I had an interesting Twitter exchange with a couple of reporters from Puerto Rico recently, regarding the use of the term “gender crime” to discuss domestic violence. The “twigurment” (what I call an argument on Twitter) started with a story about a person being charged with a crime for assault and ended with a discussion about Latin male “machismo.”
While it is true that Latin men have a tradition of “machismo,” isn’t the use of that statement to paint all men as abusers sexist?
There are plenty of articles out there about women who are tired of being labeled — especially Hispanic women who feel they have been typecast in ways that are simply unfair. Yet, no one seems to mind using the same kinds of sexist labels against men. In fact, at least in the eyes of some of my colleagues, there are laws written and enforced based on those gender stereotypes.
It is probably important that we acknowledge the impact and toll of domestic violence. It is a crime that for many years was considered almost an exclusively male-on-female act of violence. Many women have suffered and some have died at the hands of their lovers. It is a crime that should be prosecuted.
However, recent years have seen an increase in the number of cases of women abusing men, or gay lovers, both male and female, abusing their partners. That has led to more arrests of women for the crime. There are even surveys that indicate that men are just as likely to be victims of domestic violence as women.
When it comes to women striking or attacking men, though, the question that I hear women most often ask is, “well, what did he do?” As if a man’s actions justify a woman striking him. This is important, because equality under law requires that we reverse the equation to verify whether or not it is true. If a man strikes or attacks his wife or female partner, does it matter what she has done?
No. It should not matter, nor should it matter what the man has done, unless the violence is an immediate act of self-defense.
Domestic violence laws also have another “gender crime” that makes almost no sense but is included in nearly every state’s statutes: psychological “violence.” The definition from Puerto Rico’s laws (searchable here), which may be used as the basis for a criminal complaint, include things that on the surface appear to be done by women against men all of the time:
psychological abuse’ means a constant pattern of conduct to dishonor, discredit, or scorn personal worth, unreasonably limit access to common property, blackmail, isolate, deprive access to adequate food or rest, threaten deprivation of custody of sons or daughters, or destroy objects held in esteem by the person, except those that privately belong to the offender . . .
While it may be sexist of me to say so, women have an innate ability to “dishonor, discredit or scorn the personal worth” of men, and sometimes they can do it with a smile. In addition, I’ve heard of far more women who threaten to “take the kids” than men. The definition above — which is essentially based on personal perception, when a person “believes” he or she has been verbally abused — creates such a wide open field of opportunity for misuse of the law that one wonders why it was ever included.
Abuse of the law is the real crux of the issue. Coffee break discussions abound of men saying how their ex-wives used domestic violence laws in order to give themselves a leg up in divorce proceedings. Unless you happen to believe that a woman should go to jail and lose her home and her children for slapping her husband or insulting him during an argument — when he may or may not have deserved it — then you must agree these laws need to be changed.
Politicians, those who wrote these laws, pandered to female voters by stoking the flames of feelings about domestic abuse. It is time to have a real discussion about where government can or should tread. Does every argument between a man and a wife really require the intervention of the state? Can we truly sustain a law that paints one sex as perpetual victims and one as perpetual abusers?
Should we? No.
The state should only intervene when lives are truly in danger or when serious harm has been inflicted or threatened. It should only take action when one partner — male or female, gay or straight — needs assistance to leave the residence for his or her own safety, receive medical treatment, or prosecute the violent abusers. No one should be jailed or threatened with jail or loss of their children due to verbal abuse.
We must leave the greatest power in the hands of those who need it the most. That is to say, people should have the power to leave, to walk out the door, and to find another partner who respects and loves them. We should never have laws on the books that are based on personal perception and or gender stereotyping.