Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

A brief history of domestic violence against men, in vintage postcards

Filed By Gloria Brame, Ph.D. | October 05, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: domestic violence

Wives beating up their disobedient or wayward husbands was once perceived as downright hilarious. Maybe it was the shock of the role reversal (wife-battering was a commonplace in those days) or that men who submitted to female authority were viewed by Victorians as snark-worthy fools, but it's no laughing matter: those attitudes remain at the heart of our culture today.

The abuse of men and trans by partners is largely ignored, hushed up, or dismissed. Worse, the victims themselves often feel too embarrassed or unempowered to report such crimes. In some cases, they don't even realize that they are even being abused, so ingrained in our culture is the notion that it's not as meaningful when a trans or a man is assaulted or raped as it is when it happens to a bio woman. The unfairness of that attitude has always burned me up.

I've had clients in my practice who literally refused to believe they were in an abusive relationship until I asked them "what would you say about this relationship if your kid or your best friend was in it?" Even when they know they are being abused, many men won't report it to the cops. A close friend of mine, who was assaulted by his long-time partner, told me, "The cops won't take me seriously because I've got two strikes against me: I'm male and I'm gay." I get it. I know.

One of my straight clients recently had to hire a special advocate to appear with him in court because none of the lawyers he'd consulted here in rural Georgia could believe someone as muscular as him could even be abused. He was tall and strong, she was short and thin, and apparently the Georgia court system would've had to rework their entire definition of masculinity in order to accept that a wife was the abuser and not the victim.

Finding postcards which made light of violence against men meant I had to take the opportunity to speak about this issue. If you are being abused, get help and put some serious distance between yourself and your abuser. No good can or will ever come of an abusive relationship.

And now the cards. These are ca. 1910-1920.

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Gloria,

While I agree, wholeheartedly, with the ideas presented in that men are often abused, I do have to ask a couple pointed questions.

Why "men and trans"? Why the separation?

Why "bio woman"?

I realize these are semantic based questions, but they go to the heart of a deeper matter that, in fact, this article speaks to in some ways, though maybe not intentionally.

I think the message of your post is quite important and it's wonderful that you have taken time to address this issue.

However, like dyssonance, I stumbled a bit on the phrasing "men and trans." This kind of phrasing implies that trans men are somehow different and separate from those who fall under the more general grouping, men. By logical extension, this phrasing implies that trans women are also separate and different from the more general grouping, women.

Also, the modifier bio—as in bio female or bio male—is falling out of favor. For one, many trans people modify their biology via hormones and surgery to fit the sex they identify as. Furthermore, many trans people will point to medical research on brain differences as evidence that their gender identities are biologically based.

As an alternative, you could say "cis men and trans people" rather than "men and trans." You could also say "cis women" rather than "bio women."

Timber, THANK YOU. I am going to follow your advice.

I was reaching for a way to be inclusive, but stumbled. Thank you for helping. *hug*


I think the easiest way to be inclusive would have been to not mention trans people at all. It would have been enough to include trans men in 'men' and trans women in 'women.'

If you need to qualify your inclusiveness at all, a simple statement to the effect of my previous suggestion at the beginning of the article would have been enough.

battybattybats battybattybats | October 5, 2009 10:09 PM

Unless Trans women suffer the same problem as cis men do and trans men are treated like cis women by society in this.

In which case mentioning them in this is about the double-standards of society rather than denying the man-ness or woman-ness of trans people.

Emily, thanks for your perspective. My concern, though, is that trans people have experienced domestic violence specifically because they are trans; and have found it almost impossible to get justice from the system. In my original, I did what you suggested but that seemed to ignore the very special challenges trans people face. Do you object to Timber's suggestion? I am more than willing to learn whatever you folks wish to teach me on this subject.

In all fairness, as has been discussed elsewhere (a column by Father Tony, notably), you didn't actually do *wrong* in saying men and trans.

Trans is an extremely wide variety, and some of those within the trans grouping do not identify nor can they be accurately described as belonging to the binary.

I asked, first and foremost, in order to avoid what happened in the Father Tony column, where he used "women and trans" to talk about primarily binary identified individuals, and was pleasantly reminded with a thwack to the head of this point.

It was a matter of clarification -- a benefit of the doubt.

This is an example of cisprivilege, of course; this setting of trans as a group as being a third category, when, in fact, it is the same two present categories, plus umpteen additional ones, all in one not-so-neat little package. It is also an aspect of heteronormative privilege, as I demonstrated in that earlier posting.

This makes it very difficult to speak to trans issues as a whole, and requires that one always be more explicit when discussing them. And its kid of a trap -- the easier thing to do is, as Emily suggested, just use male and female or men and women (men and women, preferably).

The problem then is that you ignore the issues of non-binary identified transfolk, rendering them invisible.

So the only way to be safe is to be explicit in our speaking to it. If we mean Men and bigender.cd, tv, gq, drag, effeminate men as well, then we need to talk to it. If we mean masculine spectrum folks, we should speak to that.

It means being more aware and since there is great diversity, it's akin to speaking to issue's of race or religion -- if you mention a few examples, most don't have an issue and you avoid seeming racist or bigoted. People get it.

That means, however you have to educate yourself -- not always the easiest thing. Heck, I'm not even fully aware of all the variety out there!


I think the problem is that people assume domestic violence is more wrong than a barroom brawl because it's a boy hitting a girl (in their minds), when, personally, the problem is the abuse of intimacy and trust that usually results in victims covering for their assailants.

I doubt that'll change, though; we're a violent culture and don't seem to show much awareness of the fact that we accept violence against others as the solution to so many problems.

Thank you, Gloria, for raising the issue and thank you, subsequent commentators, for parsing an eye-opening discussion around the complexities of inclusiveness.

As an attorney, I have recently need to do some quick and limited amount of law journal research around domestic abuse and violence. One aspect struck me about virtually all of the journal articles (again, not a scientific sampling). This was that though the authors may have mentioned the relatively smaller percentage of adult men who are domestic abuse victims, this "mentioning" was always the limit of their inclusiveness in this regard; men as perpetrators, yes, but not men as victims. This may evidence a gap and need in social and legal research.

I met a man a fair number of years ago who was such an adult victim and had the scars and other validation as historical traces. He also reported an extensive abuse history as a child victim. He struggled to recognize his abuse as an adult.