Herein are ruminations from a Muslimah point of view on Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men originally published in the August 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something I think is a universal truth, though maybe not a very popular idea: I believe that men, in their general position of greater physical and economic power, are at great risk of abusing that power thereby abusing women, children, elders and all people ‘weaker’ than them. Those of us in potential positions of being abused could do well to recognise some of the abusive behaviours which are common in many in positions of power. In turn, this could aid us all to not let abuse trickle down the chains of hierarchy and spread. It is for this reason that I was curious to read Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. At the time of writing the book, Lundy Bancroft had spent fifteen years working with angry and controlling men as a counsellor, evaluator and investigator. Bancroft identified many patterns among the men, making abusive behaviour less evasive to pinpoint, as simply recognising that something is actually abuse is difficult for most involved in it.
One of the many useful things I found in Why Does He Do That? was Bancroft’s demystification of several commonly held false beliefs about why men abuse. These ‘myths’ are used by the men, and others, as excuses for their behaviours. Bancroft points out that it is abusers themselves who have so oft repeated these excuses, creating their own mythology within cultures – he also points out that abusers are master manipulators and, in this sense, have manipulated a great many of us. A few of these myths popped out at me as being frequently used as excuses among Muslims; when I shared Bancroft’s list of seventeen myths on Facebook, Muslim friends and acquaintances had had experiences with all of them. So, while I encourage people to read this book to get its full benefit, I will share some of Bancroft’s myth-debunking insights, keeping them correlated to the chronological order he uses in the book:
1. He was abused as a child.
Bancroft uses studies to demonstrate how abusers manipulate or outright lie about childhood abuse in order to garner sympathy for their abusive behaviour. But for me the most compelling argument against this excuse is that when Bancroft corners abusers about this one suggesting, “If you are so in touch with your feelings from your abusive childhood…. You should be less likely to abuse a woman, not more so, from having been through it.” As Bancroft explains, “….he only wants to draw attention to [his childhood abuse] if it’s an excuse to stay the same, not if it’s a reason to change.” Like most other abusers, the majority who use this excuse refuse to use therapeutic measures to heal and discontinue their own abusiveness.
2. He loses control.
In this section, Bancroft demonstrates the many ways that abusers themselves removed the façade of “out of control abuser who doesn’t realize what he’s doing”. For instance, when questioned why the abusers didn’t do certain things, such as leave visible marks or break their own valuable items, or about how they were able to immediately calm down when police arrive, abusers responded that they didn’t want to take things that far as they had something to lose if they did. That is not indicative of being out of control, rather Bancroft and his associates long term work with abusers revealed that abusers are actually extremely calculated in how they emotionally and physically abuse their partners. Control is the primary thing abusers seek by being abusive and they know how to get it.
3. There are as many abusive women as abusive men.
It is unfortunate that I even feel compelled to address this myth, but since it nearly always comes up during conversations about abusive men, I am glad Bancroft addresses it. Part of this overall myth is that men are ashamed to come forward when they are abused by women so their numbers are harder to identify. Bancroft makes several points to correct this flawed reasoning, including “….that women crave dignity just as much as men” and it is often outside interference that brings abuse to light. If there were truly such high numbers of female on male abuse, they would have been brought to light by those same concerned family members, neighbours, police, schools and so on who interfere in male to female abuse.
Another commonly upheld aspect of this myth is that men are responding to verbal abuse with physical abuse, but as author Margaret Atwood has famously been quoted, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Bancroft reminds readers that “….abuse is not a battle that you win by being better at expressing yourself” and that male abusers employ verbal abuse such as sarcasm, insults and threats as part of their overall abuse tactics. Female to male abuse exists, but it is much rarer and has no place in conversations about correcting the prevailing problem of men abusing women as it only derails from the solutions specific to the problem.
4. He is a victim of racism.
As Muslims are often in circumstances to be on the receiving end of racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia, I thought this item needed addressing here. Racism causes a great deal of real stress, but non-abusive men deal with that stress in ways other than abusing. Just like with being on the receiving end of child abuse in issue #1 “…if a man has experienced oppression himself, it could just as easily make him more sympathetic to a woman’s distress…”. Bancroft points out that men of colour were among the first and strongest opponents of abuse of women in the United States. Consider, for example, the former slave Frederick Douglass who was a champion for the suffrage movement.
Ultimately, Bancroft explains the motivations of the abusers: “The reasons that an abusive man gives for his behavior are simply excuses…. beliefs, values, and habits are the driving forces [behind his abuse].”
A man is abusive because he has a warped belief. The abuser believes that the person he is abusing is inferior to him and deserving of a treatment he himself is not. Of course, that is a common belief held by some Muslims, that the ‘degree a man has over a woman’ is one of absolute human superiority. This is plainly known as ‘entitlement’. My belief is that this greater physical and economic power men often have can be a great fitnah for many of us and we should each do our best to fight the abuse of this power, either as exerting or receiving abuse.
In the book, Bancroft says, “If any part of what I describe about abusers doesn’t match your experience, cast it aside and focus on the parts that do fit.” I would suggest that as Muslims with an interest in improving character and behaviour, as well as encouraging improvements and resisting injustices, we all truly could benefit from understanding the roots of abuse and oppression and can find something to relate to or overcome in this book. I by no means want to shame or blame victims of domestic violence; rather, I would like to remind them that Allah (SWT) tells us not to accept abuse to our persons. Accepting abuse is a form of wronging ourselves, as well as enabling or encouraging a culture of abuse:
“And those who, having done an act of indecency, or wronged their own souls, should remember Allah and ask for forgiveness for their sins and who can forgive sins except Allah? And are never stubborn in continuing (and excusing) the wrong they have done. For them, the reward is forgiveness from the Lord and gardens with rivers flowing underneath as an eternal dwelling; how excellent a reward this is for those who work and strive for good.” (Al ‘Imran:135-136)
Why Does He Do That? is an excellent resource for understanding and helping to dismantle abuse, insha Allah. You can also find more articles about domestic violence on the SISTERS website at http://www.sisters-magazine.com/index.php?route=articles/category&articles_path=11.