Over the past three years I have encountered in my life more instances of domestic violence and abuse perpetrated against men by women than ever before. I don’t think the numbers are necessarily rising in general, but somehow the stars have aligned to bring at least three men close to me who have been abused, both physically and emotionally, by their female partners and ex-partners. To be perfectly honest, the ways those situations were handled by the larger community, in every single case, have been disappointing. However: I am consistently depressed by the way that male abuse of women is handled, and I am not at all writing this in order to create a hierarchy of abuse between the two or compare their frequency or terribleness. This post will focus on the abuse of men by women, and how feminism needs to play a stronger role in the community’s response to these situations.
First and foremost, sexism is a double-edged sword. Harmful gender roles exist for men, too. That’s why feminism is for everybody. In cases of the abuse of men by women, victims are often reluctant to admit abuse is happening, even to themselves, because it threatens their deep-rooted ideas about their masculinity. When they do admit their perceived weakness, their abuse is often downplayed by their audience as a less serious issue because they are men. I have witnessed the stalking, harassment, and violence against men by women that has these men frightened, hiding, and at a loss, while their own communities turn a blind eye. It almost seems like men are embarrassed to watch other men go through this, so they just don’t.
Secondly, while the women abusers do not receive the kind of community support that male abusers often do, they are allowed excuses that do absolutely no good for them, the situation, or the person they are abusing. Women’s violence is attributed to unbridled passion, out-of-control emotion. Women are expected to “lose it” over men, and “acting crazy” is a trait that is not only accepted, but encouraged, in all women (as long as it’s over a man). Writing a woman off as crazy when she is being abusive is a cop out, at the very least. At worst, it downplays her agency and ends any investigation that might have been made into her actual mental health, while simultaneously mandating that her victim simply “deal with it until it blows over”. Feminist women would never advocate that an abused woman “just deal with it” when it comes to abuse, yet I see few instances where feminist women have reached out to male victims in support or women abusers in a real attempt to halt the abuse.
In fact, in several instances I have seen “feminist” women reach out in what they might call “support” of their female friends who they know to be abusers. Except this support doesn’t typically consist of helping the friend to calm down, to stop being abusive, to seek counseling or psychiatric help. This support doesn’t include making sure that a person takes their meds, or doesn’t drink, or isn’t left alone to go back to their abuse. Instead, typically this support shields the abuser from accountability while enabling her abuse and perpetuating the abuser’s version of the story. Not holding a woman accountable for the abuse that she has perpetrated, not helping a woman who needs it to get mental health assistance, enabling a woman to continue her abusive behaviors, is about the furthest thing from feminist in my book.
The overarching problem with the response to situations in which women abuse men is that it is based in the same patriarchal values that negatively impact the response to situations in which men abuse women. The idea that men can’t be victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), or that IPV isn’t as abusive for men as it is for women, reinforces patriarchal ideologies of masculinity. In other words, abuse is not defined by gender.
In the same vein, the idea that a woman’s abusive behavior can be excused by an inability to control her emotions under stress or passion or whatever is utter bullshit, and we should know better.
A true feminist, upon finding out that their friend is an abuser, will help that friend to not be an abuser anymore. A true feminist will be strong enough to hold their friend accountable for their actions and assist them in getting the help that they need. A true feminist will not write off the abuse of their male friend because he is a man and his abuser is a woman.
In a previous post, I wrote about friends holding each other accountable and the necessity of coming to the aid of friends who have lost their way. For more about what that kind of care looks like, and why it’s important, feel free to head back and read that post as well.