A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam is so full of it on virtually every subject he opines about – from domestic violence to women’s spending habits – that much of what he writes might be best classified as fiction. He would no doubt disagree, but then again he’s not big on self-awareness.
But in addition to writing much inadvertent or unadmitted fiction, Elam has also tried his hand at fiction of the more traditional sort. I ran across one of his short stories the other day, and I’d like to share it with you, because it is quite possibly the most revealing piece I’ve writing I’ve ever seen from him.
As fiction, it is, of course, terrible, written in a clunky, melodramatic style one can only describe, with a shudder, as highly Paul Elam-esque. Elam doesn’t exactly have the skills or the subtlety to create an even vaguely believable fictional world. The story is essentially a polemic in story form – an extended argument justifying domestic violence against women.
The story is called “Anger Management,” and it ran in something called “The Oddville Press,” an online journal. A copy of the issue with Elam’s story in it is available through Google books.
As Elam explains in his intro, the story is based on the nearly twenty years he claims to have been a drug and alcohol counselor. He notes that domestic violence was a recurring issue with those he counseled, but then goes on to say that “sometimes the stories were not as predictable or stereotypical as what people hear about.”
The story he tells, which takes place in some sort of court-ordered Domestic Violence treatment group, purports to be one of these less-stereotypical tales.
In the story, a domestic abuser named Howard Franks reluctantly opens up to the group about the domestic violence incident that landed him in jail, and which is now forcing him to attend the group.
His is a story that could have been ripped from the headlines – of A Voice for Men.
For Howard, you see, had been living a blameless and seemingly perfect life until six weeks earlier. He was happily married, with two wonderful daughters, and a thriving business. Then his father died, and his wife convinced him it would be best for him to fly alone to Baltimore to attend the funeral.
And that’s when the misandry hit the fan. As Howard tells his rapt audience in the DV group,
Oh no she didn’t! Oh, yes she did.
Arriving home, he finds the house empty. His wife had taken his money, stashed the kids with her mother, and run off with his business partner, who also claimed their joint business as his own, because apparently if you run off with your business partner’s wife you’re just allowed to do that.
He heads to his business partner’s house, where, adding insult to injury, his wife comes to the door “wearing a silk robe I gave her last Christmas.”
All he can ask is why. And so she tells him what every woman who suddenly and unexpectedly decides to end a 16-year marriage tells her poor, innocent, soon-to-be ex-hubby: because he just wasn’t cutting it in the sack.
Oh, but Howard’s sad tale of sexual humiliation isn’t done quite yet. And ex-wife isn’t done talking:
Because that’s totally something a real woman would say to her husband of 16 years after having unexpectedly left him while he was attending his father’s funeral.
Elam has also answered a long-standing question of mine, which is: what is the proper verb to use when a tear [blanks] down your cheek? The proper verb is “to track.”
Well, naturally – naturally! – our hero Howard has to respond somehow to soon-to-be-ex-wife’s terrible insult. So, like a totally reasonable fellow,
Ah, yes, Howard is just another sad statistic of domestic violence!
Because of course, in Elam’s story, Howard is the real victim here, so cruelly forced to go to jail for totally understandably breaking his wife’s nose. So cruelly forced to sit in a room with other dudes and talk about how he broke his wife’s nose, as if it were a bad thing.
The DV counselor, the aforementioned Ms. Pitts, asks him if his wife deserved a broken nose.
Even the DV counselor is so humbled by the righteousness of Howard’s anger that she sits silently as he details the final indignity of his case: that he’s not allowed to see his daughters until his treatment is done – just because he broke his wife’s nose with his fist.
There’s nothing subtle about Elam’s story or its message. We are supposed to empathize entirely with Howard and his plight. We are expected to mutter “fucking A, right,” along with the anonymous man in his audience after Howard explains that his wife deserved more than a broken nose. We are supposed to look with disgust on the “white knight” who interrupts Howard’s narrative to point out that what he did was wrong.
This is, to put it bluntly, a story suggesting that in many cases violence against women is justified, and then some, by their bad behavior – and that the real victims are the men who are punished for their violence by spending a short time in jail, by having to go to DV treatment, and by prohibitions on contact with their children.
In Elam’s notorious post advocating “beat a violent bitch month,” his excuse for justifying violence against women was that the “violent bitches” he was talking about had started the violence – even though the extreme retribution he suggested was justifiable went far beyond simple self-defense.
In this story, though, there is no question of self-defense; he is suggesting that violence towards women is an appropriate form of retribution for women who “do men wrong” by leaving them for other men. It’s striking that the trigger for Howard’s violence is sexual jealousy and humiliation – specifically, the thought of his wife, even after she’s left him, fellating another man.
And yet Elam convinces himself – and tries to convince his readers – that Howard is the real victim here. I scarcely have to add that this is how actual abusers think. And that no one who thinks this way can conceivably be considered a “human rights” advocate of any kind.