Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Men are victims too

"Men too are victims and women too are perpetrators; neither sex has a monopoly of vice or virtue" (David Thomas)

I read Mary's post about abuse .  It made me wonder about gender stereotyping when it comes to abuse.  I have lived a life that is relatively free from violence.  I didn't have beatings when I was a child (my father did hit me with his belt once). My father and mother didn't fight.  But there was an incident when I was a teenager in which my father did hit me and I hit him back.  The only incident that has stuck with me was when I witnessed the result of one woman severely beaten by her drunken husband.  It was a frightening and horrific thing.

But Mary's post made me wonder about the other side of the coin in which men are abused.  I don't believe that any one sex has a monopoly on abuse.  Believing that all men are bad makes about as much sense as saying that all black people are ignorant, all women are weak, and all gays are sick.  These are general stereotypes that unfairly put people into categories that rob them of their individuality and basic dignity.  (Please note here that no where in her post did Mary claim that men were bad, evil or totally violent. I am simply wondering about "abuse" and what it may mean if one is a man and on the receiving end).

I know that abuse may take on several forms.  It may be emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual.  There are people in every part of the world, in all types of families and backgrounds who have been damaged by some form of abuse. And men just like women make up a huge percentage of that abuse.

I have been acutely aware for many years how much power men wield.  There is great inequality when it comes to pay and power.  But this comes with a price.  Men are told from a young age that they have to be the protector, provider, authoritarian, and enforcer.  I heard from my father to "buck up", "don't be a sissy", and to not express my emotions: "Don't cry. That's ridiculous." 

I now realize that those things were a reflection of what he had been told.  They couldn't be further from the truth, yet when repeated over time did cause me to be detached from my feelings.  I learned to hide my tears and to put on an appearance of being strong for everyone.

I was taught throughout my youth to respect all people.  It never occurred to me that a woman could be capable of physical abuse.  Yet, the first time it occurred I was stunned. Who do you tell? It's not a situation where you go to your group of friends and tell them that a woman became so enraged that she was physically abusive.  Do you tell them that she made me cry?  It wasn't thinkable at the time.  So I just stood (or sat) there and absorbed it.  Eventually, I had enough and walked away. 

I have talked to men who don't know how to feel emotionally.  They are very fearful of being perceived as weak.  And because of this they are accused by their partners of being emotionally distant.  But there is a link between the messages that little boys and men get on being strong regardless, and how this conditioning does great harm.

Let me assure you that men hurt too.  The emotions of fear, shame, guilt, and anger are similar, if not identical,  to those of women.  The same character defects that I have were also owned by my wife. There is a major difference though: many men keep their emotions hidden away and stuffed, unless they have been fortunate enough to understand that this is unhealthy and destructive.  I meet men in Al-Anon who are still hurting and who have not yet moved beyond the emotional pain of their past and the restrictive parental messages to a freer and more spiritually fit self.

Being the victim of any type of abuse is painful and difficult to overcome.  There is a lot of denial. The cycle of abuse, especially if it takes place over several years, can make the victim feel powerless and very fearful of change.  It is easy to believe that it is your fault.

It isn't so simple for a man to report abuse.  Men are much less likely than women to talk about domestic abuse to friends and family.  Here are some things that I found:

  •  research suggests men are 5 times less likely to report abuse
  • In general, only 1-2% of men who are assaulted by their female partners are likely to report the abuse to the police or outside agency
  • Men contend with sexist stereotypes when it comes to reporting abuse.  They are thought of as weak and pathetic. 
  • Men often don't have the social networks in place to easily tell friends what is happening. It's not easy to sit next to another man and tell him that you are being slapped around by your partner. 
  • Men may feel isolated and unsupported, feeling alone and that there is no way out of breaking their silence about abuse.
  • Although legally domestic violence laws are largely gender-neutral, that does not mean that attitudes are.
So I wanted to raise a bit of awareness here and offer another side to a very tragic picture.


  1. Good post and a great reminder that abuse can be from either sex to either sex. The point is well taken that abuse is not to be tolerated. It does take time to overcome and it takes work to learn to be healthy. Good writing here. Thanks.

  2. I had a happy childhood too, although I was hit on more than one occasion. My parents had us hold our hands out, palms up and hit them with a twig that we had the honor of picking ourselves.
    When we talk about it now, my parents are embarrassed, but corporal punishment was so much a part of the communist government we grew up in that no one questioned it at the time.

    I agree that abuse can come from both sexes. I have seen a friend of mine get so upset at her husband for talking to another woman at a party, that she started kicking him in front of everyone. He told my husband later, after they were divorced, that it was a daily occurrence in their house.

    Here via the lovely Ms. Moon.

  3. No offense, Syd, I was recalling my ex while writing that post, so used "he" and "his." I didn't mean to suggest that men have a monopoly on domestic violence - I'm well aware that is not the case, from the years of volunteer work I did on Crisis Lines, and elsewhere.

  4. Unfortunately I grew up around a good deal of violence which is why I can't tolerate a person even raising their voice now. A few aunt's in the family used to say, "If he hadn't pulled the trigger, she would have eventually". I think that says it all. I didn't realize I was seeking out in men what I had known about men growing up. I did eventually break the cycle for myself (a have a keeper now) but not until many years were wasted. I have seen the worst kind of abuse from both sides of the sex wheel and in many cases I couldn't tell you who was the worst offender. Both brutal, to the point & with as much force as could be had at the time. I only know this from all of THAT turmoil, 11 kids were left to try and figure out how is life SUPPOSE to be and how do we get to it. When the two greatest role models in your life are taken far too soon, it's difficult finding one in a crowd. I think if not by the Grace of God, I may have ended up where they are/were!

    Syd, this is by far one of the most important post you've done yet. MEN, you need to talk about this when it's happening to you. Women have many outlets to call upon but men seem only to have each other. How unfair to safe haven women and children but not men & children. It has to change.


  5. As the mother of two young men, I did my very best to let them know that feelings are best felt and not stuffed. I have seen them both cry at being hurt and empathize with those they love that hurt as well. It is a cycle and I think it is getting better with this generation.


  6. I think abuse goes both ways. I also think it is unfortunate how often people outside a relationship automatically assume it's the man's doing. I don't know any facts of these 2 cases, (b/c I get my info from the tabloids!) but it has crossed my mind about that with the Hopper and Sheen stories.
    Good point to bring to attention.
    God bless.

  7. I knew two really nice guys who had girlfriends who hit them. The men were not afraid of the women. The men were stronger than the women. They did not want to hit back. They tried but failed to control the emotions and acting out of their girlfriends.Both men left even though they loved these troubled women.

    One big difference though is that if the woman does not use a weapon, the man can usually overpower her quite easily.

  8. While it is true that the majority of domestic violence is man on woman, youre blog gives me a look on the flip side of the coin I never really thought about...thanks for blogging it

  9. Thanks for this post Syd -- I am aware that violence is not just perpetrated by men. But when we talk about violence, we often forget to look at sexual violence and how rape occurs and how that affects women. And how rape is connected to sexism.

  10. The Creative Hare said it for me. I've been diagnosed with PTSD because of the war-zone I grew up in. Although I've seen my father's retaliation, it was my mother who was violent, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and the worst...psychologically. From this I learned how to be the abuser. I also learned to accept the abuse. I know I'm not the only one who has suffered this lifestyle. The good news is there is a way to heal. The bad news is it takes a long time. Great post! I'm so glad you wrote about it too.

  11. what you write here is very true. most everything goes both ways.

  12. I would agree with you up to a point. The point where there is a huge differential in size, power, strength, financial independence, etc.

  13. You did a perfect job of raising awareness. I think it is too easy for a woman to fall into the trap of believing an emotionally distant male is not's just not so.

    Great post.


  14. I'd like to think with this new powerful structure, we might make a dent in the idea of grace and love bringing more good and keeping that focus rather than trying to continually classify who has more right to claim.

    I can't seem to stop trying to classify and categorize stuff though. (((sigh)))

    I agree that whenever we search with an idea already in mind we can find research or study to support giving right to a particular direction shows we all can fall prey to abuse, hardship, disease - I'm not sure anyone has a corner on the market. The more I look without bias the more blurry my understanding gets.

    I'm glad I keep getting a greater understanding about all of my judgemental and controlling and manipulative behaviors and continue to do my best to grow in the direction of focus on what actions I can take to reflect love and grace in my own behavior in hopes that it would encourage the same in others.

    I still kinda suck at it really (when I'm comparing myself to ideals), but I'm practicing and I believe truly that I'm getting better.

  15. I agree with this post: neither gender comes off scott-free whether it comes to abusing or being abused.
    BUT, it still comes down to the fact that on the whole, more men are abusers and more women are the victims. And when it comes to domestic abuse, it is far too often the case that women stay in bad situations because they do not have the financial resources to leave.

    I heard the other day that approximately one in three girls are sexually abused in childhood while one in five boys are.
    This is way too many of either sex.
    And this may be a statistic which is skewed due to under-reporting for both sexes. It is so common for children never to tell. Ever. They just spend their lives acting out.
    Let's face it- humans can be fucked-up. Humans. Both the male and the female kind. And the more light shed on the subject, the better for all.

  16. Who does a man tell if his partner (a woman) is slugging and slapping him, who takes it because he doesn't want to be violent himself?
    A good thought. Thank you for it.
    But I have to say that men are usually larger than their female partners and that physical advantage alone puts women at risk.
    But what do I know? I know that when my former male partner was enraged, he threatened me, put me in danger of physical as well as emotional violence, and threw me to the floor and choked me for standing up to him. Many men are not capable of handling their rage without striking out. To me, that makes them dangerous animals.
    I was beaten continually as a child for infractions and for protesting the treatment I got at the hands of an enraged, unstable mother. She made my father do it. He laid into me over and over while my mother watched. What kind of weird message does that give a person?
    Thanks to sobriety, I've been able to make good choices. My beautiful sober husband has never laid a hand on me. But even he, when angry, takes a belligerent physical stance and adopts a roaring voice. And I am simply afraid of that because of my past. So today I can choose to not engage, to politely walk away and let the anger settle into sanity again.
    I apologize for taking a personal approach to this post.

  17. Having lived on several sides of this "issue" (anger and abuse), all I can say is that I hope my God is big enough for the enormity of the problems as they present themselves in my life.

    Blessings and aloha...

  18. My former fiance was married to a woman who abused him. He never hit her back, he never lifted a hand to her because of the children and because he's just that kind of guy. He still has scars on his arms where she dug her nails into him and cut him with a nice. They got divorced, he got the kids. Yes, men do get abused.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.