Circular Logic

A friend posted an article on Facebook regarding violence against women – or rather, the different attitudes men and women have with regard to violence against women.  The article was well-researched, well thought-out, and very well written, and underlined the fact that women, even here in the prosperous, enlightened US of A, live with fears that, by and large, men don’t share, and lack the freedom that men typically have.

Here’s the article, and I strongly encourage you to read it, for it looks at the topic in a way that even people well-versed in the issue don’t commonly see:   http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/articles/nightmare.html

I don’t find fault with the article in any way – the author does a fantastic job of detailing the perspective of women toward random violence.  I do wish, though, that she’d included some perspectives on the other half of the equation:  violence that isn’t random, and is, in fact, far more widespread and common than the random brutality that the author concentrates on – domestic violence.

According to the FBI, women are far more likely to be raped, beaten, mentally victimized, or murdered, by an acquaintance, friend, or family member, than by a stranger.

And it’s not random. Not unforeseeable. Not unpreventable.

Ever hear the old saying that girls tend to marry guys like their father, and guys tend to marry girls like their mother? It turns out that this is mostly true, certainly for first-born children.  It works like this:  human beings have a number of neural and psychological mechanisms for making sense of the world, and one of the most powerful is called prototyping.

Prototyping is something that seems to happen at an extremely young age, and it appears to be hard-wired.  As infants, we see the world as a big confusing blur of things … in time, we begin to classify and sort those things into other categories, and we appear to manage this by noting their characteristics:  a bird, for instance, is something with wings, that flies.  Gradually, we add detail to these categories, and note exceptions:  birds also have feathers, and beaks, and some do not fly.  Eleanor Rosch, who came up with the theory, and did the first work on it, hypothesized that we create a single prototype that has the most common characteristics of a class, then create a sort of web around that prototype, of specific members of the class … a robin, for instance, would be very close to the prototype for the class ‘bird’, while penguins and ostriches would be much further out on the web.  The easiest test of this is to ask a person if a robin is a bird, then ask if an ostrich is a bird, timing the responses:  consistently, it takes longer for people to answer ‘yes’, regarding an ostrich, than it does to answer ‘yes’ regarding a robin …

What has this to do with violence?  simple:  people get prototyped, too!  In every child’s mind, there is a prototype of what a ‘man’ should be, and what a ‘woman’ should be … the ideal, the model … predictably, for most children, the prototype of a ‘man’ is based on Dad, and the prototype for ‘woman’ is based on Mom – and these prototypes are formed far before the infant has any sort of judgement … if Dad is abusive to Mom, and Mom endures the abuse, the prototypes for man and woman contain these characteristics, and, at a very early age, children learn that they are to be a man or woman, and they begin, quite unconsciously, to mimic these traits.  MUCH later, even after the child, now a young adult, has mastered judgement, and realizes that maybe Dad wasn’t the ideal man, and mom wasn’t the ideal woman, the prototype remains in place, embedded deep in the mind, and when they begin searching for a mate, these prototypes of man and woman influence their choices, subconsciously, but very powerfully!

The numbers back the theory up, not in a way that would ‘prove’ it – things are never that simple in the realms of Cognitive Science, and Sociology – but in a way that is very persuasive:  children, male and female alike, of an abusive household, are FAR more likely to end up in that situation as adults.  Little Johnny tends to treat women the way his father did – and little Jane tends to put up with it, as her mother did.

Ever wonder why some women stay with a man who is mentally and physically abusive?  There are lots of ‘adult’ reasons given:  “I love him”, and “I don’t want to break up our family”, or “I can’t make it without his income”, or “I don’t want the children to be without a father” … social workers, police officers, psychologists, doctors, nurses, pastors, family and friends have heard ALL of these excuses, and more.  Looked at logically, it makes absolutely NO sense:  how can you love someone who treats you like that? What kind of family is it where everyone is scared of the man? Wouldn’t financial struggling be better than living in fear? Why would you want your children raised in such an environment?

It’s a syndrome called co-dependency. It has nothing to do with logic outwardlyinwardly, however, it’s perfectly logical! Both the abuser, and the abused, are validated, in some bizarre way, and it doesn’t happen at a conscious level: it happens deep inside, where the prototype lives, and it says to each, that they’re being what a man and woman should be!

The abused grow up to be abusers, or abused themselves. The cycle is so set in stone, that ER doctors and Policemen seldom waste their breath arguing against it. They patch the injuries, or intervene to stop the immediate violence, knowing full well that the abused will hardly ever press charges, or will drop them shortly after filing them.  “I know he loves me, and he wants to change …”

Maybe he does – on the conscious level. Deep down, he has no interest in changing, so he won’t. Ever.

I keep saying ‘he’, with regard to abusers;  that’s because, as you all instinctively know, most of the people out there dealing out physical abuse, are men. Partly it’s cultural, partly it’s physical:  men are, by and large, bigger, and physically stronger, than women. And, when frustrated, both sexes will seek a physical outlet for it.  Women can and do deal out abuse of their own, sometimes physically, but more often mentally and emotionally.  Still, when it comes to violence, men are the most common culprits.

Satisfied? I hope so, because you aren’t going to like the next bit even a little:  it’s called CO-dependency, because each partner plays their own part.  The man who’s dishing out abuse is dead wrong, and deserves to be left in a place where the only person he can hurt is himself – but he won’t be left in that place, because his partner in crime is the woman he’s abusing!

Fine! She wants to stay – or feels like she needs to stay (which is more accurate) – then, by all means let her stay!

Except that she won’t stay there alone:  she’ll make her children stay, too.

And the cycle will begin again when they grow up and go looking for the ‘perfect’ man or woman, using the only guide they have: their built-in prototype of what a man and woman should be …

If it seems to you that I’m over-simplifying, you’re right, I am:  lots of things play a part in this equation, and there are plenty  of exceptions.  Lots of men with abusive fathers turn out to be fine husbands and fathers. Plenty of women with abused mothers will walk away from a man who shows the first sign of abusiveness, and will never tolerate such influences around their children. Even those who stay, at first, may finally realize that the only fix is departure, and they’ll go.

Sadly, these seem to be the exceptions.

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~ by dourscot on August 6, 2012.

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