Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Is Val Farmer Guilty Of Male Bashing?

July 27, 1998

In my graduation advice column I included a couple of statements directed at young men: "If she's angry, she's right," and, "Never strike a woman." I received this response.

Your advice to graduates finally goaded me to write and complain about your male bashing. There is a long string in your columns of a bias against men in both your advice and catering to some women's endless whining.

As it happens, the majority of intersex abuse is initiated by women, which fact automatically qualifies the admonition never to strike a woman. (Phil Hartman would probably disagree.) Everyone - even the lowly male - has a right of self defense. And while it may make a sort of perverted marital sense to concede the women is always right when angry, it's hardly a basis for men and women as equals. No one is always right, nay, not even the purest of women.

More generally, your column seems to be an outlet for complaining farm wives. No doubt much of what they say is justified. Their lives often are tedious, unfulfilling, and burdensome. Welcome to the real world where we often must settle for a shack on earth after dreaming in our youth of building a bridge to the moon.

As if their husbands didn't have the same problems or difficulties of another sort. As if their husbands never had ground to complain about their wives. Yet, I never see their side defended, or even acknowledged, in your writings. I'm reminded of the cartoon of the marriage counselor who has just finished interviewing an aggrieved wife and says: I never make a judgment as to who's at fault until I talk with both sides. Now show that skunk of a husband in.

One further point. If men and women really are different but equal, then it stands to reason that women should compromise with men's nature as much as the other way around. But such a balance is missing in your columns. Instead, the man is supposed to concede 100 percent and become touchy-feely, sensitive, talkative, and entirely understanding while the woman is expected to do absolutely nothing to accommodate her mate." - A North Dakota reader.

You’re right. I slipped that advice in without explaining myself. As for, "Never strike a woman," I believe it is wrong for women to strike men and men to strike women period. All arguments should stop short of physical violence. It is wrong for both genders to strike each other.

However, I believe that men have an unfair advantage in a physical fight because of their upper body strength. In such circumstances, men and women are not equal, even if the woman initiates the fight. In a fight that escalates, it is the woman who suffers physical harm as the man's blows exceed a threshold for harm. In moral terms, trading of blows between a man and a woman is not equal. Check the emergency rooms and police logs.

How many women live in fear because of male capacity to inflict injurious blows? In some relationships, men control their wives' behavior based on this fear factor. I don't think it happens the other way around.

Regarding, "If she's angry, she's right," the advice was unnecessarily biased and cute. The advice to young women should also be, "If he's angry, he's right." Both genders need to understand the need to explore each other's reality and understand the issues that lie beneath anger. Every person's reactions have an internal logic that, if understood, explains their anger.

Both men and women, in the heat of argument, need to recognize the legitimacy of each other's point of view and strive to understand it. If the expression has escalated to the point to anger, the job of the other partner is to understand that anger as a way to help solve the problem.

So why did I single out young men for that advice? Expression of anger is often an expression of a strong need for change. The less powerful person in a relationship tries to break through to the other by strong communication.

In three-out-of-four relationships where this "demand/withdraw" pattern is present, it is the female who is demanding and the male who is withdrawing. By disregarding her anger, important issues are not resolved. Most women are the ones who leave marriages, usually after a long period. They try to get through to their spouse - and then finally give up.

Many men make a mistake by not taking a woman's anger seriously and then discover too late they should have. It is also true that women should take a man's anger seriously.

One more point about men and female anger. Men often judge it, over interpret it and are intimidated by it. What some men call anger, their spouse calls the truth. Speaking in general terms, women can be quite articulate in their animated expressions of displeasure and think they are within the bounds of rational expression.

Psychologist John Gottman believes that male flooding of emotion is a big problem in conflict resolution. Males need to see female anger as important communication and stay with it in an empathetic way instead of withdrawing or reacting back with anger. His advice to men: "Embrace her anger." He recommends that women become better at a "soft start up" when raising an issue.

Is this discussion male bashing or is this reality?