This past week, Weber State University observed Domestic Violence Awareness Week on campus. Students decorated T-shirts for victims of domestic violence, and posters touting troubling statistics were posted all over the Shepherd Union Building.
One of these posters, however, might have gone largely unnoticed — or maybe it attracted the most eyes of all. This poster outlined some statistics on domestic violence against men.
Adult male victims are far too often ignored in discussions of domestic violence, or, worse, flat-out belittled if they try to mention it. The cultural assumption seems to be that it is only men who need to curb their violent tendencies, and that women striking men in anger is harmless or even funny. As such, men are not as strongly encouraged to stand up for themselves or come forward about abuse against them, especially if the perpetrator was female, because either they deserved it or they should totally be able to handle it, right? They might fear responses like “You got hit by a girl? And it hurt? Man up, dude!” or “Oh, poor you, it must be so hard being a man! Poor, oppressed men who are strong enough to defend themselves!”
It is this dangerous cultural double standard that draws a stigma around male victims, and often prevents them from seeking help, resulting in serious loss of self-esteem or worse. According to Oregoncounseling.org, roughly 40 in 100 domestic violence cases per year involve men abused by their domestic partners. This means that more than 300,000 men could suffer domestic abuse per year. The site acknowledges that the numbers are indeed rough, however, because men in general are often reluctant to report it or even slow to recognize it, as “it has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence. Virtually nothing has been done to encourage men to report abuse. The idea that men could be victims of domestic abuse and violence is so unthinkable that many men will not even attempt to report the situation.”
Why is it that, when we watch a movie or read a book, a man hitting a woman for any reason marks it as a serious drama, yet women slapping around men who lied to them or dumped them — or who even just asked for their number! — is a staple of comedy and might even inspire a “you go, girl!” or two? How in the world is abuse funny or empowering when a woman does it to a man? And yes, it is abuse, even if he kissed another girl, said something wrong or broke up with her, because that excuse wouldn’t fly if an abusive man used it, and rightly so.
If we say the exact same thing is OK when a woman does it, as if a woman is incapable of causing physical or emotional damage, we are just reinforcing the stereotype that women are weaker than men, and isn’t that kind of ignorance and sexism one of the very things we’re seeking to prevent with domestic violence awareness? Anything that’s abuse when done against a woman is abuse just the same when done to a man. Abuse is abuse. Period.
However, even if we believe this in theory, it seems to be ingrained into our society that the same standards do not apply to situations wherein men are the victims. Because of this, victimized men might deny to others and even themselves that they are being abused. Even if the physical damage is minimal or nonexistent, they might feel they have decreased in masculinity or self-worth, that they do not deserve someone who will love and respect them, or that they should “be a man” and “suck it up.” If they do get out of the unhealthy relationships, their future relationships are likely to be affected by their emotional trauma and possibly low self-esteem. Just the same as with women.
In keeping with Domestic Violence Awareness Week, if you or a loved one is suffering from abuse, we implore you to seek help. Your age, race, sexual orientation, gender, or even your “crime” does not matter; you deserve better. Absolutely no one deserves violence (and no, just to clarify, self-defense does not classify as violence, as long as said self-defense would qualify as such no matter who does it). We are all people, and we all deserve respect and safety.