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The "Great Taboo" and the Role of Patriarchy in Husband and Wife Abuse

International Journal of Men's Health; Harriman Vol. 6, Iss. 1,  (Spring 2007): 7-21. DOI:10.3149/jmh.0601.7
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The role of historical memes such as the "Rule of Thumb" is explored and documented to illustrate how the notion of patriarchy defined as "male dominance over women" is deeply flawed. The "Rule of Thumb" as anything other than a rough and ready measure is shown to be both a historical myth and the result of sophistry by some women's activists. The continuation of the ancient meme of patriarchy, as expressed, for example, by the Skimmington, is shown to predict the controversy over the existence of female-perpetrated violence and male victims, a controversy that saw academics who sought to expose such violence being subjected to intimidation and abuse. Patriarchy is proposed as an influence on the occurrence and prevalence of both husband and wife abuse, operating through the patriarchal meme that "men should not be victims." The importance of these considerations for men's emotional and physical health is emphasized.

Keywords: Rule of Thumb, intimate assaults, patriarchy, male victims, Skimmington

He can chew iron bars, Cutalianos can.

He can halt trains, Cutalianos can.

He can grind stones, Cutalianos can.

What if he can chew iron bars?

Bold as a lion as he is

Once in his humble home

Cutalianos shakes like a jelly before his Missus.

Oh, how frightened poor Cutalianos is of her.

But, let no one know about this.1, at next page

In the thirty years since violence and abuse between intimate partners came to prominent public awareness and became the subject of academic study, one topic has remained controversial: the plight of men who are the victims of assaults by their female partners. This "Great Taboo" (George, 1994) is the coalescence of two forbidden beliefs in society: first, that a man can be beaten by a woman, which is an anathema particularly to men; second, the uncomfortable...