By Heidi Hiatt
In 2008, journalist and author Roy Sheppard and Mary Cleary, founder of the Amen network that helps male domestic violence victims, released a book on female predators that turned heads. Venus: The Dark Side shines light on the inner workings and tactics of, as Sheppard and Cleary put it, queens of manipulation and deceit. Having dealt with such women both in the workplace and on my own time, I was pleased to know that someone has finally written a book on female sociopaths and their cousins. I read it over a year ago and it’s been on my to-blog list ever since.
To quote from their introduction, the type of woman they are analyzing “…is prepared to hurt innocent men, women, and even children to get her own way. This ruthlessness takes the form of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or financial abuse… Many are nothing short of domestic terrorists: Al Qaeda in high heels and lipstick… Nothing is ever their fault.” The authors claim that ever since they first shared the title of this book, stories of such women came pouring in from both sexes. I believe it because I’ve experienced and witnessed the wrath of these unbalanced cutthroats, particularly the type who ingratiate themselves to men and terrorize other women.
While the above description of low to no conscience female aggressors is refreshing, I was greatly disappointed that this definition was attached to the word bitch. I understand that the word bitch is commonly used to describe unbalanced, vindictive, and violent women. But I more commonly hear the word bitch used to describe a woman who is willing to stand up for herself, her beliefs, her family, and her self-respect. It is also a word that abusers use against their victims frequently. So I believe the word bitch is a poor choice because it can be twisted to mean whatever someone wants it to and is usually used in a vulgar, demeaning manner.
The book does a good job of detailing how manipulative women go about finding and taking advantage of their victims. On that note, Venus is a crash course in recognizing the vampires among us and what they can do to you once you’re hooked. Sheppard and Cleary note that sociopaths gravitate toward “nice people” and that being a nice person “is seen as a character weakness to be exploited.”
From experience I know that these vampires are empty inside and they are drawn to nice, giving, successful people because they want to take from them what they themselves lack. Nice people are ultimately filling stations on the road to life for these dark souls. As the book put it, “men and women with no conscience prey on those with too much conscience.” They will gladly take your virginity, property, time, money, and any number of other things you hold precious and walk off with them as if nothing has happened.
I appreciate how the authors delve into some common tactics of female sociopaths, such as creating the illusion of intimacy quickly, how they will gladly steal their best friend’s boyfriend to feel desirable, and how they seek positions of authority so that others won’t challenge them. They are adept are using sympathy to gain footholds in others’ lives and make them dance like puppets. Such women may choose their victims based on status or wealth or because they know that the victim is unlikely to fight back. Sheppard and Cleary say, “Because she has no conscience, remorse, guilt, or shame, she will use others mercilessly, ruthlessly, and callously to get what she wants. If this involves bullying or humiliation, so be it.”
The most useful chapter in this book is chapter four, The Psychologies of Malice. The beauty of psychology is that by classifying human illnesses and disorders, you have more clout to deal with them and treat them. When you can name your opponent, you have far more power over them than when you are flailing wildly at an anonymous enemy. This is because others have written guidelines on how to help people with such issues and protect yourself from any fallout. Chapter four discusses borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), sociopaths, psychopaths, and factitious disorder (Munchausen’s).
An aspect of this book that resonated with me was the discussion about what happens when you confront one of these dishonest, controlling vampires. I give Sheppard and Cleary a hearty amen for recognizing that our society allows such people to get away with their behavior because it’s easier to shrink away from the abuse than confront it, displacing the aggressor’s behavior onto her next victim. We are afraid to rock the boat, of being pushed out of others’ lives, of retaliation, and of the libel and slander that fall like acid rain when we take a stand against this kind of evil. From experience I can say that such women will stop at nothing to cover up what they’ve done and punish anyone who has the understanding or courage to expose them.
Despite its useful information on identifying dark souls in female form, this book has more drawbacks than its choice of b-word terminology. Even though the authors’ intentions are to protect people from sham marriages, they seem to forget that when you’re married, you’re supposed to share. Marriage and divorce are treated rather casually here. This may be because divorce is so common in our society and the line between living together and married has been blurred.
The text is heavy on protecting yourself and your assets and practicing strategies to outwit an abusive woman. I am a firm believer in prenuptial agreements and do believe in being prepared. However, there are parts in the book that seem to be teaching men to manipulate just as the authors scold women for doing. One section says, “…be seen to earn less, or decide to work fewer days in order to look after your children.” This is bordering on if not practicing the “maintaining appearances” tactic that the authors speak out against.
An unfortunate and unintended side effect of a book like this is that it could help abusers be better abusers. Sociopaths instinctively adapt to survive, and reading a dissection of their own behavior may influence them to get more creative. If you are at war, and your enemy finds out that you know what their next move is, they’ll try something different to bamboozle you. It is more important to educate the public about sociopaths than worry what one might do with the material though. I also caution that this book may inadvertently perpetuate the erroneous belief that if you are dealing with a woman like this, nothing is wrong with you. You might be just as bad as she is, or your abuse may have led her down the road to desperation or a personality disorder.
It should also be noted that women make false allegations of abuse much less often than the general public thinks they do. Yes, it does happen, and we should ask what that woman has to gain or lose if we are questioning the validity of such accusations. Real victims of domestic violence and sexual assault often risk losing financial support, a place to live, their personal safety, their jobs, their reputation, and other major components of their lives by standing up for themselves. False allegations can result in the target, not the alleged victim, losing those things.
It is very important that this book discusses domestic violence against men as there is little funding for and awareness of this issue. Sometimes domestic violence against men is treated like a joke, as if men can’t be abused when they’re “bigger and stronger.” It’s useful to remember that domestic violence takes many forms, including psychological. While modern statistics claim that men are more physically violent towards their partners, some in the psychology realm believe that women are more relationally aggressive. Women, smaller or not, can inflict all kinds of mayhem on a victim’s life for the sake of power and control, which is at the root of domestic violence.
I commend this book for being bold and trying to get the truth on female sociopaths out to the masses. I frown upon the book’s terminology, its level of emphasis on happiness to gauge whether to stay in a relationship, and the possibility that it has fueled myths about false allegations. As thrilled as I was to see a book on female vampires hit the market, and I applaud the level of detail the authors go into in the interest of protecting victims, I’d still advise people to check out Sandra L. Brown’s Women Who Love Psychopaths. This is because the information Brown provides in that book can apply to both sexes. It breaks it down into easy to understand components that are written in a calmer tone.
For victims of domestic violence, including male victims, I’d recommend Susan Murphy Milano’s roadmap to getting out of an abusive relationship, Time’s Up: A Guide On How To Leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships. Violence against men is real and it can be deadly. Some men feel less than manly if they admit they’ve been abused, and they should never be ashamed to remove themselves, their children, and their pets from a dangerous situation. If you wish to read a previous blurb on men and domestic violence, go tohttp://wildninja.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/men-and-domestic-violence/. Overall Venus is a good read, and it should be read with a wary eye so that the bits that veer towards the biased or unbiblical will be noticed.