By Jennifer O’Connell
Imagine this scenario for a moment.
Some friends of yours are going through what might euphemistically be termed ‘a rough patch’.
Late one night, there’s a row. She jumps into her car, takes off down the drive, appears to swerve, and hits a tree.
He comes after her with a golf club, smashes one of the car windows in, and pulls her from the vehicle. When the ambulance arrives, she has facial lacerations and seems disorientated.
The following day, she turns down the opportunity to be interviewed by the police. She apologises. Yes, that’s right – she apologises. Says it was “her fault”. Blames her own ‘‘transgressions’’. Speaks about what a wonderful, courageous man he is.
Which of the following courses of action do you take: a) Text her the number for Women’s Aid; b) Stage an intervention involving her mother, several members of a rugby team and some top notch legal counsel; c) Laugh uproariously and tell all your friends?
Not c), anyway – not unless the ‘she’ is actually a ‘he’, who just happens to be a billionaire golfer with a reputation cleaner than Jesus’s driving licence. In that case, no Christmas party will be complete without a range of comedy gags involving alternative uses for a nine iron.
The public reaction to the private disintegration of Tiger Woods has revealed an almost ubiquitous attitude to domestic violence that is deeply worrying.
Woods himself was quick to dismiss the notion that any violence had led to him staggering about concussed on the side of the road outside his house, but it’s probably safe to say that it wasn’t a quiet game of charades that led to the 2.30am emergency call by his neighbour.
He insists his wife, Elin Nordegren, smashed the windows of his Cadillac Escalade in to “help him”, but why – when the car had been travelling so slowly the airbags didn’t even go off – she didn’t just open one of the doors, is a mystery.
So, too, is the question of how exactly he ended up with cuts and bruises to his face in such a low-speed collision. These are mysteries he appears in no hurry to clear up, making himself unavailable to police investigators for several days running.
The media and the public immediately honed in on the inconsistencies in his story, drew the obvious conclusions, and raised an amused eyebrow at his attempt at chivalry.
When a woman is the victim of an incident like this, everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Roseanne Barr gets involved. When it’s a man, we all wonder what he did to deserve it. (In the Woods case, that particular question was cleared up fairly quickly.)
A piece on the US website The Daily Beast was typical of the wider public reaction: it asserted that if Nordegren did indeed attack her cheating husband with a golf club, she was simply a “scorned woman who came out swinging”. The article declared 2009 “the Year of Women Not Taking Shit.”
But just imagine if the roles were reversed.
Not so ambivalent now, are you?
Of course, it would be silly to suggest that differences in size, shape and physical strength shouldn’t be taken into account in cases of assault. In general, a rampaging man can inflict a lot more damage than most women. But throw a golf club into the mix, and the physical differences are not quite so important.
Yes, male violence poses a higher risk of harm. But that doesn’t mean a violent female is harmless.
Feminist commentators have been guilty of giving currency to the notion that female-on-male violence is “a myth that is not backed up by sociological evidence”. That is utter tosh.
Ask anyone involved in an organisation aimed at offering protection to female victims of domestic violence, who have to turn away countless desperate and – yes - frightened men.
Ask the woman calling herself “Adiamond” on an internet forum, who describes how she grew up in a household ruled by domestic violence – instigated by her mother. “Dad stayed because he thought that was what a man did, and was afraid of what she might do to us if he left. He thought it would be better for us.”
Statistics on the number of men who suffer domestic abuse vary wildly from the conservative – one report in the UK says men account for just 8 per cent of the incidents of domestic abuse reported to police – to the ones which stretch credulity to breaking point: Irish research has claimed that men are just as likely as women to experience abuse at the hands of their partner.
But what’s indisputable is that it is exists. We used to believe that women were not capable of inflicting sexual abuse on children. Thanks to the Ryan Report, we now know that is no longer the case.
And if women are capable of inflicting the most horrendous acts on their children, then they are also capable of taking a bottle, their fists, or a golf club, to their partner.
Lesbians suffer domestic violence. So do gay men. So do married heterosexual men – even the kind of men about whom the notion seems so preposterous it’s almost a joke.
Amen a voluntary group which provides a confidential helpline, information and a support service for male victims of domestic abuse can be contacted on: (046) 9023718, open from 9am to 5pm Monday- Friday. Its emergency helpline outside these hours is 086 194 7270.
First published in The Sunday Business Post on December 13, 2009