Dennis Waterman: "It's not hard for a woman to make a man hit her"

by Philippa Willitts // 20 March 2012, 09:30

Tags: dennis waterman, domestic abuse, domestic violence, victim-blaming

A photograph of the actor Dennis Waterman. He is in a park and wearing a black jacket and purple shirt and tie. Actor Dennis Waterman has come out and said that he punched his former wife, Rula Lenska. In an astonishing display of passive aggression, he takes no responsibility for his actions, instead blaming Lenska for being "too intelligent".

In what he perhaps sees as a twisted compliment, he describes how, because she was cleverer than him, he found it hard to argue with her, saying,

""The problem with strong, intelligent women is that they can argue, well. And if there is a time where you can't get a word in... and I... I lashed out. I couldn't end the argument.

"Something must have brought it on."

Is she supposed to feel flattered by this? Or blamed. If she hadn't been so intelligent, she wouldn't have been hit? He is admitting punching this woman, yet still making himself out to be the victim. This is an incredibly manipulative way to attempt to justify his behaviour.

He also downplays her allegations of drunken abuse, in contradictory statements, like

"She certainly wasn't a beaten wife, she was hit and that's different."
Going back to blaming Lenska, and apparently generalising his misogynist victim-blaming to other victims of domestic violence, he is reported to have said,
"It's not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her"
, and,
"if a woman is a bit of a power freak and determined to put you down, and if you're not bright enough to do it with words, it can happen."
Thankfully, the Mirror article reporting on this have pertinent and important quotes from Refuge, who point out that
"He alone is responsible for his behaviour".
Needless to say, domestic violence is never the victims' fault, regardless of whether they are intelligent or not, good at arguing or not, and a power freak or not. It is always the abuser's fault, and no responsible and respectful adult should react with violence to their partner. Losing an argument and not being able to "get a word in" are just facts of life sometimes. Responding with your fists to someone you purport to love is never, ever acceptable. It's as simple as that.

[The image is a photograph of the actor Dennis Waterman. He is a fair-skinned, older man and is photographed on set in a park and wearing a black jacket and purple shirt and tie. It was taken by Garry Knight and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Harriet R // Posted 20 March 2012 at 10:32

I must make a shameful admission - about 4 years ago when someone was winding me up verbally I would feel unable to verbalise my objection and I would "play slap" the other person. After someone rightfully told me off I realised what I was doing. I am just ashamed I didn't see it for myself. We need strong messages that violence is not acceptable or justifiable, and that includes "play" or "jokey" violence, let alone full on punching. I am forever grateful to my friend who put me straight.

Siren of Brixton // Posted 20 March 2012 at 11:39

Well done Harriet R for that admission. Here's mine: I have tried to provoke men in arguments. Anything to get a reaction. I have also used violence against men. I'm not proud of either. Violence is not the answer, ever and as a people we need to learn to control our violent tendencies for the good of all.

Waterman comments that men who don't have the skill to fight with words resort to violence. I think we have to listen to that. Just saying 'he's an idiot' is not going to help anyone. Failing to address the reality that both men and women use violence (as do both boys and girls in childhood) means we'll never see real change. As long as we blindly blame and accuse men, without acknowledging the human tendency, we will fail to change anything. Just as preaching abstinence from sex is ineffectual as sex education, preaching non-violence without giving people the skills to be non-violent will also be ineffective.

Shadow // Posted 20 March 2012 at 12:06

Dennis Waterman is claiming he is not responsible for his 'choosing' to hit a woman because she supposedly provoked him! Men who commit violence against women always justify/excuse their actions because they refuse to take responsibility and our Male Supremacist System condones/justifies these men's excuses/denials.

Another common ploy violent men claim is the one 'but women are violent too' as if this in it self equalises an unequal playing field. Such claims are used to hide male accountability and fact our Male Supremacist System continues to accord men greater socio-economic power and control over women. The numbers of women who do commit violence against men pales in comparison to the numbers of men who routinely use violence against women in order to maintain male domination over all women.

Waterman is a Male Supremacist who believes women exist to serve him and woe betide any woman who displays an intelligence and challenges a man, because she is rebelling against men's pseudo right to dominate and control women.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 20 March 2012 at 12:09

The thing is that, while there may be societal tendencies towards violence, each individual act of violence is the result of an individual choice made by a perpetrator. They still hold responsibility for each punch or kick, whether or not other people happen to be violent too.

Rebecca // Posted 20 March 2012 at 12:52

I've read his comments and although he's being a massive ass, the overall tone seems to me to be one of repentance. He admits to being hugely ashamed of himself. The 'the problem with an intelligent woman' comment seems to me to be spoken through the mouth of his younger self - he was effectively saying that the person he was then hit intelligent women because he lost his temper when he couldn't argue back to them.

If we can accept that women like Harriet can change their behaviour (and well done Harriet) then we need to accept that men can too. I know one bloke who was so horrified after hitting his girlfriend in a drunken row that he took a month's sick leave and booked himself into anger-management sessions. He's not done it since.

Sometimes domestic violence is not a man hitting a woman because she's a woman, it's someone with massive issues lashing out because they can't control themselves. Dennis Waterman is a tool (later in the interview he admits to having, in his own words, Victorian values about women and the home), but I wouldn't call him a Male Supremacist. Have you seen him in New Tricks? He spends most of his time deliberately looking like an idiot next to Amanda whatsherface.

nick // Posted 20 March 2012 at 15:12

Shadow

Not sure if you do , but take a look at corrie street in the coming weeks. I've heard there is a story line coming up which you may want to comment on. Involves Tyrone and his girfriend.

Rose // Posted 20 March 2012 at 16:05

From my experience as an intelligent woman who gets into relationships with guys that can struggle to hold their corner, I'd say that there is a choice, and it depends on the kinda guy.

Some hit, some tickle, some get turned on, (some distract me with cookies).

If a guy feels violently inscure in relationships with intelligent women - then he should go find a more compatible partner. (From the sounds of him, I'd rather he got a pillow fetish, and stuck to them).

Sam Barnett-Cormack // Posted 20 March 2012 at 16:39

I think it's important to differentiate systemic abuse in relationships and isolated acts of violence - though it can be difficult. I will freely, and with regret, admit to having struck out at people I've been in a relationship with (there are some associated mental health issues, but that's an explanation, not an excuse, and doesn't absolve me of responsibility); I've also been on the receiving end of violence from people I've been in a relationship with. I don't think any of this made any of the relationships "abusive". We all snap occasionally.

However, we each have to take responsibility for our own actions. There is very little that takes away that simple point. Maybe sometimes someone is goaded into violence, maybe, just maybe, someone really is trying to get someone to hit them, for whatever reason. If that happens, it's a hugely complex situation, and it's hard to say any hard-and-fast rules about it. The one thing that is absolute, to me, is that the person who lashes out is responsible for that; the flip-side is true as well, though, that if a person does things with the intent of making someone violent, they are responsible for that. They are not responsible for the violence itself, however.

I do not mean to address this to the specific situation described, as we just don't know enough to make any judgement about the events in question. I will comment on Dennis Waterman's comments, though - it's fairly classic victim-blaming, and should be challenged, but because it's so classic I don't think he should be vilified or demonised for it. It's quite likely the whole situation was traumatic for him as well - that doesn't excuse his actions, but it does mean he'll be having trouble dealing with it, and that leads to difficulty expressing things and understanding things. Given the social context as well, going beyond criticism of his statements would be unfair.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 20 March 2012 at 18:20

Sam,
I would argue that any act of violence within a relationship constitutes abuse. In the Mirror article, Refuge said, "“It doesn’t matter whether he hit her once, twice or a dozen times – no man is entitled to hit his wife. Domestic violence is against the law.

“At Refuge we do not define domestic violence by the number of assaults but by the effect on the victim.

“Once a woman has been hit, she lives with the fear it could happen again and research shows it almost always does.”.

It makes me sad that you think relationships in which you have been hit were not abusive!

And just because Waterman's victim-blaming is quite 'classic' does not mean it is less open to criticism. Similarly, social context or not, punching someone you say you love is always wrong. Whether it's legal or illegal, whether it was the 70s or the 50s or the 20s.

You're right that we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. From the Mirror reports, Waterman is still not doing this, despite declarations of being ashamed, as he stated several times, in several ways, that it was Lenska's fault.

L1 // Posted 20 March 2012 at 18:43

The problem with this argument:

"Sometimes domestic violence is not a man hitting a woman because she's a woman, it's someone with massive issues lashing out because they can't control themselves."

Well yes, of course. That pretty well *defines* all of what we'd call domestic abuse. It's not an exception or an excuse.

This argument suggests that "sometimes in a relationship an unstable person who happens to be a man hits a person who happens to be a woman". True, but people who "just lose it" like this rarely hit--for example--their supervisor at work. Instead, they allow themselves to act it out on people who don't have adequate means to defend themselves.

The greater issue is that there is a pervasive *pattern* of people who have more socioeconomic power acting out those feelings on people with less socioeconomic power, and those people are vastly more likely to be women or children.

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 20 March 2012 at 18:58

I've seen thrice divorced Waterman interviewed on the subject of his "womanising" & he takes a similarly blase approach to infidelity. He admits to behaving in a way that causes others harm whilst stating that it wasn't his intent to cause harm, as if his actions and their consequences were not related.

I don't see Piers Morgan's tv show as being an appropriate platform for a sober discussion re domestic abuse, nor do I think that isolating the past indiscretions of a celeb & using them as an opportunity to highlight this issue is helpful.

Sam Barnett-Cormack // Posted 20 March 2012 at 20:53

Phillipa, even with that definition of abuse (which is a good one), I can see that the relationships weren't abusive, because they didn't lead to either party living in fear. Times I've hit, and been hit, have (almost) all been followed by the person doing the hitting collapsing in tears and being consumed by self-recrimination - which is probably a fairly appropriate reaction.

As a corollary to that, I think it's important to consider that abuse depends very little on the intent of the person hitting (or otherwise abusing) the other, and largely on the impression of the person abused. I'm certain it's possible to be abusive without ever landing a blow, or even physically threatening, and certainly it's possible to be abusive without meaning to. In a healthy relationship, when things happen that could lead to someone feeling abused, people should feel able to talk about it and resolve it - that's harder when someone's been violent, but not impossible (again speaking from experience).

Violence has never been a recurring feature of any relationship I've been in. If it became one, then I don't know how I'd react. If I were the violent party, I'd hope I would suggest that I needed some sort of help, therapy or whatever, and that I'd be happy for the other person to distance themselves from me - I'd even suggest it, I hope. If I were the victim... I honestly don't know. I imagine I'd be scared to do anything, I hope I'd try to find ways to do it, but I can see how I'd have a lot of trouble doing so.

I've had violent outbursts when distressed for as long as I can remember, though the time I spent in hospital for depression when I was 16 helped somewhat. Some therapy before that helped as well. Relationships always lead to intense emotions, so it's happened with people I've been in a relationship with as well. Those outbursts are always incredibly short-lived, and if I did anything to anyone I care about I generally start hurting myself instead straight afterwards. I'm aware that this is very difficult for the other person - I'd hate to be on the other side of it (though I hate being on my own side of it as well). Should I avoid relationships because of the risk that this will lead to abuse? I don't know. My current partner has suffered from this a couple of times, we've talked about it, and as best I can tell there isn't an ongoing fear thing going on. I certainly don't have more control than my partner over our lives, as best I can tell, and I challenge myself on that on a regular basis.

In terms of receiving violence, once it was because the other person was freaking out due to stress. I don't blame them for that, though I believe they are still responsible. The other times it was quite minor violence during arguments, and I suppose if it had caused me ongoing fear, made me cowed and submissive, I suppose it would be abuse. I have altered behaviour in relationships due to fear, but not fear of violence - fear of making the other person angry, yes, but not because that anger would lead to physical harm, more psychological harm, to either of us. I keep quiet to avoid rows sometimes, but I think everyone does - in relationships we all have to compromise, and sometimes that compromise doesn't have a discussion attached. That can go too far, but I think I find the right level.

Phew, this is getting long. Last thing. I wasn't suggesting Waterman's words shouldn't be criticised, or at least I didn't mean to. They should criticised, and robustly. I just don't think he should be demonised for it.

The Goldfish // Posted 21 March 2012 at 08:11

I think one big problem we have discussing domestic violence is the idea that these relationships are constantly hellish, with twice-daily beatings, and perpertrators are fundamentally evil people, with no redeeming features, who carefully consider how best to control and dominate their victims. This is one reason why people struggle to recognise when they have been abused. After all, if things are fairly normal, but your partner just loses his or her temper from time to time; once a year, or once a fortnight...

Sam said, "We all snap occasionally."

But the good news is that we don't. We're all capable of great anger and frustration, and I think we'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who hadn't *said* something they regretted to someone they loved in the heat of an argument. But most people have never assaulted a partner. Most people, in our culture, have never been assaulted by a partner. It's not a huge majority, but thankfully, it is the majority.

This isn't to say that anyone who has ever been violent in a relationship is an irredeemable monsters (someone who takes responsibility for that history clearly isn't). But it is abuse. It's a crime. It is massively dangerous - it's so easy to cause far more physical harm than intended. And it destroys love.

And unfortunately, it makes people feel better. You get an endorphin kick. The anger *is* released. And unless they walk straight out, never to be seen again, the other party rewards you with loving thing. They might say sorry (I always did). If you are remorseful, they may implore you not to be too hard on yourself, and blame themselves (because they know you're not a monster and they just want everything to be all right again). And then they forgive you, which is amazing thing! Imagine being loved so much that you can hit a person and they still love you? Okay, so they'll be a little bit afraid of you, maybe they'll begin to lie or keep quiet about their feelings to avoid angering you, or maybe they're not afraid at all because their self-worth is gradually wearing away...

And this is why, if it's happened once, if a person doesn't use that single horrible mistake to sort themselves out, it is likely that it will happen again. And it will get worse over time; more frequent violence, more serious violence.

A few years ago, I read an article by a woman who explained that there were two types of domestic violence. One was abuse, where someone's intention was to control another person and the other was reactionary, occasional violence, when someone simply snapped and lashed out in the heat of an argument. "Abuse" was really evil and the work of psychopaths. She confessed to the latter behaviour; she had lashed out when she felt she wasn't being listened to, but it wasn't abuse and she was getting help. The thing that had set her on the road to getting this help was when she spent a night in a police cell, having caused a disturbance outside the home that her ex-partner shared with his new partner, breaching an injunction he'd taken out against her. But you know, heat of the argument, when you're not being listened to...

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 March 2012 at 08:17

Everything that The Goldfish said, I couldn't agree more. You've articulated what I was struggling to say.

Rose // Posted 21 March 2012 at 15:18

@The Goldfish

Whose culture are you refering to? How serious does the violence need to be for it to be assault? From my experience*, and using my definitions, the majority of people I grew up around had been assulted by partners, it was normal, it was standand. It was why the majority of my friends parents were single mothers - some with abusive male partners, (or a string of them).

Just because a violent males behaviour is statistically normal in no way makes it acceptable, and it doesn't make him 'okay'.


*working class area of N. Devon.

Terri Clark-Roberts // Posted 21 March 2012 at 23:45

Much like the "Siren of Brixton", I recognize in myself a capacity to use my ability with words to inflict emotional violence. In two relationships in my mid- and late-twenties, I deliberately provoked my male partners with emotionally undercutting (perhaps even humiliating) language, specifically because I wanted to receive a response.

I was aware that their verbal response would be unequal in its fury to my initial barbs, as they were both individuals who possessed an average capacity for language, and (like most people) they lost articulacy when they were angry--utterly unlike me.

It took me years to recognize where I was failing in these types of relationships, and though I have consciously corrected my behaviors when I find myself approaching the precipices that prime my verbal artillery, I am well aware that I still swing a powerful cudgel.

There is never an equality between emotional violence and physical violence. One can never justify parrying an act of emotional violence with one of physical violence. But I am (now older) able to more easily recognize that, as a society, we have not yet come to regard this as a universal.

The Goldfish // Posted 22 March 2012 at 10:32

@Rose

I meant British culture, as opposed to parts of the world (and times in our own history) where violence towards women is seen as legal, normal and necessary. Most UK domestic violence charities use the statistic of one in four, and it's usually defined as one in four women, when surveyed anonymously, experiencing some kind of physical violence at the hands of a partner or former partner in their lifetime.

Of course, there are some groups of women - including single mothers, disabled women and anyone on a low income etc. - who are more likely to experience domestic violence (the low income thing is very tricky because it's difficult to know how much experience of DV contributes to a woman being poor). And there are probably geographical/ cultural pockets of the UK where this is especially bad. The statistics for how many men have experienced domestic violence are much more varied according to different research (of which, there is much less anyway).

Sigil // Posted 22 March 2012 at 11:46

Follow up comment to the one the blog has opted not to publish.

Yeah I've looked at other versions of the story in the mainstream media, the context that was left out here was that she was "determined to put a man down" and using her greater intelligence to do so, so she was being abusive and he snapped, this publication has also left out the quotes about his shame and regret.

This is why feminists I take whatever feminists say about abuse of women with a large pinch of salt.

Tony // Posted 28 March 2012 at 11:57

I haven't read either of the accounts but I feel I should point out that women are more verbally dextrous than men. This is down to their primitive roles in prehistoric society, where they were close to home and communicated verbally, to control their offspring and warn of danger. Males on the other hand were hunters, more visually orientated and physically reactive as fits such a role. You could say that males communicate visually more than females and women communicate better verbally because of this. My wife thinks I'm very intelligent for instance but this is in writing, which allows careful, slow, visual thought but in an argument I'm still not as quick witted or as forceful as her. Life!

Tony // Posted 28 March 2012 at 12:21

Goldfish, I get your point. People at the lower end of the fiscal world are bound to be more under pressure because of money worries and there is the education problem too, of not being as verbally skilled in expression as someone who is middle class (less financial difficulties too).

Being a male I can point out that I have anger issues, which have never led to anything but verbal explosions and kicking things in frustration. It's led to years of migraine as I tried to control that anger. It has also led to an act I regret in that I had one of our dogs put down. It was old, had diabetes and urinated everywhere, plus had bladder stones, which made it hard to pee at other times. It also was partially blind through cataracts and the progress of the disease, plus deaf, overweight and had fatty lumps all over its body. She didn't want to go and I respected this, fighting for her right to live, even going against the vets advice the first time, to have her put down because of her quality of life. In the end I gave way and realized afterwards that she might not have had renal failure but it might have been the specialized food for her bladder stones, that meant she couldn't control her bladder. She was a fighter that we'd had from birth, for nearly fourteen years. I had three accidents after this point, which I can directly link to being distracted by guilty thoughts from this incident (Cutting though the electric cable on the mower, sliding over on the ice and cracking the back of my skull, even though I was normally very conscientious about wearing ice grips on my shoes and having a branch I was trying to break that had come down in a gale, smack me in the face, causing minor concussion).

Being a male I can only say that we are the weaker sex, which is why we probably don't last as long as women and give in to negative thoughts and acts more easily.

Rose // Posted 29 March 2012 at 15:27


@Tony.
Not convinced that any of your long term gender differences actually have any basis in science. (Pact hunting style not needing communication? Women not involved in hunting? Digging roots talkative?)
Though there have been some very interesting studies into the need for post-menopausal grandmothers.

Feminism is about gender equality, not defining whose the weaker/stronger sex - that only leads to abuse and excuse.

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