The media's invisible victims (National Post April 23, 2008)

Barbara Kay, National Post

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Heterosexual men can't catch a break from the media. When they're aggressors, they're condemned. When they're victims, they're ignored. Conversely, when women -- gay or straight -- and gay men are victims, they're pitied. And when they're aggressors, they're … hmm…also pitied.

A new study by Statistics Canada confirms what researchers in the field of domestic violence proved years ago: that partner violence amongst same-sex Canadians is significantly higher than amongst heterosexual couples. According to StatsCan, gays and lesbians experience twice the partner abuse of straight couples.

This is unwelcome news in general, of course. The media tends to promote an image of gays and lesbians as men and women who have fought for the right to love like straight people, not hate like them.

But it is particularly disconcerting to those Canadians -- most Canadians -- who have bought the myth that unprovoked domestic violence is virtually always a man-on-woman phenomenon.

Abuse of heterosexual men by their women partners is an irrefutable fact of life that for ideological reasons is rendered invisible on media radar. But no sooner were the StatsCan figures on gays released than a long gay-sympathetic feature article, "A skeleton that's still in the closet," by Erin Anderssen, appeared in The Globe and Mail.

The invisibility of heterosexual male victims I speak of shows up in the article's first comment on domestic violence: In asserting that "Canadians know full well that domestic violence is a major problem," Anderssen cites examples of a woman beaten by her boyfriend, and three children murdered by their father. To this journalist (and to be fair, to most others too), men hurting women and men killing children are what Canadians "know" about domestic violence.

What Canadians would know if the article was better researched is that men are almost equally likely to be assaulted by their female partners, and that children are statistically more likely to be abused or killed by their mothers than fathers.

Homophobia is presented as a serious social problem: "[T]here is real

concern that talking publicly about troubled relationships will only feed homophobia." Well, talking publicly (non-stop in this country) about man-on-woman violence definitely feeds misandry, but apparently there is no "real concern" about that.

In eerily familiar narratives in all but gender, Anderssen describes patterns of gay and lesbian couple violence. In one, extreme possessiveness periodically explodes into physically dangerous rage, but the victim can't bring herself to leave. In another a physically powerful, but unprotesting lover accepts episodic batterings by his smaller lover -- very much like strong but chivalrous men who stoically endure battering by women -- while in both cases the victim keeps making excuses for the batterer ("He had a rough childhood"), just as women so often do with abusive men.

These stories reinforce credible research proving that intimate-partner violence has no gender, but is rooted in individual pathology.

Anderssen first concedes, then disowns this ideologically unpalatable truth. She says, "In many ways, whatever you make of the numbers, the pattern of abuse is the same, gay or straight …" But if she'd left it at that, we'd have to admit that women are also capable of unprovoked violence.

We'd have to feel sorry for battered straight men as well as for gay men.

That would never do. So cue some -- any -- plausible excuses for gay violence: Gays drink more because they feel isolated; having HIV makes breaking up more difficult; maintaining secrecy about gayness is tough; their dads may have mocked them, so they can't form healthy relationships.

In other words, although entirely empirical conjectures, the reader is meant to understand these as "reasons" for gay-on-gay violence, while reasons other than innate control issues are never adduced for man-on-woman violence. Hadn't any straight abusive men "a rough childhood" or mocking dads? You're not likely to find out from our mainstream media.

Anderssen erroneously concludes, "there are still no shelters in Canada specifically for gay men." The truth is that there are quite a number of funded services for abused gays, including shelters and numerous counselling services, but almost none of either for abused straight men.

As ironic proof, the article is accompanied by a sidebar listing gay crisis services across Canada. Of the 10 cited, exactly one -- Wheatland Shelter in Alberta--provides funded service to straight men in domestic violence crisis.

All women and gay men represent about 60% of our population, but where domestic violence is concerned, together attract 99% of the media's sympathy and funded outreach. How long will the mainstream media's unethical double standard in reportage of domestic violence persist?