the message along), hand out medication, and unlock the door to known female staff members, volunteers, and residents.

We also answered the phone to women in crisis, and checked women in.

I remember we admitted one woman whose face was entirely purple from a partner who had beaten her. Another woman called talking about how her partner kicked her in the head with her children in the room, and another had been smacked with a tire iron. These are just a few instances. All phone calls for the day were recorded in a book, and the shift relief was advised to read over what had been happening in case there were follow-up calls.

In looking back on this time, I see how unprepared I was, and that I had not anticipated noticing how privileged I had been to (mostly) have escaped intimate partner violence.

I burnt out of this work in less than a year, because I was not emotionally prepared to see how much abuse really goes on in our towns. I also attended a party where an abuser showed up, and I left in hysterical tears. I was so upset that no one shunned this scumbag, and that he was still invited out everywhere and treated as if nothing had happened, even though he punched a woman in the friend group and broke her nose and everyone knew it that I ended up calling the crisis line to talk about my experience.

Now I can see what I failed to observe then, which is that there is a system of oppression in place that allows men to beat women, and compels women to return to these men. DV is not just about bad people hurting other people. It’s about men maintaining a system of power over women. I can see that that system is the same system that had convinced me that the more “responsible” PIV one had, the more adventurous and liberated one became. It’s the same system I was trying to survive by playing the Exceptional Woman™ in my class, and by actively hating women in my words and actions.

I am ashamed of my previous ignorance, and I am grateful for the truths I’ve learned. I wish I had been exposed to/sought out feminism (and *radical feminist thought*) earlier.