Society often places certain stereotypes on individuals based on how they are expected to behave. When an individual perceives themselves in a situation that causes them to stray from the conventional gender roles, this can cause humiliation and embarrassment leading to low self esteem. Therefore, in order to avoid rejection and shame, men remain silent, causing cases of domestic violence where men are victims to remain largely under-reported. In his article “Women’s violence toward men is a serious social problem”, Murray A. Straus illustrates that men are often depicted to be the more violent sex (Straus 58). Men can become just as much of a victim of abuse and domestic violence as women, but in American society men are taught to view themselves as a stronger sex and are therefore, less likely to report abuse, which highlights the social norms and expectations that often prevent male victims from speaking out and ending the cycle of abuse.
Physical abuse can be a source of embarrassment for male victims because it tends to indicate that they are incapable of standing up for themselves, something that every man is expected to be able to do. In his article, “Masculinity in American Culture”, Nick Black cites a study done by social psychologist Prof. Geert Hofstede where he defines masculinity in American culture to include the following attributes: assertiveness, toughness, a focus on material success, ego orientation, the ability to gain money in order to provide, as well as, the ability to defend oneself and protect others. These characteristics further hinder male victims of domestic violence from coming forward since admitting one’s self as a victim of abuse might suggest a lack of toughness or assertiveness that American society expects a man to possess. This in turn, would negatively influence a male victim’s ego and self esteem.
In her article “Domestic Violence: ‘As a man, it’s very difficult to say I’ve been beaten up’”, Emily Dugan introduces Dave who is an example of how gender roles and social perception of masculinity discourage male victims from reporting abuse. When an outsider looks at Dave, they might see a strong, six foot tall man and take him to be a “big brute” who is not likely to fall victim to a woman. Not only is Dave suffering from physical abuse, but he must cope with his failure to live up to the perception of what a man should be; strong and powerful. This perceived failure inevitably causes him to lose confidence in himself and deters him from speaking out because of these feelings of inadequacy. He justifies his reluctance to come forward with the quote, ‘[a]s a man, it’s very difficult to say you’ve been beaten up. It seems like you’re the big brute and she’s the daffodil, but sometimes it’s not like that’ (Dugan 2013). Since in his mind a woman is the more fragile sex, he should be able to defend himself with ease. Failure to do so makes him feel like less of a man.
Stereotypes that depict men as the more violent sex are perpetuated by bias research. In his article “Women’s violence toward men is a serious social problem”, Murray A. Straus illuminates how researchers “omit questions that ask about violence carried out by women” in order to depict women as victims of assault carried out by men (Straus 58). American culture is conditioned to view women as the less violent sex. The researchers do not assume that women can be perpetrators of violence because that goes against everything they’ve been taught. Furthermore, Straus states that when studies do cite cases of domestic violence carried out by women, it appears to be only in self defense. In reality, women were found to be the assailants at an equal or higher rate as their male partners when it came to couples who are dating (Straus 59). These stereotypes encourage the views of women as victims which makes American society less likely to believe that a man could be victimized by a woman. This in turn makes men embarrassed and less likely to report the abuse. Likewise, assaults by women are rare in police statistics because the same stereotypes cause many men to be reluctant to involve the police and admit that they cannot ‘handle their wives’ (Straus 60). To do so, would go against society’s definition of masculinity.
There are many factors that influence how law enforcement reacts to cases of domestic violence in ways that are not beneficial to male victims. In the article, “Women’s violence toward men is a serious social problem”, Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles found that when a woman called the police to report Intimate Partner Violence and the authorities were involved, the man was ordered out of the house in 41.4% of cases. However, when a man called, the woman was ordered out of the house in 0% of cases. When a woman called, the man was threatened with immediate arrest in 28.2% of cases; when a man called, the woman was threatened with arrest in 0% of cases (Straus 62). This illustrates that even law enforcement which should be neutral, is biased when it comes to the possibility of a male enduring abuse from a female. It is this way of thinking that makes many men believe that they are not victims of a crime. Furthermore, when a man does hit a woman back in self-defense, he is likely to be prosecuted more harshly than a woman claiming to defend herself. Since police are more inclined to believe that the man provoked the woman than vice versa. Since law enforcement sympathises with women, they will be more lenient when handling female assailants.
One reason for the dichotomy of treatment between men and women victims by the police is that although women have the capacity to be just as violent as their male partners, women are more likely to sustain physical injuries than men (Fiebert 2012). Therefore, women are more likely to appear victimized, which leads law enforcement officials to be more sympathetic towards them, while enforcing severe consequences onto the male partner whom they automatically assume is the abuser. This again influences the male self image deterring men from viewing themselves as victims (Fiebert 2012). It is ironic that being able to endure pain better and trying to conform to society’s perception of the power and masculinity is the very thing that keeps men chained in a vicious cycle of abuse.
One study conducted by Basile (2005), illuminates how even our justice system is influenced by social norms even though the law is suppose to be neutral. In court setting, “male victims of intimate partner violence were not afforded the same protections as female victims of intimate partner violence” (Basile qtd in Shuler 170). Basile (2005) also found that over 50% of male victims of intimate partner violence refused to testify and female perpetrators with severe injuries had their charges withdrawn 77.8% of the time. Women on the other hand, were more likely to testify if they were more severely injured (Basile 2002). This phenomenon further proves that social perceptions of masculinity have created an unequal judicial system. Most men would prefer to suffer abuse than admit to being victims and to risk the shame associated with coming forward even when a crime has been committed against them. Shuler concluded that this inequality happened even though both male and female plaintiffs were victimized equally by their opposite gender defendants. A low percentage of women found guilty of intimate partner violence has been due to the male victim unwillingness to testify against them in court.
In his article, “Domestic Violence Against Men Is The Most Underreported Crime”, James points out another reason that male victims are less likely than female victims to report abuse is due to the perception that the issue of domestic violence is one that should be dealt with personally and privately. Male victims may feel weak and ashamed of their inability to handle such a private matter on their own. They regard domestic abuse as a ‘private’ problem of no legitimate concern to anyone but themselves. This is a primary reason why many male victims choose not to report the abuse they suffer at the hands of women (James 2014). They want to believe that they have the power to rectify the situation on their own as society expects them to do.
American society believes that one of the essential roles of men is the ability to protect those he cares for. In the same article, “Domestic Violence Against Men Is The Most Underreported Crime”, James points out, many men fear that if they leave the abuser, their children will suffer instead of them as the abuser takes out their anger on the children (James 2014). This could also be a deterrent which discourages men to report abuse. Therefore, many men choose to stay in abusive relationships to shield their children from becoming victims, fulfilling their role as protectors. In the event that a divorce occurs, according to Straus, it is more likely that custody will be granted to the mother who, society is conditioned to view as a nurturer even when that is not the case (Straus 61). In this situation, the man would have no way to ensure the safety of his children. This will not only hurt his ego from not being able to stand up to his wife, but it will also keep him from fulfilling his duty as a man to provide for, and take care of his children.
Men often view themselves as professional, self-sufficient members of society. A big factor that discourages them from reporting abuse is that in doing so, they will irreparably harm their reputation. James provides an example of this in his article “Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed To Know”, when he states, a therapist or similar professional “may fear that clients will doubt his ability to help them with their problems if he can’t even handle his own” (James 2014). In this way public knowledge of domestic abuse may severely damage how the outside world views an individual, destroying not only his self esteem, but his ability to make a living as well, which in turn, effects how he views himself as a man. Therefore, men often chose to preserve their reputations and endure abuse silently rather than risk the shame that may come with seeking outside help.
An additional barrier that keeps male victims from speaking out against domestic violence is the fear that they will not be believed, since in American society men are more often viewed as perpetrators than the victims. Susie Christodoulou illustrates this point in her article, “Hidden male victims of domestic abuse”, by stating, ‘[t]here are many barriers deterring men from reporting abuse. Men keep silent for fear they may be disbelieved or ridiculed, or simply out of a crippling sense of shame’ (BBC.com). The reason for this is that society is reluctant to change its perception of what it means to be an abuse victim. Changing this viewpoint would force American society to reconsider the current definition of masculinity, admitting that asking for help does not make the victims less of a man. This kind of change is often difficult to achieve when the majority is conditioned to believe the opposite. Christodoulou also points out that “[o]ur acceptance and understanding of male domestic abuse seems to me to be 30 years behind the times” (BBC.com). Society isn’t willing to give up the conventional gender roles of men and women even though the role of women has evolved greatly with time. For a man to admit he is the victim of female perpetrated violence, he needs to abandon the image of power which society expects from him and admit to being submissive to his female partner. This in itself can be detrimental to the male ego since a submissive man would not be fulfilling his role in society.
Despite this evidence some would argue that men are not likely to experiance violence at the hands of a women. They believe that men are capable of defending themselves and “controlling” their partners. Failure to do this, would mean that they are the weaker sex and therefore not a “real” man. Since childhood, men have been conditioned by society to be able to endure pain and “take it like a man.” However, research proven otherwise. In the article “Men: The Overlooked Victims of Domestic Violence”, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has found that almost half (40%) of the victims of severe, physical domestic violence are men in 2010 (Ruth S.). Clearly domestic violence is as much of an issue in male victims as it is in female. Arguing that the main factor for this is weakness would unjustifiably classify all 40% of the victims as not being “real” men. This proves that anyone can fall victim to domestic abuse and it does not automatically title one as “weak.”
Another factor that causes men to stay silent in cases of intimate partner domestic violence is their tendency to minimize the severity of the situation. As Fiebert points out many men tend to rationalize that their situation is not that bad when compared to what others might be going through (Fiebert 2012). Therefore it would be a sign of weakness to involve authorities. They attempt to handle it themselves. Many times, the abuse endured is not just physical. Many men suffer from the emotional side effects of intimate partner violence as well. As Straus points out, “studies show that abused men are at risk for emotional hurt, fear, helplessness, anger, revenge seeking, sadness, shame and humiliation, depression, stress, psychological distress, and psychosomatic symptoms” (62). This could also be very detrimental since many male victims are reluctant to seek mental help. This, in turn, leaves them trapped to relive the cycle of abuse.
As a culture, we are more accepting of violence perpetrated by men against women and less inclined to believe that a male can be a victim of domestic violence. This can lead men to not perceive themselves as victims, and therefore be reluctant to admit that what they are experiencing is a crime. Society must keep in mind that not all wounds are physically visible and sometimes what is internal can cause much more harm than what is apparent to the eye. Although men may appear stronger, that doesn’t mean they suffer any less than women would in the same situation. If members of American society would alter their viewpoints on masculinity and encourage male victims to come forward supporting them by viewing their decision to speak out as strength rather than weakness, perhaps more men will be willing to seek help.
- Black, Nick (2014). “Masculinity in American Culture.” Research + Strategy. Retireved hhhhfrom http://www.nickblack.org/2011/03/masculinity-in-american-culture.html. hhhhretrieved 12 April 2015.
- Christodoulou, Susie. (2011). “Hidden male victims of domestic abuse.” BBC News. 10 hhhhJanuary 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12126783. retrieved 12 April 2015
- Dugan, E. (2013). “Domestic violence: ‘As a man, it’s very difficult to say I’ve been hhhhbeaten up’.” The Independent, [online] 14 April 2013. March 29 2015. hhhhhttp://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthnews/domesthhhhic-violence-as-a-man-its-very-difficult-to-say-ive-been-beaten-up8572143.html
- Fiebert, Martin S. ‘References Examining Assaults by Women on Their Spouses or hhhhMale Partners: An Annotated Bibliography’. Sexuality and Culture. 8 (2012), hhhh140–177. Springerlink. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
- Gelles, Richard J.; Straus, Murray A. (1988). Intimate Violence: The Causes and hhhhConsequences of Abuse in the American Family. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. hhhh262. ISBN 9780671682965. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
- James, Tom. (2014). Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed To Know hhhh(2003). “Domestic Violence Against Men Is The Most Underreported Crime.” EGF. hhhhhttp://www.dvmen.org/dv-32.htm. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
- Robertson, K. and Murachver, T. (2009), “Attitudes and Attributions Associated With hhhhFemale and Male Partner Violence.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39: hhhh1481–1512. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00492.x. April 12, 2015.
- Ruth S. (2015). Domestic Violence Statistics. “Men: The Overlooked Victims of Domestic hhhhViolence.”http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/men-the-overlooked-victims-of-dohhhhmestic-violence
- Straus, M. A. (2004). “Women’s violence toward men is a serious social problem.” In hhhhRichard J. Gelles & Donileen R. Loseke (Eds.), Current controversies on family hhhhviolence, (2nd Edition ed., pp. 55-77). Newbury Park: Sage Publications.