It’s not the same

For some reason, I’ve heard and read a lot lately from men who think that their girlfriends yelling at them is identical to a woman’s male significant other physically assaulting her.

Where did this idea come from?

Being yelled at sucks. Being yelled at repeatedly and systematically by your significant other already has a name: verbal and/or emotional abuse. But it is not the same as being physically assaulted.

If your girlfriend or wife is screaming at you for god-knows-what, in front of the kids, so all the neighbors can hear, that’s pretty terrible. If this happens often, you should probably reconsider your relationship with her. If you stay, I can understand the reasons why you might feel compelled to do so. Perhaps you are afraid for the kids, maybe your life is so entwined with hers, maybe for decades, that you just can’t muster the energy to leave. Maybe she’s psychologically abusive and takes advantage of you to the point where you feel as though you’re nothing without her. You know, typical signs of abuse. Mental abuse. Verbal abuse. Psychological abuse.

All of those kinds of abuse are terrible and should most certainly not occur within an intimate relationship. They all fall under the umbrella of “abusive behavior.”

But it is not the same as physical abuse.

Comparing the two is inaccurate. I can be beaten to death. I cannot be yelled at to death. I can leave the room, the house, the city, if I’m being yelled at. I cannot leave the house if I’m physically injured to the point of not being able to move. And if that happens? I’m at the mercy of my abuser. At that point, my life is potentially in danger.

Do we typically tend to downplay the damaging effects of verbal assault and emotional abuse at the hands of women, and the wounds inflicted on male victims of these types of abuse? I’m sure we do. Of course that’s not right. It’s also not the point, though. The point is that physical assault and verbal assault are not the same.

Some might say that repeated emotional abuse can lead the victim to self-harm and/or suicide, arguing that emotional abuse does cause physical injury or even death. Of course it’s true that some victims may be emotionally or psychologically beaten down to the point that they feel ending their life is the only option. But, ultimately, suicide is the choice of the person committing it.

Anyway, if I’m missing something, by all means, let me know. But I’m quite certain that it is just not the same.

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19 Responses to It’s not the same

  1. imnotme says:

    I really enjoyed this piece and it did make me think rather acutely on the nature of abuse and its components.

    I would like to first off state my firm agreement on your point that forms of abuse being equated is a troublesome stance to take, for surely the way an abuse is carried out matters in some consideration or another. We can all agree that there are “degrees” of crime and punishment.

    What we’re dealing with here is the crime of punishing someone who has committed no crime. Which is universally recognized as at least unfair. But, then we are also further treating abuse occurring in what was supposed to be an environment free of abuse (home), which makes it a taboo. This immediately raises the stakes.

    However, once abuse reaches levels of real assault (for example, few would refer to a “nuggie” as a physical assault, whereas few would deny a bruise left from a strike of either the hands or another implement as beyond question an assault through and through) there comes a third classification, and this third classification is exactly at the heart of your question.

    Is it truly different to assault someone physically as opposed to emotionally or psychologically?

    We don’t have the data. This classification of “types of assault” is still too new (as a legal concept, social concern, or reported debate) to empirically answer this. I myself have been subject to all three forms of assault and all three have scarred me in subtly different ways, yet all with the same profound hurt.

    So maybe, just maybe, what we need to talk about now is what assault “says.” To the victim. To society. When someone commits assault against an innocent person, given that it’s not typically committed by legally insane persons, is it not one of the most hateful crimes society has to react to? Shaken babies? Broken children stunted in life from the unwarranted abuse of their parent? Guy who gets rocks thrown at his face for wearing a stupid hat?

    In final conclusion, I think that physical abuse and the other abuses are similar in effect though different in cause, and likewise for physical assault versus other assault. Hateful, unforgivable act goes in, potentially devastating hurt comes out. Yet, another factor in this debate is the simple fact that victim response is not algorithm, there are varied levels of victim trauma involved too.

    • ethifem says:

      All forms of abuse that I mentioned or that anyone can think of in addition to them, cannot be compared when it comes to psychological damage inflicted, we agree there. You can be psychologically hurt by both physical and mental/emotional abuse, and one person may be more hurt by one when compared to the other. But, physical abuse is the only type of abuse that places a person in bodily danger.

      Of course, there are scientific studies proving that stress and other mental ailments can wear down the body and cause physical symptoms. But that’s simply not comparable to immediate results of physical abuse, when you consider the fact that you are never held physically hostage by words of any decibel level. You seemed to sort of address this in the last sentence of your comment, but, I think there is more to it than the victim response.

      The point is, you can always escape the immediate effects of emotional or mental abuse, but you cannot always escape the immediate effects of physical abuse. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, but certainly not often.

    • ethifem says:

      I didn’t realize the distinction you were making between “assault” and “abuse.” Had I read that the first time, my reply would have been a little different, although (correct me if I’m wrong) it still seems like you’re saying that there isn’t much of a distinction between the two.

  2. N says:

    Clearly in a literal sense it is not the same thing, so presumably these individuals are trying to ascribe equal moral weight to these actions.

    Do we presume that these women cannot beat the men in their lives? If so, do we also presume that they would if they could?

    I digress, I’d like to explore the motivations of the people making these claims, rather than the claims themselves.

    Any links to examples?

    • ethifem says:


      I’ll try to find some links today. I was looking yesterday while writing the post, but I was in a hurry.

    • ethifem says:

      In one instance, it was overheard, something along the lines of, “If I had beaten the shit out of her, she would have gotten up and left the house, too.” This was an attempt to show that her yelling (and him subsequently leaving the house in order to escape it) should be seen by her to be the same as if he were to have physically assaulted her. Which, in that case, I’d find it unlikely that after a physical assault, leaving the area would be a viable option.

  3. Danny says:

    Interesting post. I do wonder if people who do make such assertions are swayed by the fact that all abuse is wrong and from there do not distinguish the varying degrees of abuse?

    Do we presume that these women cannot beat the men in their lives?
    Often times when abuse is spoken of it is usually under the presumption that abuse is something that men do to women. And even though depending on who you ask for numbers the percentages will vary on which partners are abusive it is obvious that there is abuse going on on both sides. (Although I have to note that there are those that seem to trip over themselves that women mostly do it in self-defense, a consideration rarely extended to violent men.)

    • ethifem says:

      I do wonder if people who do make such assertions are swayed by the fact that all abuse is wrong and from there do not distinguish the varying degrees of abuse?

      I bet it’s a motivation for some people. Call me a cynic, though, but I feel more like it’s a way for men who are fed up with always being seen as “potential abusers” to point out that women can also be abusive, but instead of making a point, they’re trying to trivialize the affects of physical abuse (which is more often committed by men– at least to any substantial degree when considering injury and ability to injure) by playing up the psychological effects of emotional abuse.

      NOT that physical abuse is always worse than emotional abuse. I want to make it clear that while I’m pointing out that the two are not the same, I am also not attempting to trivialize the effects of emotional abuse, either.

    • Danny says:

      …but instead of making a point, they’re trying to trivialize the affects of physical abuse…
      While that may be the effect I don’t think they are actively trying trivialize the effects of physical abuse. I get the feeling that male victims are just tired of being kept silent (which goes against the supposed patriarchy we live in which men are the top priority mind you).

  4. elementary_watson says:

    You might be interested in this advertisement, I think:

    Apart from equating verbal and physical assault, it reinforces the paradigm of man=perpetrator, woman=victim.

    • ethifem says:

      Interesting, indeed.

      I do appreciate the recent influx of ads seeming to try to raise awareness of the danger of emotional and verbal abuse. It’s a problem in relationships that is largely ignored and the victims of this type of abuse often don’t realize how serious it is. On the other hand, it’s only feeding the fire of “girlfriends yelling at boyfriends is the exact same as boyfriends hitting their girlfriends!! My girlfriend should be arrested, too!!”

      Thanks for the link.

    • elementary_watson says:

      Just to be pedantic, the ad is feeding the fire of “boyfriends yelling at girlfriends is exactly the same as boyfriends hitting their girlfriends!” I doubt that the majority of people would think about women yelling at men when watching that clip showing the exact opposite.

      I also doubt that many people would think a girlfriend yelling at her boyfriend would be as bad and harmful as the situation in the clip, but that is something for a discussion about other things being equal or unequal.

    • ethifem says:

      I think you’re right. Your average viewer isn’t going to come to those conclusions.

      Ultimately I think they’re intending to raise awareness — especially to potential victims — that emotional and other non-physical forms of abuse can also have harmful effects. That just because it isn’t physical doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful or otherwise damaging.

      I would also like to see ads like these where the genders of the individuals behaving in abusive ways are interchanged, because as you touched on, when the parties involved in these interactions are always “male perpetrator, female victim,” it reinforces the belief that men are inherently dangerous, or even ticking time bombs.

  5. Janey says:

    The equivalent of being yelled at by your girlfriend is yelling at your girlfriend. If you can’t say “if I yelled at her like that, she’d leave the house too”, you’re not making sense.

    • ethifem says:

      The equivalent of being yelled at by your girlfriend is yelling at your girlfriend.

      Simply and inarguably put. Thank you.

  6. Men who threaten to take away the kids are engaging in post separation violence. It is common for batterers to threaten to take children away from the battered woman by proving her to be an unfit mother. For this reason, some lawyers advise women not to tell courts or mediators about child abuse or domestic abuse because, by doing so, they risk losing custody to the alleged abuser!

  7. Clarence says:

    Autism Custody Battles:

    You have a one-sided and hateful blog there.
    And your post isn’t really relevant to this discussion.

    I suppose you just wanted links?

  8. Clarence, that’s your opinion.

  9. Pingback: Happy blogoversary, ethecofem! | ethecofem

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