Mild content warning, no graphic details.
This week, Mel B talked about her experiences of domestic abuse, and around this, I saw someone point out how seldom male victims speak up about their experiences. It struck me that this is really important. The majority of domestic abuse victims are women. I know there are men who think the data isn’t being recorded to reflect the true scale of abuse of men… but… about three women a week in the UK alone die at the hands of their partners, and that’s not a subjective thing or a reporting issue. The same figures do not exist for male victims. Domestic abuse is an awful thing, even if it doesn’t kill you.
It is often the case that any attempt to talk about the way gender impacts on domestic abuse will bring out the whataboutery. This isn’t really about concern for male abuse victims, it tends to be a way of derailing the conversation. But the flip side of that is that it must be making it harder for guys who have been abuse victims, who also take the abuse of women seriously, to talk about their experiences.
Talking about domestic abuse is really important. The more people understand how it works, the harder it is for abusers to keep doing this sort of thing. The more people understand, the more support there will be for victims. When we pool experiences, patterns emerge and it becomes easier to see what might be supporting and enabling abuse.
When it comes to the abuse of women by men, this is clearly underpinned by sexism. It’s held together by a couple of thousand years of being told that men are better than women and should be in charge, that the man is king in his household and that women should serve and obey. Getting ‘obey’ out of the marriage vows is pretty recent. A feudal-patriarchal history of treating women as property and giving them no rights in law has shaped our culture and informs abuse. Add to that, that we treat women in many contexts – medical, professional, personal – as irrational and likely to make a fuss. This makes it easy for abusers to laugh off criticism – she overreacts to everything, she’s such a drama queen, she’s mad, she’s making it up…. Cultural expectations help us accept this and ignore abuse.
When women abuse men, they aren’t able to draw on the same cultural context in quite the same way to justify it or hide it. So, what is going on there? What are the mechanics? What are the beliefs underpinning the abuse? We aren’t talking about this enough, so far as I can see.
I’d like to offer this space to men who want to talk about experiences of domestic abuse without having to worry about whataboutery or derailing an existing conversation. I’d like to better understand what happens around this, and I’d like to facilitate a conversation. Get in touch with me if you want to be involved. I offer safe space, and anonymity for anyone who needs it.