Toronto Star

June 24, 2000

Male domestic violence too often bred in the bone

By Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

I SUPPOSE we could do worse in memory of Gillian Hadley, before her name vanishes from the news to join the ranks of forgotten others who've suffered the same savage fate, than to spend a few minutes today confronting The Beast Within.It's a recent book written by Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. And it says some things worth considering, not the least of which is that the problem of violence, especially domestic violence, is fundamentally male.

``Male violence has been a hallmark of all human cultures,'' Boyd writes. ``At the dawn of the third millennium, in every country in the world, men are overwhelmingly responsible for violent crime.''

The professor goes on to say that, in domestic relations, the quality and character of male violence differs from that of females.

``Men hunt down and kill their partners; women almost never engage in such behaviour. Men kill after revelations of adultery; women do not.

``Men kill their partners after consistently subjecting them to abuse; women do not. Men perpetrate familicidal massacres, killing spouse and children; women do not. Men kill during sexual assaults; women do not.''

According to Boyd, biology is at the root of the problem, sex often the central motive.

``The female victim has betrayed (her partner) by becoming involved with another man, by leaving him, or by failing to live up to his expectations.

``More than half of all killings in virtually every nation-state are perpetrated by a male against a female partner.''

It's not that women inevitably occupy a moral high ground, he says. Like men, they can and do hit, punch, kick, stab, shoot and strangle. But, even if women initiate abuse or fight back, the biological imperatives of male size, strength and speed are almost always determining factors.

Boyd says some theoreticians say men are more violent than women only because they have been socialized, in forums from the football field to the boardroom, to be so. His view is that it is inherent.

``There is first and always some amount of violence at the level of the family - the phenomenon of killing among intimates. Most commonly, a man assaults, injures, or kills his wife or lover, kin or former friend; this form of violence has existed in every society, past and present.''

Still, both biology and environment are always at play, he says, and need both be investigated. For instance, he says development of the birth-control pill was a watershed event in the relations between men and women and an increase in domestic violence.

For the first time, it gave women control over reproduction. This allowed increased presence in the workforce and greater economic independence. Divorce rates soared.

The ability of women to control their reproductive freedom changed the rules of sexuality, and sexuality is at the core of male violence, Boyd said.

``Men appear to have had much more difficulty coping with the cultural changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s than women have. The recognition of such change, of a loss of control, of having to adapt, of evolving expectations - these things are all more threatening to men than to women.''

And he found that it was generally those with few resources and fewer social skills who were typically unable to walk away when their relationships fell apart.

Boyd says the future evolution of male violence is a process ``that we at least have some potential to influence.'' Education is crucial, he says, along with a re-evaluation of distorted social values and the veneration, in sports and entertainment, of brutality.

``Our culture expresses much more concern and upset about sex than it does about violence. We are horrified at the prospect that teenagers might watch films featuring explicit sex, but we think little of sending them off to theatres to watch horrific violence.''

This may well deliver the worst of both worlds - the desensitizing impact of violence, the stunting ignorance about sexuality.

Moreover, governments might need to think about redeploying resources and refocusing the effort in any so-called war on crime.

Society must pay more than lip service to the need to build strong families and communities, he said, must be more involved with identifying and helping at-risk children.

``If we want a kinder and gentler society, that critical investment of time, energy and capital must be found. There is a better way for men and for women; male biology has been our handicap and will likely continue to be, but it is not our destiny.''

Men have seen the enemy.

And he is us.



Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Contents copyright © 1996-2000, The Toronto Star.