Why Shame And Pride Blanket The Emotional And Psychological Pain Men Face At The Hands Of Abusive Women?
What comes to your mind when you hear about Men’s Rights?
Marie Ange: Human Rights. Addressing women and men’s rights, children, LGBTIQ+, and other groups’ rights at the same time is a step toward a just society. I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to fight for all rights, not only the rights that we feel concern us.
Dr Ritesh: I heard about it many years back. But in our country where the issues of human rights are not raised that seriously and frequently, it is unusual for us to talk about men’s rights. Though we live in a patriarchal society, only a few know that patriarchy also hurts many men, especially poor men. When this topic comes to my mind, I remember giving one interview about a year back where I discussed men’s mental health issues. Like women’s rights, men do have similar rights. The common topic we can discuss include family law (child custody, divorce), adoption, reproduction, suicide, education, domestic violence against men, discrimination, false allegations, etc.
Dr Santosh: The heated debate of equality is undoubtedly the frustration of oppression and living in a patriarchal society, making women’s rights a concerning topic. While the perception towards men is generalised reflecting dominance, men’s rights are considered a minor topic. That is why men in general are facing outrage even through law.
Gaumaya: In the patriarchal society we live in, where we women are still fighting for reproductive rights, rights to parental property, equal pay and right for mothers to pass their citizenship, I would be lying if I say, “Here is the list of what comes to mind when I hear of men’s rights”.
I really have to step back and reflect because majority of statistics and research show that it is women and children who are mostly exploited. Although not common, there are still some forms of discrimination against men which cannot be ignored. Some examples are men’s equal rights to child custody and access to inclusive shelters for victims of abuse. Furthermore, in our society, men have the unfair pressure to be the bread-earner of the family leading them to be exploited or suffer in silence.
Why do male abuse victims rarely speak up or even hide acts of abuse against them?
Marie Ange: Many societies have gendered roles. Men are often raised to value and nurture certain qualities such as physical strength, self-control, power, and the ability to physically protect. They are taught to respond to adversity aggressively and to win. There are several reasons why they would hide being abused by partners, relatives, or other people.
They may perceive being abused as shameful, a blow to their masculinity and to the very essence of who they are. If they hide the abuse, they have a chance to retain the appearance of what is expected of them.
Because of their role in society, men may not recognise or accept themselves as victims and therefore not report the abuse. They may think that they have to deal with it themselves. They may fear not being believed or being mocked.
Dr Ritesh: Only a few know that men can be damaged by gender stereotypes and expectations. Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant, and in control. So, if they talk about it, it’s likely to go against the kinds of messages they received growing up. These societal gender norms prevent men to speak up because if they do, they will be considered “WEAK” and not “MAN-LY”. Abusers do not discriminate which is proven by the fact that one in six men have been the target of rape or sexual abuse within the UK. The Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, also completed in 2010, came up with the same 40% figure for the US men assaulted by their partners and often ignored by police.
Dr Santosh: “Male must be strong, male is dominant, male should not be weak” – these are the wrong beliefs that we have. So, a man being abused rarely dares to speak out for fear of being judged as an inferior being. Our society still doesn’t accept men crying just as it cannot accept strong, independent and dominant women.
This is why men hide being abused. For example, even after writing this long, if I am hit by a woman in public, I would feel more ashamed about it than being hit by a man because I have grown up in this society which taught me that I am the stronger sex. Being a man and being beaten by a woman will hurt my male ego. The right thing is to seek legal action against all sorts of violence irrespective of the gender of the offender.
Gaumaya: Although there are different reasons, there is a big shame and stigma attached to talking about abuse for both women and men. In the society we live in, where toxic masculinity is common, I believe men find it harder to be (vulnerable). Emotional intelligence and expression amongst men are tagged as feminine or a sign of weakness. Hence, men go through emotional castration in admitting they have been abused. They fear that the society will think less of them, of being less of a man if they seek help. To add to that, there is disproportionate support and guidance for male victims.
All the above restricts open conversations and stories of men to come out, making more men feel like they are the only one. Less is written, shared and showcased in form of news, social media, art and film, discouraging more male victims to speak up.
What makes a woman abusive and why do you think they act out against men in the form of emotional, sexual, physical or verbal violence?
Marie Ange: Societal norms do not expect women to be abusive, however, women and men are equally capable of abusing others when they are in a position to do so. The triggers may be different but the response is the same.
Dr Ritesh: Abusive women are much more common than we might think. The ways women abuse is more subtle and less outward. That’s why it is difficult to spot. They can abuse men in different ways like being angry, yelling, controlling, demanding, demeaning, undermining, even by withholding affection and sex, and physically harming men in some cases.
Many researchers report that both men and women abuse because they were abused during childhood and unconsciously turned off their ability to feel emotional pain within themselves for others. Domestic violence is a learnt behaviour and there are many other psychosocial theories for that. She may lack skills in dealing with emotions, controlling anger, taking care of herself, being assertive, or communicating. She may abuse men because she feels over-protective, insecure, exhausted, frustrated, projecting her ways of thinking and doing or being on to him. She may have some personality disorders or traits, for example she could be narcissistic, histrionic, etc. or she wants to be heard, get attention, feel superior, strong, powerful, trap him or attain victim status herself. She might abuse other men because she may be motivated by fear, self-defence, jealousy, hatred, etc. There are many reasons. Everyone has their reason for behaving in such a way. We should see this issue from a broader perspective rather than one single cause.
Dr Santosh: Anger is human behaviour that can result in violence and abuse if not controlled. In my opinion, it is not specific to men that women are abusive, they are abusive to people they encounter. For example, a woman yelling at her husband or being abusive to him is natural. A lot of abuse is the outcome of incidence, suppression, disputes, misunderstanding and lack of anger management.
Gaumaya: Although I am not an expert, I think it has to do more with the nurture than nature; how one was raised, norms and practices in her household, school, social media narratives and experiences in her day to day circle. If abuse is prevalent and normalised in a household, regardless of family structure (patriarchal or matriarchal), there is high likelihood for the cycle of abuse to continue.
Going back to societal pressure for men to provide, women who are instilled with the very patriarchal norms might feel that it is okay for them to abuse their partner and sons who struggle to provide for the family. Often, the culture of comparison can lead women to be violent to their partners or sons for “underachieving” or failing to meet their expectations as a provider.
Do you agree that a man should hold back their emotions even if a woman is abusive? Should men step back only because she’s a woman?
Marie Ange: Nobody should be subjected to bullying and not responding to abuse only leads to more abuse and mental anguish whether in the hand of a man or a woman. If one feels the need to endure abuse in silence or hold back their emotions for fear of retribution, the relationship needs a closer look.
Dr Ritesh: Just because she is a woman, she has all the right to abuse men is wrong. Nobody has the right to abuse other people regardless of gender, religion, caste, social status, academic qualification, position, or any sense. Abuse should not be tolerated in any form by anyone.
Dr Santosh: It is better to be understanding and forgiving irrespective of gender, but when it comes to abuse or violence or crime, it is wrong and men should not hold back no matter what gender the abuser is. Crime has no gender.
Gaumaya: Abuse is abuse and should not be gender-defined. All forms of abuse are unacceptable and victims, irrespective of gender, should have access to proper support and counselling. I believe there should be more conversations in every facet of society, so that our boys (and girls) growing up know that speaking against any form of abuse is courageous, accepted and there is no shame in it.
Is ABUSE gender-stereotyped?
Marie Ange: Yes, we tend to think that abuse is perpetrated by boys and men, fathers, male teachers, and men in the military.
Dr Ritesh: YES
Dr Santosh: Yes, it is. This is the main problem. As I said, since the beginning of humankind, women are the ones who have been abused most. Men’s abuse was blindfolded with the “men should be strong” superstition. We are still struggling to realise the fact that abuse has no gender.
Gaumaya: Yes, often when people hear of the word ‘abuse’, we automatically think of a man (mostly in power) as the perpetrator, and a woman as the victim. Popular culture, films, music and most research data support and portray these narratives. However, abuse against LGBTIQ+, ethnic communities, or men abusing men or females abusing females are also prevalent and should be equally discussed.
Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality or background. Such gender-specific stereotypes around abuse should be deconstructed and openly discussed.
Any recent cases of male abuse that you know of?
Marie Ange: No, but I interpret many cases of violence in the news as a consequence of male abuse. The pressure on men to perform their so-called male duties and conform to a set of rigid (often unspoken) rules denies their individuality, their yearnings, and aspirations. The result is violent behaviour, poor self-image, depression, and even suicide.
Dr Ritesh: As a psychiatrist, I have come across these issues. More after coming to the UK may be because people are aware of their rights and comfortable speaking up to professionals. Most of the abuse is verbal and emotional rather than physical. But still, many men do not realise that whatever they are experiencing is abuse.
Dr Santosh: A lot of them. A man was brutally beaten by the public for a false claim by a girl, which later proved that the girl was taking personal revenge.
Gaumaya: Yes, I have heard of stories and experiences of men being abused. But because of the reasons stated above, many do not come forward to share it which in this day and age is heartbreaking.
We should work together as a society to be empathetic, create safe spaces and support systems for men, women and LGBTIQ+ communities to speak up. Open discussions will also help us understand why perpetrators abuse, so that we can provide them therapy and guidance as well.