NEP president’s presentation to the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Men’s Experiences with Violence and Victimization 2022
How My Work Led Me to Question the DV Narrative and Investigate Male Stigma
An International Interdisciplinary Conference on
Fatherhood and Men’s Experiences with Violence and Victimization
September 15, 2022
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Presenter
I am a psychologist with an interest in the study of the self. I am also President of the New Enlightenment Project: a Canadian humanist initiative that promotes Enlightenment skills and values and adapts them to changing times. I want to begin this presentation by reflecting on my earlier non-academic career.
I did not begin my professional career using objective reality and reason to research social problems. I was a social worker. In 1985 I became a counselling psychologist, and in 1993 I accepted the position of Director of Mental Health for Northern Saskatchewan. In this career move I supervised nine mental health social workers, psychiatric nurses and one other psychologist while maintaining a part-time caseload.
Northern Saskatchewan has a population of 34,000 squeezed into a territory somewhat larger than the two Koreas. Many communities are accessible only by air. I will begin by talking about a couple from one such community seen for marital counselling.
Both wife and husband were alcoholics. When drinking she became violent. He was often bruised when I saw them. Once she stabbed him with a knife. Secretly, he kept part of his pay cheque from her. When he could afford to buy a plane ticket out he packed one bag and walked toward the landing strip. She drove after him in their truck, knocking him to the ground. He was left bleeding in the snow as she drove off with his money. By his account, the police came by and laughed at him. He laughed at himself. Charges were not laid.
After encountering several couples where the woman was the violent partner, I compared notes with my staff and discovered that our experiences were similar. We had been educated to believe that men were, overwhelmingly, the perpetrators of violence in domestic situations, and this view had been reinforced by the then recent (1991) Canadian federal task force report, The War against Women. We had been briefed on new laws and programs designed to protect women from their partners, but our experiences were that often the men were in need of protection. Some of my staff attempted to justify female violence – the men must have deserved it or the women were just defending themselves. These explanations sounded eerily like the ones given by men who really were violent. We developed a working hypothesis suggesting that northern Saskatchewan, which is 80% aboriginal, had developed a subculture that was different from the majority in ways that affected the presentation of domestic violence. However, all we really demonstrated was that the intelligent can find creative ways to preserve their confirmation bias. But in our defense, published literature supported this view.
Kennedy and Dutton (1989) had reported that 13.3% of Alberta men had initiated acts of violence against their spouses in one year alone. Their study was extensively cited in The War against Women which, in turn, led to a federally funded campaign to change attitudes of governments, police departments, courts and hospitals to better protect women. It was not until 1999 that Simon Fraser University researcher Marilyn Kwong co-authored a paper with Donald Dutton and Kim Bartholomew correcting this imbalance in reporting. Their article (Kwong et al., 1999) article included both male and female reports cross-tabulating for both perpetration and receipt of violence. The women interviewed had said they initiated violence more often. For example, when asked who initiated the most serious violent episode in the year of the study, 67% of the women said they did while only 26% said their husbands initiated the violence. Further, women were almost twice as likely as men to commit more extreme acts of violence such as choking, kicking or using a weapon. These results paralleled what we had seen in the field in northern Saskatchewan a decade earlier. In a newspaper interview, Kennedy and Dutton explained that they had only been interested in male-to- female violence when they wrote their initial article, but in so doing they were reflecting a society that is not interested in violence against men.
I modified my practice to become more gender neutral. Still, many psychologists and social workers continue to assume that women are the primary victims. Men are disproportionately charged with domestic violence and child abuse, and face longer sentences when convicted (Brown, 2004; Wexler, 1995). Men’s deaths are sometimes given less consequence than women’s suffering. Reflecting on the Rwandan genocide politician Aloysia Inyumba stated:
The genocide in Rwanda is a far-reaching tragedy that has taken a particularly hard toll on women. They now comprise 70 percent of the population, since the genocide chiefly exterminated the male population. (Kouloglou, 2019)
This propensity to discount the male experience iscross-cultural. U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton famously said, “Women have always been the primary victims of war; women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.” The suffering of stigmatized populations is often not recognized outside of those populations.
Borrowing from Goffman’s (1963) seminal work , I defined stigma as the imputation of character which when believed renders members of a targeted group unfit for particular sorts of social interactions. Although the concept of stigma has been used to examine the place of numerous minority populations, women, and male nurses, it had not been previously applied to men as a class. I examined the experiences of a sample of 16 Canadian men qualitatively to see if their experiences met the definition. I then transcribed and segmented recorded interviews with each segment representing a single idea or concept coding each segment for analysis. The following six themes emerged from the data:
- All participants experienced discrimination
- All reported negative personal consequences as a result of stigmatization
- All gave personal examples of marginalization, social isolation and silencing
- All admitted to experiencing emotional problems
- 87.5% said feminism had played a role in their negative experiences
- 87.5% said they had lacked of adequate coping responses (Robertson, 2018).
The experiences of the men in this study were consistent with the existence of stigma in two related domains. First, men were considered deficient or less responsible as parents. Second, men were viewed as a potential threat to children and women. An unanticipated result was that nearly half of my sample mentioned social work as a source of stigma in their experiences as clients, students, and, in two cases, registered social workers.
One common experience was that when the men attempted to express their negative emotions about how they were abused by the justice system, child welfare agencies, employers and even neighbours, they were told to “man up” or “be a man.” The message is clear. Men are asked to share their emotions, with the suggestion that they are unwell if they don’t, but they can only share those emotions which are acceptable to the prevailing ideology. Stigma is a kind of conspiracy where all the conspirators act as though the stigma is true and manipulate perceptions accordingly. The conspiracy succeeds if the victims are persuaded that they are responsible for their own stigmatization.
The reporting of scientific research can be distorted by confirmation bias and ideology. The New Enlightenment project has seen an accelerated trend in this direction with identity politics, cancel culture and Wokism. We seek to advance the study of objective reality through science and dispassionate rational thought in these challenging times. We therefore salute all in this conference who are pursuing the aim of dispassionately studying domestic violence.
Brown, G. A. (2004). Gender as a factor in the response of the law-enforcement system to violence against partners. Sexuality and Culture, 8(3-4), 3-139. https://doi.org/dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-004-1000-7
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Prentice Hall.
Kennedy, L. W., & Dutton, D. G. (1989). The incidence of wife assault in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 21(1), 40. https://doi.org/doi/10.1037/h0079792
Kouloglou, M. (2019). Considering the Male Disposability Hypothesis. Quillette. Retrieved June 3, 2019, from https://quillette.com/2019/06/03/considering-the-male-disposability-hypothesis/
Kwong, M. J., Bartholomew, K., & Dutton, D. G. (1999). Gender differences in patterns of relationship violence in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 31(3), 150-160.
Robertson, L. H. (2018). Male Stigma: Emotional and behavioral effects of a negative social identity on a group of Canadian men. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12(4), 1118-1130. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988318763661
Wexler, R. (1995). Wounded innocents: The real victims of the war against child abuse. Prometheus Books Buffalo, NY.