October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and although we are making important progress in combating this kind of violence—through legislation and public conversations alike—there is still a great deal of work to be done.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCDAV), nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by their partners in the United States, with intimate partner violence accounting for 15 percent of violent crimes committed. And although most are aware that 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence within their lifetime, not enough people know that 1 in 7 men also experience this kind of violence. In fact, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), “One in 10 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.”
We simply don’t talk enough about male victims of domestic abuse—whether that abuse is physical, mental, emotional or financial. And if we are really serious about addressing intimate partner violence as the danger the above-mentioned statistics clearly show that it is, then we have to be willing to recognize men as victims too.
We have to address toxic masculinity as it relates to violence, and with the full understanding that it not only threatens the lives of women, but it threatens the lives of men as well. Much in the same way that toxic masculinity is responsible for the abuse of women like Joyce Quayweay—who was savagely beaten to death by her partner for not “submitting” to him— it is also responsible for male victims of domestic abuse not leaving or reporting the abuse they suffer, or even not recognizing that they are victims in the first place. In his incredible, must-watch TED Talk titled “A Call to Men,” Tony Porter refers to these narrow definitions of manhood as “the man box.”
While speaking with Laura Donovan over at attn.com, Randy Flood, a therapist and co-founder of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan, argued one important reason men don’t often see themselves as victims of domestic abuse is because they are socialized to absorb pain without complaining about it.
“There is a history of men, if they are experiencing some type of abuse from the power above them, to not complain about it and suck it up,” Flood said. “When you get bullied, you’re not supposed to whine. You’re not supposed whine about an authoritative, difficult coach. There’s a lot about being male that is taking pain and not complaining about it.”
L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a professor of sociology and Black Studies at City University of New York, shares Flood’s views on men and power, but he digs a bit deeper.
Often times I meet and work with men who see their experiences of having power yielded over them, in the forms of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as a statement on their own weakness rather than recognizing it as abuse. Rather than seeing how the idea that we feed men, “those who have power can and should control” they come to see their suffering as an inability to realize their full manhood.
Lewis-McCoy, who spoke with EBONY.com by email, argues that the inability to access full manhood (and full humanity period) often leads to normalizing violence.
Because all men, across the sexuality spectrum, have been taught to value power over, rather than sharing power with others, too often abuse between men often goes under reported. We have got to get to a space where we don’t accept abuse as a rite of passage or ‘no big deal’ and we need to learn to deal with each other as full emotional beings who are capable of hurting as well as being hurt.
Hari Zayed, EIC of RaceBaitr, explores the perspective of queer men and masculine presenting folks. In an separate email to EBONY.com he explained why our inability to see men (or masculine presenting people) as victims is also a serious issue for the queer community:
So many men have been groomed into the idea that masculinity equates to strength, and being a man has been so tied to masculinity, anything threatening a man’s ability to claim “strength” is also threatening to the way they are able to make sense of themselves. This makes conversations about the violence men and masculine-identified folks experience in queer relationships and beyond nearly impossible to have, because a person who has incorporated masculinity into their understanding of themselves must then acknowledge a “weakness,” which goes against everything they think they know about who they are and throws their whole world into disarray…The truth is that all people possess degrees of manhood and womanhood, masculinity and femininity, and in order for anyone to be a full person they can’t conceive of themselves in binding and rigid gendered terms. If a simple acknowledgment that we need help—or on the flip side, that we can be a femme person who commits abuse—destroys our entire sense of self and leaves us with no way to understand our place in the world, we will never be able to take part in the solution to gendered violence.
Even if male victims of domestic violence come forward about their abuse, they can face many barriers to accessing help. They fear that if the police get involved they will not be seen as victims, and could face arrest themselves. Or that if they try to leave, they won’t be able to access services that would help them, like space at a shelter or counseling.
If those reporting abuse are queer—men or people who present themselves masculinely—they can risk being ridiculed and outed. We cannot afford to not open up space for these conversations or the access and services male victims of domestic abuse need to acknowledge that they are being abused and escape their abusers.