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.