Few books of modern
times have had as great an impact in law, in popular culture and in understanding,
as has this one. We have all heard of the "Battered Woman Syndrome," which originated
with this book. Later feminist writings on the subject credit Prof. Walker for
establishing the contemporary feminist theory and jurisprudence on "Domestic
Violence," which they invariably depict as violence by a man against a woman.
Every woman who has obtained mitigation in punishment for an act of violence
against her mate by pleading the "battered woman syndrome" is a direct beneficiary
of Dr. Walker's feminist advocacy and research.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have ever performed any critical analysis of
this work, at least in public. Seldom in modern times has any work had such
great impact, yet received so little scrutiny. This is (or should be) astonishing,
although it is not difficult to discern the reason why. Given the pressure to
conform to "political correctness" at most colleges and universities, any serious
objection raised to such a cornerstone of feminist research would unquestionably
be career-limiting, if not grounds for actual dismissal. Neither in psychology,
nor in law, has any significant questioning of Walker's research occurred.
It is doubly difficult to question a work on this subject without seeming
to be "unconcerned about violence" or "hostile to women," even if the work is
found to contain major errors and misrepresentations. Despite all protestations
to the contrary such accusations will inevitably be made. Nonetheless, given
the political significance of the issue, and the degree of emotion and animosity
being generated by the debate, a critical examination of The Battered Woman
is long overdue.
Where did Prof. Walker obtain the sample of women she uses for her study of
"battered women"? Did she perform some careful selection to obtain a representative
sample? Indeed not. She simply interviewed those women who contacted her in
the course of her giving speeches, radio and TV interviews, and appearing in
news stories, on the subject of her research into "battered women." She is aware
that this represents a problem: "This is a self-volunteered sample. These women
were not randomly selected, and they cannot be considered a legitimate data
base from which to make specific generalizations" [introduction, p. xiii]. Having
noted this purely for the record, she then proceeds to utterly disregard her
own caveat, and develops a long list of generalizations derived from this so-called
"research." She presents us with a list of "myths" about "battered women," all
of them drawn from the self-volunteered sample above. Some of the supposed "myths"
will be discussed in detail below. Now, they may indeed be "myths," or they
may on the other hand be true - but the point is one cannot conclude one way
or the other, working only from a self-volunteered sample. And it is on this
exceptionally shaky foundation that the entire feminist edifice of "Domestic
Violence" advocacy is based, Walker's list of supposed "myths" and other claimed
"findings" having taken on the status of unquestioned truth.
Prof. Walker makes mention five times of the largest-scale study of domestic
violence yet undertaken, the National Institute of Mental Health-financed survey
of Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz, later published as a book [Straus et. al.,
1980]. She cites Straus et. al. approvingly as "the first epidemiological study
of battered women undertaken in this country" (p. 20). This is a serious misrepresentation:
it was a detailed study of "violence in the American family", not of "battered
women". She uses findings from this study when it suits her purpose. However,
nowhere does Prof. Walker see fit to tell her readers what the final conclusion
of that study is: that women initiate violence in intimate relationships at
least as often as men do [Straus et. al. 1980, pp. 36-40]. In fact, the study
found that "The number of wives who threw things at their husbands is almost
twice as large as the number of husbands who threw things at their wives. The
rate for kicking and hitting with an object is also higher for wives than for
husbands." Overall, however, the researchers found that "there is little difference
between the husbands and wives in this study." So the conclusions reached by
the study that Prof. Walker mischaracterizes as "the first epidemiological study
of battered women" are dramatically different from what she wants us to believe.
Scholars do not consider it ethical when citing authorities to selectively
refer only to those portions of a work that confirm your position, while concealing
from your readers the fact that the authority you are citing reaches a conclusion
in substantial disagreement with yours. The accepted scholarly practice would
be for Prof. Walker, having invoked the authority of Straus et. al. to bolster
certain of her arguments, to note that those authors have reached a conclusion
substantially different from hers, and then to explain why she believes her
conclusion is correct and theirs is not. It is not difficult to see why she
failed to do this: she has no credible statistical data whatsoever. Indeed,
you will not find the title or complete description of Straus et. al. anywhere
within Walker's book, nor that of any other paper or book mentioned in the text.
The lack of footnotes, a bibliography, or indeed any scholarly references make
it difficult, if not impossible, for Walker's readers to ascertain the accuracy
of her use of her sources, or to learn more about the subject from independent
sources. An optimist might conclude that such unscholarly omissions were unintentional.
Prof. Walker, of course, will not deal with any complicating factors such
as women battering men: in her book the "battered" are always women, and "batterers"
are always men. In fact, she states explicitly: "I am aware that this book is
written from a feminist vision. It is a picture of what happens in a domestic
violent act from the perspective of only one of the two parties. The men do
not have equal rebuttal time" [introduction, p. xvii]. As such, this work is
explicitly unsuited to be used as a guide for the formulation of law, which
must be impartial to all parties, and must give equal consideration to the rights
and interests of each. Indeed, Prof. Walker's own admission cited above provides
more than ample justification for the courts to strike down all "battered woman"
statutes, not merely because they represent "junk science" in the courtroom
resting on invalid data, but because they are explicitly biased, a violation
of the "equal protection" clause.
To be sure, the women here interviewed tell harrowing tales of physical and
psychological abuse. But nowhere does Prof. Walker address the question of whether
or not the accounts as presented are objectively true. They represent, as she
has noted, the woman's side of a possibly violent altercation. We do not know
whether these events actually occurred as described, nor do we know what the
man would have said were he given the opportunity to tell his story. Perhaps
he would say that the woman was exaggerating or even inventing the incidents,
or perhaps he would say that the woman initiated the violence.
But verification of abuse has never been a concern of Prof. Walker. Indeed,
she employs a very simple criterion: "Early on I decided that a woman's story
was to be accepted if she felt she was being psychologically and/or physically
battered by her man ... Battered women themselves are the best judges of whether
or not they are being battered. I soon learned that if a woman has reason to
suspect she is battered, she probably is" [introduction, p. xiv]. This raises
an immediate problem in terms of methodology, as serious scholars do not accept
the results of studies based upon self-reported effects or results, in the absence
of independent corroboration. If people tell a medical researcher that taking
laetrile cured their cancer, the research is worthless unless it is established
with reasonable certainty that they did indeed once have cancer, and that it
has in fact been cured. Imagine the reviewers' comments on a doctor's paper
which stated "I decided that my patients were the best judges of whether or
not they had been healed of cancer, so if they felt they had been healed by
laetrile, I accepted their account." Yet this is exactly the methodology that
Prof. Walker expects us to accept. (What is remarkable is that until now she
has not been disappointed, a truly astonishing avoidance of critical thinking
by scholars and jurists alike).
This problem of non-verification compounds Walker's first problem of the self-selected
sample, taking a sample that starts off being unreliable, then by accepting
anecdotal accounts raising it to the quantity unreliability squared. This latter
problem would, once again, taken by itself, completely suffice to exclude Prof.
Walker's study from serious scholarly consideration.
One should not assume that "battering" is necessarily a violent physical act.
In fact, Walker admits to constructing "an expanded definition of battering
behavior as both physical and psychological" [introduction, p. xv]. She explains
that "Most of the women in this project describe incidents involving psychological
humiliation and verbal harassment as their worst battering experiences, whether
or not they had been physically abused." While it is surely to be conceded that
psychological abuse can indeed be harrowing, it is vastly more subjective than
physical abuse, and its presence can be much more a matter of dispute. It is
also absurd to depict this as something that men exclusively do to women. Surely
almost all of us can claim to have been "psychologically battered" by a partner
at one time or another. It is also well-known everywhere, except perhaps in
feminist circles, that throughout recorded history men have frequently complained
of being "henpecked", "nagged", "berated," "scolded," "criticized," "carped,"
"castrated," or "caviled" by their wives (to use but a few terms in widespread
use). There would thus seem to be at least as much evidence of "psychological
battering" of men by their wives, as of the reverse. Yet Walker, steeped in
her feminist advocacy, seems not to even realize that by expanding the definition
of "battering" so dramatically she has opened the door to many questions that
could ultimately undermine her position. If one depicts "verbal harassment"
as "battering" in this age of feminism, then it would seem to follow that when
a woman preaches feminist doctrine to her husband, she is "battering" him. But
Prof. Walker is never troubled by complications: for her, men batter, and women
are battered - it is as simple as that.
Another novel form of "battering" Prof. Walker discovers is "working late."
She describes the case of a woman who admits physically attacking her husband:
"there is no doubt that she began to assault Paul physically, before he assaulted
her. However, it is also clear from the rest of her story that Paul had been
battering her by ignoring her and by working late, in order to move up the corporate
ladder, for the entire five years of their marriage" [p.98]. Using this logic,
she transforms a violent woman who admittedly hit her husband in the head with
a glass when he came home late from work, then rammed a chair into his leg,
to become a victim of his "battering." Surely this represents an example of
logic stood on its head. If this type of argument is accepted, then a man who
physically abuses his wife could defend his actions on the grounds that she
was "ignoring him and working late", and failed to make him his dinner.
Like many feminists, Walker seems not to be trying to improve marriage, but
rather to destroy it. The principal fault she finds with the psychiatric treatment
of battered women thus far is that "Psychotherapy has generally emphasized the
value of keeping families intact whenever possible. In working with battered
women, however, psychotherapists must encourage breaking the family apart" (p.230).
Remember, of course, that she has expanded the definition of "battering" so
dramatically as to include virtually every woman as "battered". After visiting
one of the early shelters for battered women, she writes "I was struck by what
a beneficial alternative to the nuclear family this arrangement [communal housing
and child raising] was for these women and children" (p.195). Reading Walker's
constant put- downs against the family, one is struck with the impression that
her advocacy of the use of shelters as a tool for breaking up families is not
accidental. Marriage seems to be the target, and the accusation of "battering"
her tool of choice for dismantling it.
Prof. Walker promulgates the old, shopworn rule
of thumb hoax, here stated as the supposedly "century-old right of a
husband to beat his wife with a stick "no thicker than his thumb"" [p. 12].
Exactly where in the law this alleged "right" is supposed to exist, she does
not tell us, nor are we told the source of the quote she gives us. This supposed
'rule of thumb law,' while cited widely in the feminist literature, is nonetheless
entirely bogus. For years, feminists have been cribbing from each others' writings
concerning this supposed wife-beating "law," nobody apparently bothering to
check whether or not the claim has any foundation in reality. [For a detailed
refutation of the "rule of thumb" hoax, see Sommers 1994, p. 203- 7.] Remarkably,
Walker further informs us that "In some states, the "stick rule" remained on
the books until quite recently" [p. 12], which raises an extremely interesting
question: given that there never were any "stick rules" in the first place,
where did Prof. Walker get the factoid that some states had only recently repealed
them? This claim has the appearance of having been simply made up.
Given the central role Prof. Walker later played in promulgating the now-infamous
"Superbowl battering" hoax [Sommers, 1994, p. 189], unsupported statements in
her writings must be viewed with extreme suspicion. It is quite apparent that
one of Walker's principal objectives in writing this book was to overthrow the
psychological theory of "feminine masochism" as an explanation for why women
remain in violent relationships. The theory of "feminine masochism" has a long
history in psychology, being discussed in the writings of Freud, Karen Horney,
H. Deutsch, S. Rado, and many others [Horney, 1935]. The problem is, however,
that Prof. Walker does not argue against or refute that theory, but merely proclaims
it to have been disproven. This is her "Myth No. 2: Battered Women are Masochistic"
(p.20). Unfortunately, nowhere in her proclamation of its myth-dom does she
cite any evidence establishing its falsehood. She simply replaces the previously
accepted explanation with her own explanation that women are victims of "learned
helplessness," a theory that would seem to run entirely counter to the general
thrust of feminist claims of womens' inherent strength. If Walker's theory of
"learned helplessness" is correct, it would seem that all hopes for eventual
sexual equality would be impossible; given how easily even an intelligent woman
can be dominated and taught to be helpless, one would logically expect this
submissive tendency toward helplessness to carry through into the business and
social world as well. Walker does not attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction.
Prof. Walker's explanation of her "learned helplessness" theory sounds rather
confusing: "For example, when a woman begins to nag at a man after she knows
he has had a hard day at work, she can justify her belief that she really deserved
the battering she anticipated all along because she started it. Although she
appears to be masochistically setting up her own victimization, such behavior
may well be a desperate attempt to exercise some control over her life" (p.50).
So, what appears to be masochistic behavior - provoking an angry man until he
beats her - is according to Prof. Walker actually a form of empowerment. Why
a non-masochistic "battered woman" does not instead prefer to exercise control
over her life by leaving the dangerously agitated man alone, she does not explain.
Nor does Prof. Walker think that a woman who "nags" her husband is anything
but a victim, while a man who employs "psychological humiliation and verbal
harassment" against his wife is supposedly "battering" her (introduction, p.
xv). A woman can be only a victim, while a man can be only a villain, no matter
what each may actually do.
Nowhere does Prof. Walker attempt explain how the predictions of the theory
of "feminine masochism" are different from those of her theory of "learned helplessness,"
or discuss which facts are supposedly better explained by her theory than by
the older one, although even if she did the argument would be inconclusive,
given the invalidity of her sample. Nonetheless, she should have tried. By contrast,
Dr. Karen Horney's discussion of what she terms "The Problem of Feminine Masochism"
[Horney, 1935] is overwhelmingly more scholarly than Prof. Walker's mere dismissal.
Dr. Horney describes each of the major formulations of the theory of "feminine
masochism" in the psychiatric literature, giving full references. She discusses
the merits and weaknesses of each, weighs nature/nurture arguments, and concludes
that insufficient information exists to come to any definitive conclusions on
the subject. Prof. Walker, on the other hand, seems never to have encountered
the problem of inadequate information, nor to have been troubled by doubt over
the possible inaccuracy of any of her conclusions.
Perhaps the most striking feature of The Battered Woman is its overwhelming
certitude, in the face of its highly questionable underlying data. The theory
of "feminine masochism" may perhaps be false, but its falsehood is not established
by anything in this book. Walker merely proclaims that theory, long a thorn
in the feminists' side, to have been refuted, and one feminist author after
another has pointed back to Walker's triumphant refutation of the theories of
Freud et. al concerning "feminine masochism." None of them seems to have noticed
that Prof. Walker's supposed refutation is entirely without substance. They
would leave us puzzling the unsolved mystery of why substantial numbers of women
- including even very many who espouse feminist principles - quite actively
seek out relationships with highly-dominant and sometimes abusive men, scorning
the hordes of mild-mannered "nice guys" who proclaim their acceptance of feminist
doctrines. At least the old theory of "female masochism" gives us some insights
into this otherwise-inexplicable phenomenon.
Another of Walker's supposed "myths" is "Myth No. 4: Middle- Class Women Do
Not Get Battered as Often or as Violently as do Poorer Women" (p.21). This is
related to "Myth No. 5: Minority Group Women are Battered More Frequently than
Anglos" (p.22). As with the other supposed "myths," we are not shown exactly
how and why they are "mythical": we are simply informed that they are. At the
very least it would be necessary to present some sort of statistical analysis
to substantiate claims such as these. Of course, no statistics are presented,
and even if they had been they would be inconclusive owing to the invalidity
of Prof. Walker's sample. She simply informs us that she saw examples of battering
all across the social spectrum, then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that
there is no relationship between socioeconomic status and battering. This is
as illogical as if one were to observe that Cadillac ownership has been seen
in all socioeconomic groups, including the very lowest, therefore there is no
relationship between wealth and Cadillac ownership.
There is good reason to believe that these two "myths" really are true, but
Prof. Walker sees no need to make make a serious attempt to deal with any objections.
For example, Richard J. Gelles, drawing from the NIMH study of which he is co-author,
writes that "families living in large urban areas, minority racial groups, individuals
with no religious affiliation, people with some high school education, families
with low incomes, blue- collar workers, people under 30, and families where
the husband was unemployed had the highest rate of marital violence" [Gelles,
1979, p. 141]. Gelles and his co-authors offer statistics to back up this statement,
while Prof. Walker, disputing them, offers none; we are simply instructed to
believe her. Nonetheless, Walker's Proof by Fiat clearly meets all required
standards of feminist scholarship, because the "mythical" nature of these statements
has become an unquestioned fact within the Canon of subsequent feminist literature.
One might rightly harbor the suspicion that these "myths" are proclaimed as
"myths" out of ideological necessity rather than solid evidence. Feminist ideology
has, after all, strong links to egalitarian socialism, and often proclaims itself
quite explicitly to be anti-hierarchal. In fact, Walker even states that feminist
principles "mandate that no one person take a leadership role but that leadership
be shared among numerous women" (p.197). Therefore any perception that domestic
violence is more prevalent among those of low education and socioeconomic status
runs counter to what the "correct" conclusion is supposed to be; affluent and
respected white males are regarded as the principal source of evil in society.
In fact, several of the incidents Walker describes portray high-income, high-status
husbands and fathers in a Jekyll-and-Hyde pose: highly respected by society,
at home they are secretly abusive and vindictive. A "corporate executive's wife"
claimed "my husband was more powerful than the court"; according to another
her brutal husband "was on the medical school faculty" (p. 175); a third claims
that her politician husband "pushes himself day and night to get his [social]
programs through... but shut off the TV cameras and he's mean and nasty" (p.165).
While such individuals may well exist, statistics indicate that domestic violence
is at its absolute lowest in this high-income, high-status group.
During the 1980s, such Jekyll-and-Hyde depictions of successful white males
who led hidden lives as secret abusers would be invoked frequently by "recovered
memory therapists" to justify belief in their otherwise-unbelievable "recovered
memories of abuse" by seemingly respectable and loving fathers [for example,
Bass and Davis, 1988]. These supposedly "recovered memories" are actually confabulations
("false memories") suggested by therapists and feminists, which has led to recriminations,
family breakups, and even incarceration for thousands of innocent persons [Ofshe
and Watters, 1994] . Were it not for the widespread acceptance within certain
circles of the Jekyll-and-Hyde depiction of affluent and respected husbands
- a depiction that runs counter to the data presented by Gelles - these so-called
"recovered memories" would never have achieved their widespread acceptance,
thereby sparing thousands of individuals and families a great deal of anguish,
suffering, and loss. Bass and Davis [1988, p. 476] favorably cite The Battered
Woman, p. 476], calling it "a major contribution," and recommending it for
its "practical recommendations for "the way out" " (i.e., family dissolution).
Whether Prof. Walker's Jekyll-and-Hyde stories have any more objective validity
than the "rule of thumb" deception or the "Superbowl battering" hoax is impossible
to say, but it seems unlikely. Considering how neatly they confirm Walker's
political bias, one would be wise to view these depictions with maximum suspicion.
An interesting paradox is raised by Prof. Walker's insistence that battered
and sexually abused women have "lucid recall of the details of acute battering
incidents. Battered women were always able to recall the details of such violent
incidents. They remembered every word spoken and every blow delivered" (p.74).
At about the same time that this was being written, other feminist authors were
developing theories that claim exactly the opposite. Supposedly, horrid memories
of being physically and sexually abused get completely "repressed," to be uncorked
later and brought to the surface [for example, Bass and Davis, 1988]. This allows
the supposed perpetrator to be prosecuted and/or sued. Now, both of these theories
cannot be true: memories of violent victimization either are always subject
to "lucid recall", or else they can be "repressed" until it is convenient to
remember them. One would expect that such a conflict in theories would make
for a lively debate, with different feminists taking sides and vigorously defending
one theory or the other. However, this seems to not be taking place. In fact,
I am not aware of a single feminist writer or theorist who has even pointed
out this fundamental contradiction in contemporary feminist teachings, let alone
try to resolve it. Perhaps it is in the "noncompetitive" nature of feminism
to avoid head-on clashes like those that occur in the "linear thinking" that
we find in "male-dominated" subjects such as mathematics, science, and philosophy.
If so, feminists are doomed to preach nonsense forever, as they have no method
for separating correct theories from erroneous ones.
The Battered Woman is unsatisfactory as a serious work, and completely
unacceptable as a foundation for family law. First, it is profoundly unscholarly.
Without objective verification of the incidents herein described, they are nothing
more than hearsay. Second, the book does not even pretend to be objective: the
woman's side, and only the woman's side, is presented, when it is undeniable
that in a large percentage of cases, the woman initiates violence against the
man. Third, Prof. Walker's expanded definition of "battering" that includes
verbal abuse does not even address the issue of female verbal abuse of men.
Fourth, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Prof. Walker's sample
of "battered women" is in any way a representative sample, and even if it were,
she presents no statistics to support her conclusions. In fact, most of her
conclusions are utterly unsupported by any kind of data, and are simply pronounced
One is not "in favor of violence" for insisting that statements being made
on the subject of domestic violence in academic circles must conform to reality,
and it will not in any way assist the victims of violence to have the facts
of their situation misrepresented. Not only are male victims of domestic violence
currently being virtually ignored, but the single greatest category of domestic
violence is also being all but ignored: that between siblings [Straus et. al.,
p. 83]. The current absurd overemphasis on adult female victims not only ignores
men, but seriously distracts from efforts that might prevent or assist victims
of the most frequent type of domestic violence, sibling violence. Indeed, these
misrepresentations will backfire, as is already happening in the wake of the
"Superbowl battering" hoax that Prof. Walker was largely responsible for starting,
resulting in future female victims confronting ever- increasing degrees of disinterest
and disbelief. The best way to solve any problem is to understand it as accurately
as possible, and the best way to help victims of domestic violence is to tell
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about their situation.
All research citing Walker uncritically is tainted and must be disregarded
in toto. All so-called "legislative reforms" based upon Walker are unacceptably
biased, factually unsound, and violate the requirement for equal protection
of the male sex. Any man who is insulted by misleading and inaccurate wholesale
accusations against his sex, as well as any woman who possesses a sense of fairness
toward the opposite sex, must view a work like this with a sense of revulsion.
Similarly, any female academic who would profess to be a good scholar must absolutely
reject Prof. Walker's work on grounds of methodology alone. The time is right
for a new, and this time objective, analysis of the serious problem of domestic
violence, one free of ideological bias, and firmly grounded in sound scholarship.
To draw up new legislation and social policies solidly grounded in objective
facts would be the very best thing that could happen to help solve the serious
problem of domestic violence. References: Bass, Ellen and Davis, Laura: The
Courage to Heal (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). Horney, Dr. Karen, M.D.:
"The Problem of Feminine Masochism", in Feminine Psychology (New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1967, p. 214). First published 1935. Gelles, Richard
J: Family Violence (Beverly Hills, Sage Publications, 1979). Ofshe, Richard
and Watters, Ethan: Making Monsters False Memories, Psychotherapy, and
Sexual Hysteria (New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1994). Sommers, Christina
Hoff: Who Stole Feminism? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). Straus,
Murray A.; Gelles, Richard J.; and Steinmetz, Suzanne K. Behind Closed Doors
Violence in the American Family. (New York: Anchor Doubleday Books, 1980.)
PS: I find it amazing that within a week or two from the time that Walker
outraged her feminist colleagues by agreeing to testify for the O.J. Simpson
defense, she found her license to practice psychology in serious jeopardy. Whatever
shortcomings she may or may not have had in her private practice seemed not
to be an issue until that time. This would seem to testify to the astonishing
degree of power wielded by the feminist orthodoxy within political circles today.
Note by webmaster: The
states as follows: 'Note that before Ms. Walker's husband, Dr. Morton Flax,
committed suicide "People close to the couple have described Dr. Flax as
a "battered man" according to Richard Bennett.' Since that webpage
also states 'In The Battered Woman, psychologist Lenore Walker excuses a women
who violently attacked her husband because he "had been battering her by
ignoring her and by working late,"' it is not unreasonable to assume that
Professor Walker would have felt justified in assaulting her husband if he worked
late, and that his suicide might have been brought about by her frequently assaulting
him, while simultaneously attracting the sympathy of their social circle by
claiming that he was battering her. Note that men have to work hard to get ahead,
whereas women in feminist countries can get ahead just by being feminists.