Mainstream media must stop pedaling the dangerous myth that domestic violence is caused by anger.
Reading an opinion piece published this week, which insisted that anger is the root cause of domestic violence (and terrorism), my blood pressure shot up in exasperation.
Domestic violence is a global epidemic of epic proportions: A staggering 38 million people in the world today have experienced domestic violence. It affects more women than war and cancer combined, and one in four females will go through the trauma of an abusive relationship in their lifetime.
So when an undoubtedly well-intentioned individual trots out a practically prehistoric paradigm, which reinforces misconceptions about domestic violence, even I struggle not to see red.
Because anger is not the cause of domestic violence.
I got pretty angry reading the article. Did I bang out a furious email in ALL CAPS cursing out the misinformed writer? Did I rush out and beat up my boyfriend?
No, of course I didn’t, and not just because I’m not dating at the moment. I decided to write this article. I have the ability to channel my feelings into action that helps me to achieve my aims.
Most abusive individuals are able to make strategic choices, too. For perpetrators, anger is not a goal: it is a tactic.
What causes domestic violence?
Domestic violence is driven by the need of one person to control their partner. That need is rooted in a multitude of deep-seated factors, including:
- Poor self esteem and feelings of inadequacy
- Problems relating to women
- Learned violence
- Entrenched misogynistic views such as the idealisation of male dominance.
Even though we know the factors that make someone pre-disposed to domestic violence, it is far from inevitable that relationship violence will occur. That is because domestic violence is a strategy which some people actively select, and others do not.
Equally, some abusive individuals have anger seeping out of their pores, which manifests in other areas of their lives – but many limit their violent outbursts exclusively to interactions with their significant other.
Let’s look at an example. Joe works long hours in a physically and mentally demanding job as a junior medical doctor. He is respected by his colleagues for his sound decision-making under significant stress. Even the most difficult patients warm to his friendly bedside manner. Joe’s neighbours consider him a nice, friendly guy.
Joe beats his wife.
If anger is the cause of domestic violence, then men like Joe would be unable to keep a lid on their temper. In a fit of pique, he’d punch the consultant that criticised his care plan. He’d dropkick the patient who refused to give a full medical history. He’d threaten to kill the neighbour mowing the lawn when he’s trying to sleep off a grueling night at the hospital.
Joe does not do any of those things, because he is able to control himself.
He is also fully in control when he terrorises his wife. He chooses to behave in this way toward her – and not other people – because it gives him the sense of power that he craves. It enables him to assert his dominance, by controlling her behavior and her feelings.
There is no ‘red mist’, no sporadic outburst of rage. Before he attacks his wife, he will often work himself up into an angry state. This too is a calculated choice.
Afterward, he may tell his wife he just ‘lost control’ when he beat her. It is a convenient excuse that deflects attention from the flaws in his psyche that lead him to choose violence.
It has the added benefit of causing his wife to devise strategies to avoid or mitigate his rage, drawing her energy away from escaping the controlling relationship.
Joe does not have an anger management problem. He has has a mindset that chooses violence to fulfil his need for control.
The ‘angry men’ paradigm is incorrect and dangerous
Joe’s choice is not made in a vacuum. It is reinforced by mainstream media and culture. Pervasive inequality and the denigration of women is present in pornography that portrays females only in the context of their ability to serve men, the glamorisation of male violence in music and film, and even in our judicial systems – in which survivors of even the most brutal violence are subject to victim-blaming.
All these factors cannot be tied up into a neat little soundbite, therefore many cop out.
We have seen this in the mainstream media’s analysis of Dylann Roof – currently on trial for the racially-motivated murders of nine black people in the USA – Norwegian far right mass murderer Anders Breivik, and misogynistic killer Elliot Rodger.
All were labeled mentally ill lone wolves. It’s a temptingly neat package that is much easier to accept than the alternative, which would force us to examine the complex and multifaceted root causes of violence. That’s too much introspection for most, so they look for a handy hook on which to hang the problem.
In domestic violence cases, this means perpetrators such as Joe are dismissed as simply angry men. The simplistic narrative allows us to shake our heads in outrage at his behavior, and chalk it up to just another dysfunctional person about whom we can do nothing.
Disturbingly, attributing Joe’s behaviour to rage-induced loss of control overlooks the fact that he has the choice to use violence, or not. The ‘angry men’ paradigm is not just incorrect – it is deplorably dangerous.
We must hold perpetrators to account as individuals with choices, not helpless beings unable to resist the lure of beating their partner. We must also address the wider societal issues that feed the violence. Only then will we be empowered to end domestic violence.
What do you think? Is the media getting it right? Is domestic violence / abuse caused by anger, or something else? Have your say in the Comments.