Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book Review: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft

I'll admit it: I feel woefully unprepared for grad school. There are a variety of reasons for this, and I'll go ahead and list a few:

  • I didn't major in the social sciences in undergrad. My degree is in literature, and while I have a minor in women's studies that involved taking several sociology courses, the sum total of my knowledge of psychology and human behavior comes from having dated a therapist who specialized in treating personality disorders. Useful, but far from comprehensive. 
  • I haven't been in school for four years. I feel out of practice.
  • I'm Type A and will feel unprepared pretty much no matter what.
Most of my insecurities are reflected in the first bullet point, though. I'm sort of worried there's going to be a gigantic knowledge gap in between my classmates, who may have actually studied things germane to social work, and myself, who is haphazardly-read in the social sciences at best. I never took classes in psychology or anthropology, and have read very little in those fields. I'm more at home in sociology, particularly the branches that focus on women's rights, racial issues, healthcare, and public policy as it relates to those three things. In short, lots of depth, not a lot of breadth.

I've decided to read some psychology/behavioral science-oriented books during the summer to make myself feel slightly less neurotic about my educational prospects come this fall. Why Does He Do That? is the first book in the docket. From what I've seen in court as part of my volunteering duties, domestic abuse (sadly) plays a big role in family court cases. In the state of North Carolina, exposing one's children to spousal abuse or other forms of domestic violence constitutes neglect, and can result in the children being removed from the parents' custody if they do not take appropriate steps to ameliorate the abusive situation. I therefore thought gaining some insight into domestic violence and those who perpetrate it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

I enjoyed Why Does He Do That? for a variety of reasons. Foremost among them is that Bancroft doesn't fall prey to political correctness* in his descriptions of abuse or his analysis of it. He doesn't shy away from the fact that men comprise the vast majority of abusers, nor does he fall prey to the notion that homosexual relationships are inherently ideal and violence-free in the way that so many progressive activists tend to. More importantly, Bancroft doesn't fall into the trap of allowing abusers to shirk responsibility for their destructive behaviors by blaming their actions on others. He carefully elucidates what many anti-DV advocates have known for a long time: abusive men are assholes, and they behave that way because they benefit from it. They're not crazy and they're not victims themselves: they're master manipulators who will do or say anything to justify the way they treat women. 

Bancroft reiterates time and again that it's the attitudes and belief structures of abusive men that need changing. They don't require therapy (at least, not the conventional type), love, care, or someone to listen; they need to be compelled to un-learn their beliefs about women (and, sometimes children). The root of the problem, Bancroft argues, is entitlement. Abusive men feel entitled to absolute control over the people they consider to be "theirs." Until they stop regarding women/their children as their property, they won't change. Conventional therapy can't fix that kind of entrenched misogyny, in fact, even the special therapy that Bancroft has pioneered doesn't have a high success rate because men are offered so few incentives to make meaningful change. The best thing that women in that kind of a relationship can do, therefore, is to get out as soon as they can safely do it. 

Why Does He Do That? is an invaluable resource for several reasons. Apart from explaining the motivations of abusive men, Bancroft also details different types of abusers and delineates the different methods they use to terrorize their targets. He also does an excellent job revealing the long-term effects of psychological (and physical) abuse on women and children, along with providing resources for women in abusive relationships and those who know a woman who may be in one. I found it both easy to read an highly informative. 5 out of 5 stars, though I still feel pretty unprepared.

*I hate using that term, but it's the only way I can think of describing the gendered white-washing of domestic abuse.

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