For centuries, women have been stereotyped as the passive victims of violence and aggression. Yet experts are now warning that record numbers of men are being physically abused by their stressed- out wives and girlfriends.
New figures show that the number of calls to domestic violence helplines from male victims has more than doubled over the past five years. And now one of the world's leading feminist journals will investigate the issue of male abuse for the first time in its history: the Psychology of Women Quarterly will devote a whole edition to research on violent women and their behaviour towards men.
Until now, domestic violence has been seen by police and ministers as an issue which blights the lives of women rather than men. Their policies are based on Home Office figures, which show that one in four women suffer abuse in the home compared with one in six men.
Incidents such as the arrest earlier this month of Rebekah Wade, the editor of The Sun, after an alleged assault on her husband, EastEnders actor Ross Kemp, are generally treated as trivial and a source of amusement by social watchers. However, experts say that although attacks by men are more common and extreme, there is increasing evidence that women are lashing out and adopting behaviour traditionally associated with men.
This trend is fuelled partly by an increase in binge-drinking and drug- taking among women as well as the pressure of juggling motherhood and career success.
ManKind, an organisation which campaigns for equal rights for men, receives more than a thousand calls a year to its helpline from male victims of domestic violence as well as from doctors worried about patients they suspect are being abused by their girlfriends and wives.
The charity Snap, which runs a gender-neutral helpline, says it receives up to 25 calls a day from battered men. There are only four places in the country which offer shelter to male victims of domestic violence, which men's rights campaigners say is not enough.
"The ones who are the perpetrators are in the caring professions - social workers, nurses, carers," said Anne Harris, a spokeswoman for Snap.
Research to be published next year will also show that more men report being victims of domestic abuse - and fewer women - in countries where there is greater gender equality. Based on an analysis of UN data on gender equality, the study by the University of Central Lancashire will show that more women carry out attacks on their male partners in Western nations such as Britain and the US compared with countries such as Pakistan.
Professor John Archer, an expert on both male and female aggression, who carried out the study, attracted huge controversy with a report five years ago showing that women were likely to lash out more frequently than men during rows. He says that battered men are treated as figures of fun by society and that policymakers must treat domestic abuse against both men and women with equal seriousness.
"There is a strong cultural ethos drummed into men from an early age that it's wrong to retaliate but these attitudes are not drummed into women," said Mr Archer, Professor of psychology at the University of Central Lancashire. "The Rebecca Wade case was treated as a joke which typifies the differences in attitudes. The male victim is seen as a subject of fun."
But Professor Sylvia Walby from Lancaster Uni versity, who has carried out extensive research on domestic violence, says that women are still overwhelmingly the victims and suffer far more than men.
"Women are far more vulnerable because they do not have the same financial security as men and they are the ones who suffer more severe and far more sustained attacks."
Dr Malcolm George, an expert on the brain and human behaviour, says there is evidence that "husband abuse" dates back to Elizabethan times. Historical records that he has unearthed show that men who were beaten by their wives were publicly humiliated in a special ceremony called a "skimmington procession", named after the ladle used to skim milk during cheese making.
"No one disputes the fact that there is a group of men in society that are highly violent," says the retired lecturer in neuroscience at London University.
"But it's nothing new for women to be violent and aggressive- it's just society considers it a travesty of femininity for women to be violent so they get stereotyped as passive victims."
Claire Stewart is one of a growing number of women who are seeking professional help to manage their anger.
The nursing student, 37, from Leicester says she has head-butted Graham, a builder, tried to strangle him and thrown furniture at him. Their relationship has always been confrontational and at one point they split up. Mrs Stewart believes her problems stem from not coming to terms with the death of her father.
"Having spoken to professionals, I think the anger goes back to my dad dying when I was 11," says the mother-of-four, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. "I was brought up to believe that if you cry it's a sign of weakness. I am booked in to start cognitive behaviour therapy. I think in the end we will get through.
When the couple got back together, she says that she felther life had fallen apart. "Our relationship had always been a bit up and down but I thought it would stop when we got married," she says.
"When he came back I felt like he was laughing at me. I completely lost it. I went frantic, punching him in the head and body. I head-butted him and tried to strangle him. I only stopped because my eldest daughter came in and shouted at me to stop."Reuse content