Batterers call their partners “crazy” at least as much as they call them “fat and ugly” in domestic violence relationships. So when I read that Bill Maher compared Hamas to a crazy woman who is trying to kill you and you can only hold her wrists for so long before you have to slap her, I was horrified. I am not the first to draw this comparison of his tweet to partner abuse. To be clear I don’t mean to say nor imply Bill Maher is a batterer. But I think it’s important to understand why, when you know a lot about domestic violence, his tweet was particularly chilling. There are some aspects of his tweet that haven’t been examined yet – at least not that I’ve seen. I think it’s important for him, and society, to understand the roots of his words and why they are so harmful. So let’s talk about that ever-popular amongst abusers word “crazy.” Crazy is a word batterers hurl to discredit their partners and to make their partners feel and believe they’re “crazy.” Feeling “crazy” makes it really hard for survivors to trust their gut and be able to stay safe and, if they decide, exit a relationship (see crazy making). I heard once that a phone survey found that nearly all domestic violence survivors were called “crazy” by a partner – I can’t find a link to it online though.
How common is it for men to say a woman is “crazy?” Very common and certainly not every man who says this is a batterer. But it’s important that people, particularly men, understand how this term is used to dismiss and shame women, particularly in the context of domestic violence. And so when a man calls a woman “crazy” even if he’s not a batterer, he is contributing to negative societal images of women, which make it easier for batterers to successfully dismiss their partners by calling them crazy. Also just to note that abusers of all genders and sexualities are likely to call their partners “crazy,” but I think the commonality of it is thanks to the misogynistic ways men have used it against women, as is the case with partner abuse in general. And for that reason, I’m using the “he” pronoun for abuser and “she” pronoun for survivor in this post.
But the insult of “crazy” is only one element of this tweet. Not only is a “crazy” woman “crazy,” she’s also dangerous. And you know, you have no choice but to hold her down and then hurt her when all else fails. This is a way of denying and minimizing abuse batterers often use. “I mean yeah I hit her but she was coming after me, I had no choice.” And of course if someone was actually trying to kill someone or attack someone, that would be dangerous. But here’s the thing. Batterers lie and say they are the victim. Often times the survivor was never physically coming after the batterer. The batterer lies about this to detract from his actions. And even in those cases when the survivor was physically attacking the batterer, whether for defense or resistance, the batterer often minimizes how they “defended” themselves and often leaves out crucial information about the before and after. So they may say something like “I wasn’t doing anything, she got on my case and was out of control, just crazy, so I had to stop her, I had to hold her back.” My supervisor says domestic violence is like an onion and you have to peel back the layers to really understand what’s going on. So when a batterer says something like the above statement and you peel back the layers, you often find that he was not in fact “not doing anything.” Usually when you peel back the layers, you find the abuser was being abusive and this incident and subsequent lie happened within the context of an abusive episode. And so it’s important to get as many details as possible. And find out how they were restraining them – where were their hands? It’s so common for batterers to put their hands around their partners necks (aka strangulation) and write this off as restraining, an act of self-defense. But since when is strangling someone a way to restrain them?
Bill Maher’s use of the word “crazy” and then discussing restraint followed by violence follows the same pattern batterers follow when making excuses or denying their abusive behaviors. Again I am not saying Bill Maher is abusive. I have no idea. What I am saying is that his words follow a certain pattern – a pattern that successfully helps batterers get away and continue to engage in abusive behavior. And use of this pattern of behavior as a joke in the mainstream media is very scary, especially when you consider how this “joke” is pretty much a batterer’s defense line/excuse.
There is no excuse!