I once pushed my wife out of the car. This might trigger an emotional reaction, especially from someone who has been a victim of abuse. You might be tempted to conclude I am an abuser, a monster, deserving of punishment, in need of psychiatric evaluation & counseling, and my opinion is not worth hearing.
That I had made several respectful requests for the hitting & hurtful words to stop, warned her repeatedly that I was losing my patience to tolerate her behavior, and informed her that if it continued, I would pull over & ask her to get out.
Does it matter that when she chose to continue, and I pulled the car over, I gave her time to exit, only resorted to physical force when she refused to exit & continued attacking me and made every reasonable effort to avoid causing any injury to her person & belongings in the process?
Perhaps you would still be disinclined to excuse my actions; after all, I was not in any real physical danger. Would your judgment be as harsh were the genders reversed? Would a woman in my situation be considered to be in real danger simply on the basis of the man’s superior size & strength, or would she be judged the same? When does defending oneself from abuse cross the line of reasonable self-defense to become criminal behavior, and is this line drawn differently for men than it is for women?
I ask these questions because they still trouble me to this day. After driving away, I broke down in tears.
I studied dozens of books & scientific papers on abuse, focusing in particular on the idea of reactive (or responsive) abuse. What I learned caused me to conclude that I could no longer continue my efforts to reconcile our separation due to the toxic dynamics of our relationship. It led me to file for divorce despite how deeply & sincerely I still loved this beautiful but deeply-flawed woman, as I had for eighteen years.
The truth that made me realize the only possible victory lay in giving up was this: no matter what I did, there was no potential positive outcome. I could not force her to be respectful or rational. I could only either endure the abuse — in which case my soul would continue to wither & die a slow death — or act to stop it, in which case my reactions would be used against me to justify her twisted narrative in which she was the victim. I was abusive, controlling, unfaithful, perverse, addicted to drugs & alcohol, violent, & mentally unstable.
Although never formally diagnosed, my now ex-wife demonstrated every sign of having a cluster-B personality disorder, most likely amorous vulnerable narcissism with borderline & histrionic features. I did not arrive at this conclusion lightly. While it has allowed me to understand her choices better & to have compassion for her, it does not absolve her of her responsibility, just as her abuse does not absolve me of mine. H
Within the social context exhorting us to “believe the victim,” there is no need to verify the facts, ask my version of events, or consider why I might have done what I did. When there is never an excuse for a man to use physical force against a woman, false accusations are believed to be so rare that they never happen, and women are seen as non-aggressive, vulnerable, & fragile.
When a woman uses physical force against a man, we assume she must acting in self-defense or he must have done something to deserve it, and we dismiss it as harmless or even humorous. It’s not like he’s not in any real danger, anyway, we reason—ignoring the truth that the invisible scars of emotional abuse no less real and cause long-term harm. Words can destroy lives almost as completely as fists, yet a man being abused elicits mocking laughter & indifference while we rise to the defense of a woman in a similar situation.
Taking advantage of this attitude in our society, immediately following this incident (despite having no injuries), my wife proceeded to contact the police & local domestic violence services, inform her friends & family members of what I had done, and post about it publicly on social media.
Yet I could not help but ask myself, was my silence helping or hurting the situation? Was it better to remain silent and let people assume my guilt or speak up, knowing I would come across as defensive & making excuses for what would be seen as an inexcusable act?
Even with the whole story disclosed, I do not doubt some would still see me as the guilty party; I should have continued to endure the verbal abuse for another twenty minutes until our destination.
Looking back upon the situation rationally, it is easy to see this as the reasonable course of action; after all, twenty minutes doesn’t seem that long. When emotions are taken into account, when one truly puts oneself in the shoes of the victim, perhaps then we can find more compassion for why they reacted the way they did.
When you are in a situation that you never thought you would be in, you find yourself reacting in ways you never thought you would.
Explaining my side of events did not seem worth exposing myself to further attacks & condemnation, for I knew there would be those whose opinions & conclusions would not be changed by anything I said. From the moment the accusation was made, I had forever lost credibility with those who had been raised to believe that — regardless of the context — a man using physical force against a woman was never okay. I could understand their perspective; it’s a belief that has been instilled in us from a very young age and one I had myself internalized, which — along with my idea that abuse was a gender-based crime of which only men could be guilty — created the circumstances that allowed her to verbally, physically, psychologically, financially, & sexually abuse me for the eight years before our divorce, all while gaslighting me into believing that I was the abusive one in our relationship because of how I reacted to her tirades.
Encounters with police & domestic violence services only reinforced her version of the situation; when I presented to the police station on my own accord with recorded evidence of her abuse, none of it was even reviewed, and I was thrown in jail. At the same time, my abuser received support, compassion, & sympathy.
Indeed, there are not two sides to abuse — so many “choices” I made were coerced under the threat of severe emotional suffering — but the gender biases held by the local courts & police ensured that my attempts to explain only brought more condemnation down upon me. A man complaining about his “hurt feelings” elicits no sympathy, only scorn.
This is the ultimate catch-22; we say the answer to male violence is teaching men to respect women, to manage their emotions better, and to learn to find healthy outlets for their expression. Yet when women demonstrate open contempt towards men, they are seldom called out for misandry. When men show vulnerability, they expose themselves to scorn, invalidation, & loss of esteem, with no sources of comfort, justice, sympathy, or compassion. We say there is never an excuse for a man to hit a woman… but a woman can attack a man publicly without reproach, tear his world apart with words, break his heart with infidelity, and ruin his reputation with false allegations… and rather than being held accountable, she is likely to be believed without evidence & even applauded for her “independence” and for “striking back against the patriarchy.”
Because of the lack of training & expectations of how a victim “should” behave, false allegations from a skilled female manipulator are likely to be believed, while real victims are likely to be doubted, and so victims of both genders end up re-traumatized.
I cannot speak for female survivors of abuse, although what I lived through has given me a deeper sense of empathy & understanding of their plight. My experience has inspired me to share my story and do what I can to raise awareness of the struggles men face — and how being seen as “privileged” often means these issues are not taken seriously. Men are not allowed to defend themselves, vilified if they leave (and punished with the loss of their children, should they have any), and seen as weak if they show emotion or reach out for help.
As for me, redemption remains an elusive, forlorn hope. There is no judgment that can be imposed upon me more harshly than the verdict I handed down upon myself. Perhaps I will always be haunted by guilt over the time I once pushed my wife out of a car.