The first reaction upon hearing about the topic of battered men, for many people, is that of incredulity. Battered husbands are a topic for jokes (such as the cartoon image of a woman chasing her husband with a rolling-pin). One researcher noted that wives were the perpetrators in 73% of the depictions of domestic violence in newspaper comics (Saenger 1963).
Battered husbands have historically been either ignored or subjected to ridicule and abuse. In 18th-century France, a battered husband "was made to wear an outlandish outfit and ride backwards around the village on a donkey" (Steinmetz & Lucca 1988).
Even those of us who like to consider ourselves liberated and open-minded often have a difficult time even imagining that husband battering could take place. Although feminism has opened many of our eyes about the existance of domestic violence, and newspaper reports often include incidents of abuse of wives, the abuse of husbands is a rarely discussed phenomenon.
One reason researchers and others had not chosen to investigate husband battering is because it was thought to be a fairly rare occurrence. Police reports seemed to bear this out (Steinmetz 1977), with in some cases a ratio of 12 to 14.5 female victims to every one male victim.
But another reason is that because women were seen as weaker and more helpless than men due to sex roles, and men on the other hand were seen as more sturdy and self-reliant, the study of abused husbands seemed relatively unimportant.
Research begins to show the reality
In 1974, a study was done which compared male and female domestic violence. In that study, it was found that 47% of husbands had used physical violence on their wives, and 33% of wives had used violence on their husbands (Gelles 1974). Half of the respondents in this study were selected from either cases of domestic violence reported to the police, or those identified by the social service agency.
Also in 1974, a study was released showing that the number of murders of women by men (17.5% of total homicides) was about the same as the number of murders of men by women (16.4% of total homicides). This study (Curtis 1974), however, showed that men were three times as likely to assault women as vice-versa. These statistics came from police records.
[The murder statistic was no big news, by the way. In 1958, an investigation of spousal homicide between 1948 and 1952 found that 7.8% of murder victims were husbands murdered by wives, and 8% were wives murdered by husbands (Wolfgang 1958). More recently, in a study of spousal homicide in the period from 1976 to 1985, it was found that there was an overall ratio of 1.3:1.0 of murdered wives to murdered husbands, and that "Black husbands were at greater risk of spouse homicide victimization than Black wives or White spouses of either sex" (Mercy & Saltzman 1989)]
The subject of husband-battering had finally been addressed, but not to the great satisfaction of anyone. Although it...