Author Topic: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.  (Read 2843 times)

milliemchi

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Lundy Bancroft's book "Why Does He Do That?" has come up a couple of times on these boards, and prompted by that, I wanted to ask about others' opinions on what it says about gender roles in general. I have finally read it this summer, and it was eye-opening. For those who haven't read it, here is the summary:

1) More than a dozen common myths about abusive men (men are the topic of the book) are exploded, such as 'he was abused himself', 'he can't control his feelings', 'he needs anger management skills', 'he has low self-esteem', etc. Those are all a smoke screen.

2) Abusive behavior confers many benefits to the abusive man and is thereby reinforced. By intimidating the victim, he gets free labor (e.g., housework, childcare), tending to his physical and emotional needs without reciprocating (something for nothing), freedom from accountability, etc. These are the true drivers of the abuse dynamics.

3) Abusive behavior is not a problem of feeling, but of thought.  Abusive men think themselves entitled, and resort to abuse/violence/intimidation/whatever in order to maintain the entitlement. Oftentimes, it is a calculated intimidation. The anger is not a reaction that cannot be controlled, but a tool. As the author puts it, "they are not abusive because they are angry, they are angry because they are abusive".

4) The author served as a counselor for hundreds of abusive men, who gave him insight, willingly or by slip of tongue, into their thinking. (For example, when doing role play sketches, the men would voluntarily give advice on how to make it more realistic, revealing how calculated they can be about intimidation.) From this he derives authority to speak on the subject. From this he also makes a very dim prognosis of hopelessness when it comes to changing abusive behavior.

This is where the book ends. Basically, the abuse comes from the sense of superiority, greater rights than the woman's, and entitlement. This seems plain enough in our culture. We know what non-abusive men are like, and we contrast them with those who are controlling, coercive, verbally or physically abusive, etc. The abusive personality is clearly a defective personality that women need to stay clear of. But, step outside the mainstream American culture, and venture into Middle East, Japan, or the Bible Belt, and you see a culture where greater rights, entitlement, and superiority of men are woven into the fabric of society.  For people there, this is how life is.

This is where the mental picture gets a bit out of focus for me and my own thoughts become difficult to follow. What are the implications? Even in what we call patriarchal cultures, there are clearly men who are abusive and those who are not, at least by the internal standards of that culture. But how does the dynamic of using abuse to maintain power translate there? Are all of these men abusive by mainstream American standards? Even in the absence of physical abuse, women provide most of the labor in the house, which is unpaid, so is basically appropriated by the man. This is one of the benefits gained by abusive, controlling behavior. Controlling the woman's sexuality is another. Women are definitely controlled by men, not always by force, but often by societal norms. Etc. The relativity of cultural values is completely exploded for me there (meaning it's clear to me that this is not a valid point of view). And yet, within a patriarchal culture, there are caring, non-abusive men found all the time. And yet, they also reap the benefits of the exploitative culture. How does one think about that?

Another spot that is out of focus to me is the elements of the patriarchal culture that are retained in the US. Women still provide the majority of free labor (caretaking of kids, elderly parents), women's sexuality is still controlled, or there are credible attempts to do that (abortion and birth control restrictions), and stereotypes are used to restrict access to some well-paying roles. Does that mean that women are exploited more than we as a society are aware of?

The reason I'm confused is that after reading the book, it is clear to me that there is no qualitative difference between what the author (and the courts) label as abusive behavior, and what men have been doing for millennia - it is just a matter of degree. Where do we draw the line? Is it at the point where the man takes it in his hands to claim more control than the society prescribes? (oh! that sound right)

Obviously, this may be a completely alien train of thought to people who have not read the book, but maybe not. I was also hoping that there would be a few who have, and who could share their thoughts. I don't have a question to be answered, I want to hear how others have thought about the book's implications.

I also understand that there are people who will find the idea of exploited women nonsense. Everybody's shaped by their own experiences. I will respect that position at this point, but it will not clarify my thinking on this book's implications so I explicitly do not want to debate that.

joonifloofeefloo

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2017, 11:14:56 PM »
I read that book a few years back, and found it enlightening and helpful.

A couple of thoughts to add...

1. In my experience, in almost every place in your post, men is interchangeable with women. (I can't be the only person who has experienced at least as much abuse by women than by men. This is one of the myths I'd like to see busted. Abusive people are abusive, regardless of their gender.)

2. What I've observed is that this sense of entitlement seems to exist or not exist in some people from birth. This is the piece I remain most curious about. How is it that some people start out demanding and develop convenient beliefs to support their wishes, while others are committed to equality all the way through?

Is there a biological element to entitled thinking?
What environment successfully eliminates it, or at least allows the person to keep it in check?

3. There is a school of thought that says people have control in their abuse "that's why you don't see them doing it in the grocery store." I assume that's true of some people -the calculating ones- but I think it's not true of all (because some do in fact commit abuse in the grocery store).

4. I'm as freaked out by people supporting abuse, which again is not people of one gender vs another. I don't want to get into details here -people here are educated enough to know examples of both genders actively supporting and encouraging abuse from one individual to another. But on this count, I disagree that one gender alone is perpetuating the cultural norms of abuse.

Goldielocks

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 12:30:10 AM »
PTF, mainly.

I have been wondering this past year, ever since reading a former friend's facebook posts after her divorce -- when did labelling others as "narcissist" and yourself as "victim" gain in popularity?   Or is there an actual increase in emotionally abusive behaviours parallelling with a (possible) decline in physical abuse rates in our society?

Labelling one's ex as a narcissist seems to be a 'thing' these days, I don't recall it back in the 90's.

Linea_Norway

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2017, 12:45:26 AM »
Interesting to hear the reasons for abusive behaviour: the direct gain in free labour that the abuser has.

This gain of free labour is of course the main reason that very few men in patriarchal countries support the idea to increase women's rights. It is not beneficial for them.

In our society I think it matters a lot with what a young person experiences at home. Do mum and dad divide household tasks equally or is mum the household person? I guess this shapes the young person and might form the person's expectancy in a future partner.

Kyle Schuant

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2017, 02:43:51 AM »
Having grown up in an abusive household, I think the "free labour" is overstated, at least in your summary of the book which I've not read. I think some guys just enjoy being nasty.

As well, what's missing from your discussion is that societies which allow men the most power over and nastiness to women aren't exactly nice to all men. For example, in Saudi Arabia the fact that Saudi princes can have ten wives means that some men - not the elites - will never have a wife at all. So they'll have no family or children to pass things on to, they'll work until they die, and die alone and impoverished. There is a racial component to this, too, as Saudi men are paid to do nothing, and the country imports workers to do menial labour - Bangladeshis and the like who have essentially no human rights. The sort of society that locks up and covers up women also beats foreigners for asking for a raise and beheads blasphemous bloggers in a public square.

Most societies organise themselves into some sort of caste system, with varying degrees of social mobility, such as the Hindu one (zero) and modern free market capitalism (quite a lot until oligopolies take over). What they have in common is a patriarchy alongside it. For the men at the top of society, this has the advantage that the men at the bottom don't complain so much about being at the bottom - "however shitty my life is, at least there's someone lower than me." And when you look at domestic violence, you find higher rates of it in poorer and less-educated households. Bill Gates does not need to beat his wife to feel superior to people; but Jim Bob who signs his name with an "X" living in a swamp may want to.

In this respect, a society with a large rich-poor gap and poor social mobility must be aggressively patriarchal. They need an outlet for the low-caste men's frustration at their low status in life.

In free market capitalism we don't need the sexist outlet for low-caste men's frustration, since they have some social mobility, instead of saying, "well at least women are lower than me" they say, "well at least I might not be poor forever."

So yes, free labour is definitely part of it. But it's also a safety valve for social tensions brought about by poverty and lack of social mobility, a safety valve endorsed and encouraged by elites. And as I said, some blokes are just fucking nasty.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 02:48:44 AM by Kyle Schuant »

mozar

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2017, 04:39:03 PM »
On non abusive men reaping the benefits of sexism, I think that reaping the benefits of sexism is exploitative whether you think you are an active partipant or not. The word for that is complicit. A way that sexism is able to continue is so many men and women saying well it's not me (or its not that bad), so its not my problem.
I do think there is a difference between sexism and abuse. Abuse can happen without sexism, but I believe there would be a lot less abuse from both men and women if we didn't live in a racist patriarchy.

I disagree with another poster that we have high enough social mobility that low caste american men don't have to take their greif out on their girlfriends. Research has shown that the US has the lowest social mobility of any opec country. Women being murderd by their boyfriend or husband is one of the most common types of homicide here. Not only that but the biggest predictor of mass murder is domestic abuse.

I take the recent election as a show of how much support Americans have for the exploitation of women. 65% of white men and 53% of white women voted for a man who bragged about sexual assault. For those voters his behavior was a feature not a bug.

As for me I find that I spend less and less time around men as i get older (besides work). Its just not worth my time. I refuse to do emotional labor for men. I dated this guy a couple years ago (I'm a woman ) who expected me to pick out gifts for his mother, whom I had never met or talked to. He seemed confused that I said no. I have many more examples like that. As for work, i work in a major city, so demand is high enough that I can get good jobs. I also got a degree from a school my employers think highly of so its easier for employers to see me as an option. But elitism is a whole nother topic.

As a person raised by parents with narcissistic personality disorder its helpful to recognize a pattern of abusive behaviors and get help from the the most beneficial support group for you.

Laura33

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2017, 06:46:27 PM »
I think the fundamental similarity is the inability or refusal to view other people as fully-fledged humans with the same right to self-determination.  In some societies, you see this enshrined in the laws and/or culture; in others, the society may grant equal stature, but individuals with sociopathic/narcissistic tendencies refuse to recognize that on a personal level.

Paternalistic religions are an interesting case, because they provide a framework that can justify denying women a voice, and yet many couples manage happy and non-abusive relationships.  How?  Why?  I think it comes down to the issue above.  I have known very conservative men and women who believe very strongly that the husband's job was to be the provider and the wife's job was to raise the kids and take care of the homel. And yet both husband and wife valued the role of the other and saw it as equally important to the long-term success of the family.  They also agreed that when push came to shove, the man was the one responsible for making the final decision; and yet that man viewed his responsibility as making the best decision for the family as a whole -- including keeping his wife happy and fulfilled -- and not as an opportunity to demonstrate his power over them.  Because in the end they believe all are equal before God, and they will each be judged on how well they exercise their own roles -- including, not insignificantly, caring for the other and putting the needs of the family above their own desires.

Kyle Schuant

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2017, 07:25:28 PM »
I disagree with another poster that we have high enough social mobility that low caste american men don't have to take their greif out on their girlfriends.
I didn't say that. I said that in a free market economy there would be more social mobility than in some other, for example the Hindu caste system, so there would be less nasty shit done. Not none, but less.

I also specified that it had to be a free market economy not dominated by oligopolies; regulatory capture would be part of that. And that's the USA: if some company is "too big to fail" that indicates oligopoly and regulatory capture, the government and public funds being the servant of narrow private interests. This isn't particularly praise of a free market economy, I'm not a libertarian. A "true" socialist economy would also have some social mobility. It's just a comment that some countries have more social mobility than others.

Quote
Research has shown that the US has the lowest social mobility of any opec country. Women being murderd by their boyfriend or husband is one of the most common types of homicide here. Not only that but the biggest predictor of mass murder is domestic abuse.
Which reinforces my point: free labour is part of it, but it's how a man ends the sentence, "I may be nothing, but -" is it with "I can make my life better" or "at least some woman is lower than me"? And this is a continuum, not either/or.

And obviously, social mobility is not the only factor. I just think it's a bigger factor than free labour. After all, in a socially-rigid society a good chunk of the people - men and women both - will be getting free or cheap labour. Saudi men benefit from Bangladeshi maids cleaning for them, but so do Saudi women. None of Prince Saud's wives are going to be doing the dishes.

My point is simply that culture and class matter as well as gender.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 07:28:01 PM by Kyle Schuant »

driftwood

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2017, 06:00:52 AM »
I don't understand the free labor part, unless you're assuming that both partners work full time and then one partner is responsible for everything else at home because the other partner requires it of them.

If one partner works and their income provides the other partner a home, clothes, food, and other things, then the second partner's work at home isn't "free labor".

In other words, if you add up all the labor needed for a household (some done by you and some paid for):  Rent/mortgage, cleaning, child-raising, utilities, maintenance, transportation, communication, food, water, entertainment... then give some of those to one partner to do and/or pay for, and some others for another partner to do/pay for, or even split some of those among both partners, neither is providing 'free labor'.  Some of those tasks are done by the members of the household, and some are paid for by the members of the household. I haven't read the book, but your post seems to assume that any work done by the partner at home is free and that the other partner expecting them to do anything is an abusive behavior.

If I had a wife who paid all the bills, I would take on as many households tasks as possible to balance the level of work put in to our household. I would only feel used and abused if we both worked outside the home the same amount of hours and then I had to do all the home jobs as well.

sokoloff

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2017, 06:07:03 AM »
I disagree with another poster that we have high enough social mobility that low caste american men don't have to take their greif out on their girlfriends. Research has shown that the US has the lowest social mobility of any opec country.
The US is not an OPEC country.

yachi

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2017, 06:42:49 AM »
I get defensive reading things like the free labor part.  I work 45 hrs a week (sometimes more) and my spouse stays home with the kids, which is more work some days and less work other days.  I still am often expected to cook dinner when I get home and wash up dishes.  When I say expected it's that my spouse gets frustrated if I don't do these things.  I realistically have 3-4 hours each day at home, but I'm the more mustachian one, so I want our meals to be cheap and not takeout.


I don't understand the free labor part, unless you're assuming that both partners work full time and then one partner is responsible for everything else at home because the other partner requires it of them.

If one partner works and their income provides the other partner a home, clothes, food, and other things, then the second partner's work at home isn't "free labor".

In other words, if you add up all the labor needed for a household (some done by you and some paid for):  Rent/mortgage, cleaning, child-raising, utilities, maintenance, transportation, communication, food, water, entertainment... then give some of those to one partner to do and/or pay for, and some others for another partner to do/pay for, or even split some of those among both partners, neither is providing 'free labor'.  Some of those tasks are done by the members of the household, and some are paid for by the members of the household. I haven't read the book, but your post seems to assume that any work done by the partner at home is free and that the other partner expecting them to do anything is an abusive behavior.

If I had a wife who paid all the bills, I would take on as many households tasks as possible to balance the level of work put in to our household. I would only feel used and abused if we both worked outside the home the same amount of hours and then I had to do all the home jobs as well.

mozar

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2017, 06:47:38 AM »
Oops sorry, i meant a different group.  Not opec.  usa, canada, australia, germany, france and a few others, i forget what it's called.
@Kyle I see what you are saying now.

milliemchi

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2017, 11:39:59 AM »
1. In my experience, in almost every place in your post, men is interchangeable with women. (I can't be the only person who has experienced at least as much abuse by women than by men. This is one of the myths I'd like to see busted. Abusive people are abusive, regardless of their gender.)

This is indeed one of the myths that is busted. The author is focusing on abusive relationships, not on people yelling at store clerks, and in that domain, he is adamant that there are more abusive male partners than female. His sample may be biased, but I also wouldn't believe that it's 50/50.  The book is all about relationships. I have extrapolated to other cultures.

Also, I see that people are focused a lot on the free labor, but that's not the only, and maybe not the main part of it (in the US). I don't think many women say "Oh, I work more in the house/at work/total hours, I'm abused."  That's not even what figures in the language of abuse here, and the truth is that American women probably have it the best as division of work goes.  We've come a long way from the 60s/70s/80s/90s, and even then it wasn't too bad. I extrapolated the free labor issue to other cultures, and I think it is an important factor in a lot of human dynamics, e.g., people are enslaved for free labor, the rich extract labor from the poor that may not be adequately compensated, etc., but in relationships it's just one aspect of it. The author also talks about emotional aspects (you will listen to my work problems, but I won't listen to yours; I can disparage your friends, but you have to respect mine; it is never a good time or place to talk about what is unsatisfying to you in the relationship; I can speak badly about your mother, but you can't of mine; etc.). This is "tending to emotional needs", but without reciprocity. It's kind of extracting emotional labor but not providing compensation, if you want to draw analogies. This is also something that may simply be a sign of immaturity, but when it is coupled with aggression (verbal, physical) when that position is challenged because that position is challenged, then it crosses the line into abuse. For example, I have just been yelled at (over the phone, thankfully) for about 15 minutes for not washing a dish after supper last night. This seems silly and random, but the hostility started yesterday and was slowly building after I remarked that my DH does also leave a mess behind him like all of us do, challenging his self-image of superiority. When I wasn't impressed by his rationalization nor aggression, the yelling escalated to threats, etc. This is not a battle that can be won, because it is not about washing the dish. And when I keep my mouth shut, we have no problems.

It's important to say here that whether you talk about physical or emotional labor, supporting somebody's self-image, providing an outlet for frustration at being low on the socio-economic ladder, or whatever, if we move from the philosophical general discussion of societies and history to what happens here and now, most people will not relate, because most relationships are not abusive. So there's no need to be defensive about it, because it is much more likely than not that this discussion does not apply to you personally.  This is why I don't want to debate each individual person's view. I think we can speak in generalities of societal norms and gender relationships on the average or at extremes. We can also speak more concretely of personal experiences, but that will obviously not be relatable to people in non-abusive relationships.

milliemchi

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2017, 11:49:59 AM »
PTF, mainly.

I have been wondering this past year, ever since reading a former friend's facebook posts after her divorce -- when did labelling others as "narcissist" and yourself as "victim" gain in popularity?   Or is there an actual increase in emotionally abusive behaviours parallelling with a (possible) decline in physical abuse rates in our society?

Labelling one's ex as a narcissist seems to be a 'thing' these days, I don't recall it back in the 90's.

There is actually research showing that the narcissistic personality traits are on a sharp rise since the 'you are special, we don't want to hurt your self-esteem' school of parenting took hold. (The first song my kid's preschool taught the toddlers was 'I am special'. Ugh :P) There's also more awareness. Sometimes you can't name the problem until someone comes up with a good model and it clicks. Entitlement is intrinsically narcissistic, and a lot of men and women have that problem.

As for being a victim, abuse is a real problem that creates real victims. Fortunately, there are ways in this society to move beyond that status (though they may not be available to all). Also, 'being a victim of abuse' is a verifiable statement, but playing the part of a victim is a different thing.

joonifloofeefloo

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Re: "Why Does He Do That?" - philosophical musings on gender roles, etc.
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2017, 12:06:02 PM »
The author is focusing on abusive relationships, not on people yelling at store clerks, and in that domain, he is adamant that there are more abusive male partners than female. His sample may be biased, but I also wouldn't believe that it's 50/50.  The book is all about relationships. I have extrapolated to other cultures.

I don't think it needs to be an even 50/50 split for us to say that all genders participate in abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, financial, religious, psychological) in the context of intimate relationship. The important piece is to recognize that it does, regardless of proportions. The issue isn't gender; it's abuse. I felt that was important to state in a thread proposing musings on gender roles. Yes, Bancroft wrote a book about men who commit abuse inside of intimate relationships, but like you note, our discussion here may go well past the book.