Riding the Donkey Backwards: Men as the Unacceptable Victims of Marital Violence

In post-Renaissance France and England, society ridiculed and humiliated husbands thought to be battered and/or dominated by their wives (Steinmetz, 1977-78). In France, for instance, a “battered” husband was trotted around town riding a donkey backwards while holding its tail. In England, “abused” husbands were strapped to a cart and paraded around town, all the while subjected to the people’s derision and contempt. Such “treatments” for these husbands arose out of the patriarchal ethos where a husband was expected to dominate his wife, making her, if the occasion arose, the proper target for necessary marital chastisement; not the other way around (Dobash & Dobash, 1979).

I suggest that, after restoring legal recognition of husbands’ authority, we bring back these customs in order to compel men to bring their wives under control.

Despite the criticisms leveled at Steinmetz and her concept of the battered husband, violence directed at husbands has been reported by others. For instance, Murray Straus, Richard Gelles, and Suzanne Steinmetz (1980) estimated that about one in eight men in the United States acted violently during marital conflict. However, they estimated a similar number of women also acted violently during marital conflict. They also noted that in a majority of these cases, violence was a mutual or bilateral activity, with only 27% of cases finding that husbands were the sole perpetrators of violence and 24% of cases finding only wives acting violently. With respect to serious violence, as judged by the Conflict Tactics Scales (Note 2), these authors stated that the rate for men beaten by their wives was 4.6%; a figure that indicated “over 2 million very violent wives.” While 47% of those husbands who beat their wives did so severely three or more times a year, 53% of women who beat their husbands severely did so three or more times a year.

In conclusion, summarized such data as Straus and Gelles (1986) indicating that women engage in minor assaults against their male partners at a slightly higher rate than for the same attacks upon women by men. In situations in which both partners use violence, men and women were also almost equally responsible for the first blow, but in only one quarter of these relationships was the man the sole victim. At more potentially injurious levels of assault, men were considered to exceed women in their aggressive behavior and it was suggested that a relative rate in the order of 6 or 7 to 1 (male versus female) was evident for the perpetration of injurious assaults.


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