Eisikovits, Zvi, and Eli Buchbinder — Talking Violent: A Phenomenological Study of Metaphors Battering Men Use

Eisikovits, Zvi, and Eli Buchbinder. “Talking Violent: A Phenomenological Study of Metaphors Battering Men Use.” Violence Against Women 3.5 (1997): 482-98.  Web.

This article researched how battering men justify their violent behavior using metaphors to describe their life and relationships. The authors begin by discussing the medium of language and how we use it to create a symbolic reality by ascribing meanings to objects and situations (482). Our social reality is created and revealed through our use of language. Our language is constructed through two structures: deep and surface. On one hand, “surface structure is a description of the sum of words as they are spoken, whereas deep structure relates to additional interpretive constructs, meanings, and emotional and attitudinal implications of what has been said.” Metaphors lie in the deep structure and create links between meanings of words and the hidden context. According to Eisikovits and Buchbinder, metaphors are seen as “mental constructs emerging in the mind of the constructor(s) to introduce and frame experiences.” When a violent man uses a metaphor to rationalize his actions, we can analyze the structure of it and the hidden meaning he is thus giving to intimate violence. By analyzing such metaphors, these researchers found that battering men minimized the frequency and severity of violence, minimized the consequences it had on women, and also denied responsibility and intent of violence. These men also tended to blame the victim for provoking violence or blamed environmental factors such as intoxication or unemployment (483). The authors define three types of images that explain how men account for their violence. One image is that violent men are “impulsive, nonreflective, uncontrolled, and even nonthinking.” Another is that they are consciously acting, controlled, and have clear awareness of the consequences of their acts. In the last image, men are seen as both willful and impulsive, conscious of their control yet experiencing a frightening loss of control, too (484).

A qualitative study was conducted from 1986 to 1989 in Northern Israel using 60 couples that had at least one reported incident of violence in the past year. Thirty-five of these couples were interviewed for two hours, answering questions that involved how conflicts emerge, are negotiated, what arguments result from conflicts, and the development/aftermath of a violent event (486). Three types of metaphors were distinguished from the study: “conflict and violence constructed and expressed in war metaphors, metaphors presenting the self as a dangerous space and as a locus of inner struggles, and metaphors of de-escalation and balancing” (487). For instance, a man who sees himself as helpless and threatened when faced with violence needs to defend himself from the “attacker.” An example of this war type metaphor would be “Everyone is digging in. Each in his own position. No one is willing to give in. There is no way out.” Another man said, “This is a war. Everyone is trying to fight his own battles” (487), which presents a mindset of having no victims or perpetrators—everyone is equal in the wrongdoing. A batterer who saw himself as explosive and uncontrollable thought that dissociating himself from his feelings by acting out with force was the way to handle an escalating situation. The use of metaphors like the following — “When I saw she discovered my weakness, I was forced to defend myself. I had to be strong so as to defend myself. So I went at her” (488) — can be taken as a sign of internal struggle. The last set of metaphors was that of balancing and de-escalation. Violence is a result of imbalance between partners: “I told her. You want to stop the fights? I mind my hands and you mind your mouth” (491). The man saw the mouth and hands as equal weapons so there is a shared responsibility in the violent conflict. The framework of analyzing metaphors “provides a logic to the way the men perceive the end of the violence and a rationale for making such choices in a seemingly chaotic world” (494).

This article points hard at the relationships between language and violence. Metaphors, especially, tell us how our hidden feelings and thoughts are brought to light in everyday conversation. Living on a college campus allows me to hear a plethora of offensive comments and jokes, including “That test raped me,” telling people to “go f*** themselves,” “let’s get f***ed up” when referring to alcohol consumption, “don’t be a little bitch,” etc. These metaphors represent violent ways to conceive of relationships, causing people to think that force is normal. The authors suggest that intervention in our uses of language and metaphors could lead to less violent thoughts and help us to rationalize actions in a more effective way. It was interesting to see how violent men justified their actions and put blame on the victim, saying that the violence could have been prevented if she had cooperated or just stopped talking. These types of metaphors can be found in media and music, especially with 50 Shades of Grey packaging and popularizing sadomasochism and bondage for mass consumption. Mainstream media has been promoting themes that are damaging and contributing to a rape-prone culture, like rape being humorous when it happens to men, sex as an uncontrollable urge for men, boys will be boys, and girls who are too drunk to consent are ideal for men. Victim blaming has also been an epidemic in the media and it is something I would like to focus more on. Assuming that girls like to be raped and blaming the victim for an incident if drinking was involved are damaging assumptions that make it harder for a victim to report the abuse. More work needs to be done to uncover a batterer’s mental processes and how he or she got socialized into thinking that violence is the answer.

— Lacey Kondos

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