The Verizon Foundation, a nonprofit offshoot of the telecommunications
company, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, established by the United States government in 1996 through grants provided under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, recently
released a short video entitled “Monsters,” which the Verizon
Foundation says “shows the immediate and long-term impact on children who witness domestic violence.” Now, this is an important issue.
Subjecting children to the spectacle of one or both of their parents
being attacked, degraded, or tormented by the other is a form of psychological/emotional abuse that can be devastating even if no one ever raises their
hand against the child. I'd
praise the video for bringing this up if only the folks at the Verizon
Foundation and the National Domestic Violence Hotline were actually
siding with such children, rather than against them.
one can- and should- object to the fact that the ad explicitly defines domestic
violence to be something men do and women suffer- if my introduction
to the concept of domestic violence were this ad, the notion that a man or a lesbian could be a victim of "domestic violence” wouldn't occur to me. That would be less of an
issue if the makers and the typical expected viewer of this came from
a culture where it was widely understood that the male perpetrator-female victim scenario described was not the only configuration possible,
and children seeking help because of a violent mother weren't ignored
or called liars because of traditional prejudices that “women don't do that” or feminist claims that “domestic
violence is gendered,” but this wasn't made in that world. In
this case the usual erasure of any victim of intimate relationship
violence who isn't a heterosexual female is only a secondary problem, however.
ad starts off with an animated depiction of a child in a violent household. We
are told of her pain and distress. She lives in “darkness,” in a
“nightmare.” And it is very conspicuously HER pain and distress,
and SHE who lives in a world of darkness and nightmares- the
consistent use of 'she” and “her” for the victimized child is
not, as we shall see, merely a byproduct of the fact that English
lacks a singular third-person pronoun for referring to a human being
without reference to sex.
source of her distress is explicitly referred to as her father, which
brings us to the first group of children in the ad's cross-hairs.
Suppose you're a little kid who's upset because you see Mommy hitting
Daddy, or pushing him down, or throwing things at him, or waving a
kitchen knife around and screaming about how someday she's going to
cut his balls off. Maybe the sound of people yelling or screaming or
sobbing at night makes it hard to sleep. Maybe you hate yourself
because you think you're somehow the cause of it. Maybe you're afraid
that someday Mommy will kill Daddy, or even get so angry about
something that she'll kill you. Maybe part of you wishes she
would, because surely she wouldn't act this way if you were a
better child- and if you were gone, maybe everybody could be happy
those nice people who talk about this thing called “domestic
violence,” and how it's really bad, and that it's not children's
fault, and that if it's happening in your house you should tell a
grown-up you trust so you can get help, and that people being hurt by
it deserve help and protection? They're not talking about you.
They're not there to help you. They don't care about you. They've helpfully explained who the
people who need and deserve help are, and you're not one of them.
Again, this wouldn't be such an issue in a world where a child whose mother abuses her father was likely to have other sources information telling her that what happens in her family is also "domestic violence," and that she and her father also deserve help, and where an adult authority figure told of such a situation by a child was likely to have also been exposed to such information, and to have internalized it to the point that they could be counted on to treat the child's situation with due seriousness. Unfortunately, people living in that world aren't the ones seeing this.
The all but exclusive fixation
on male perpetrators brought about by gender feminist domination of this topic doesn't just erase or vilify male victims; it
also throws many women and girls to the wolves, if the person who
hurt them has the wrong genitalia. The folks who dominate the
discourse about abuse typically seem, based on revealed preference, to desire the former badly enough to consider the latter an acceptable trade-off. These children get off comparatively lightly,
however; they're merely written off. There are worse things.
ad continues by saying that the girl will be more likely to be abused
herself as an adult, since she will be more inclined see domestic
violence as normal. And then, finally, the existence of male children
comes up. After being told in anguished tones about how much girls
are hurt by living in violent household, we're told “and her
brother, he'll be twice as likely to become a monster himself.” At
which point a little cartoon boy appears, briefly, only to immediately
transform into a grotesque, ferocious-looking monstrosity that looks like some
horrible beast of Greek mythology filtered through H.P. Lovecraft, looming hideously over the fragile, prone form of his helpless sister.
The little girl, of course, remains human.
to popular myth, most child abuse victims do not go on to become abusers
themselves. There are many other ways a boy can be shaped by such an
experience, even if they are seldom thought worthy of mention.
he'll grow up to think of all men as sadistic monsters, and loathe
himself for being one. Maybe he'll cut himself off from others,
seeing his own permanent loneliness as an acceptable price to pay to
“protect” women and children from what he imagines himself to be-
and what the makers of the ad want us to imagine him to be. Maybe
he'll grow up to let other people abuse him because the memory
of his father makes him so frightened by his own capacity for anger
that he doesn't dare stand up for himself. Perhaps he'll teach his
sons to “respect women” by doing likewise. (In which case he is
hurting others, albeit not others the domestic violence industry
cares about.) Maybe he'll actually try to stop his father, and get
beaten to a bloody pulp. Or maybe he'll spend the rest of his life
reviling himself for “failing” to protect his mother- for not being
strong enough, or big enough, or brave enough, or loving his mom
enough to somehow stop a grown man when he was only a child.
no such boy, no traumatized boy who ought to be viewed with sympathy
rather than fear and horror, exists in the
universe of the ad. None ever could.
two minutes and thirty seconds otherwise saturated with descriptions
of the terrible pain and suffering inflicted on innocent people by
domestic violence, the heart-wrenching litany of pain, misery and
tragedy abruptly stops when male children are mentioned and is
replaced with horror and revulsion- not for the abuse or the abuser,
but for the victim. Once the loathsome, terrifying boy-thing departs
and the narration moves to the subject of the
battered wife, the original tragic, sympathetic tone resumes. The
effects of systematic emotional abuse on a helpless little boy are
referred to solely in terms of how they make the boy seem
scary, dangerous, inhuman, or evil.
being one of those boys and seeing this. Imagine being one of those
boys and seeing this while being told that this is the message of
people who really, really care about how domestic violence hurts
dehumanization is absolute. The effects of domestic violence on women
and girls are bad because- as the ad pulls out all the stops to tell
us- they cause women and girls to suffer. The effects of domestic
violence on boys are bad... because they cause women and girls to
suffer. The boy's capacity to experience pain is utterly erased, and
he is stripped of any moral value as a human being in his own right.
His existence and experiences are relevant only insofar as they
affect people who do have moral value- women and girls. We are
thus encouraged to think of traumatized male children not as victims
who warrant sympathy or protection, but as menaces to be feared and
despised- as monsters.
is not unusual, though the Verizon Foundation video makes it more
explicit than usual by portraying the boy as literally inhuman. Turning abused and traumatized boys into objects of fear or revulsion is a fairly common feature in
discussions of domestic violence. The
same is commonly true if the boy is the direct target of abuse. In
public beliefs about male victims of (male-perpetrated) sexual abuse,
in particular, the myth that abuse victims typically go on to abuse
others is so ubiquitous and colors people's attitudes towards abuse
victims so strongly that the victim's supposed propensity to abuse
others in the future is commonly spoken of as if it were the primary
harm of the abuse itself- the greatest evil of the abuse is becomes
something that will happen to some undefined person at some point in
the future, which conveniently vitiates the perceived need to feel
sympathy for any actual existing male abuse victim.
illustrates the extent to which attitudes towards male victimization
transcend the boundaries between different sides of cultural and
ideological arguments. Feminists dominate the discourse about
domestic violence and efforts to encourage public awareness of it, and do more
than anyone else to encourage the “hurt
boy=future monster” attitude in that area. The same is not true in
the case of male victims of male sexual predators, however, where
such an attitude is expressed by many people from a much more diverse
array of ideological backgrounds and is probably most conspicuously
expressed by people of conservative views who are actively
hostile to feminists. Members of both groups typically have an exaggerated view of male strength that makes it difficult to think of one as truly victimized rather than victimizer, and both often seem to think of raising boys primarily in terms of neutralizing the danger they are seen as naturally posing, so this convergence is to be expected.)
no need to assume that anyone at the Verizon Foundation or the
National Domestic Violence Hotline had this aim in mind. It is the
natural, predictable product of the mindset that dominates discourse
on the subjects of domestic violence and child abuse, as well as related areas like sexual violence- one that tends
to treat the well-being of males (especially once they're no longer
young enough to enjoy the limited moral-value-by-association of being
regarded as appendages of their mother) as having purely instrumental
value, if that, which is prone to regarding even the most vulnerable males as present or future menaces to be contained, and which is at best extremely uncomfortable
with the idea that males can be hurt as badly as females or should be
viewed with equal concern if they are and frequently outright
hostile to the idea.
best thing I can think of to sum up my feelings about this is
something Jacob Taylor of the blog Toy Solders wrote a few years
ago in his post “Being a Boy: 101.” He was talking about a
different topic- a school speaker's treatment of a boy who had been sexually abused,
rather than children who grew up witnessing their mothers being
battered- but the subjects are closely related enough and his words
so relevant that they're worth quoting here.
I wonder how many of the boys in that class have been abused. I wonder how many of them have been raped. I wonder how many of them go home to a house full of violence and say to themselves, “I won’t be like this when I grow up,” only to have someone like this woman say, “You have a penis. Yes, you will.”
There are so
many monsters lying in wait for children to tear apart, yes. So