–in our conversations on gender-based violence
OFTEN, when we have conversations about gender-based violence, the conversation tends to focus solely on women. It is understandable: women are two to three times more likely than men to be abused — be it sexually, physically and/or emotionally. With these statistics, one begins to understand why we tend to place our focus on females while maintaining the popular dialogue of men as perpetrators.
While it is statistically factual that men are largely the perpetrators of violence, we often overlook males being abused by females; and we also tend to overlook abuse in same-sex relationships.
The reasons for this are many, and range from societal conceptions straight down. One of the primary reasons, I believe, is that the initial framework we had for gender-based violence was solely for women (particularly ‘cis women’), given that its addressing generally grew out of feminist movements.
It is due to those reasons that we have dozens of programmes and safe places for women, but none really for men. There is a shortage in support hotlines that are trained to address the needs of male victims; and a shortage of care providers able to identify signs of abuse, given that men are not considered high-risk for abuse, and as such do not need protection.
The fact that not as many men as women are abused should not be a comforting one; it should not be shrouded in secrecy or laughed at. Family members, partners and friends can, and often do, physically, verbally and sexually abuse men. This particularly happens when they transgress set concepts of masculinity, in cases such as men who have sex with men or transgender women.
Then of course we have female violence against men. The problem is that we often do not see women as the abusers. This has a lot to do with society’s conception about us being weaker and thus not capable of committing violence.
Recently, at a women’s meeting at SASOD, where we discussed the concept of rape culture, when the issue of male rape occurred, the person chairing the discussion glibly stated, “Some of them liked it.” From that point on I could no longer take her seriously, because it was absolutely disturbing that we are perpetuating the same victim-blaming and insensitivity we are trying to fight against where women are concerned, and not even making the modicum of an effort to fight for men.
While this is just one example, it goes to show how those of us who are active in trying to fight gender-based violence are prone to forget the men in all this, and trivialise their experiences.
We need to begin challenging the ideas related to manhood in hope of achieving not only a gender-equitable society, but also one wherein no one’s abuse is belittled.
There is the belief that a man must be tough and fierce at all times. And aside from this, fuelling violence against women as any transgression can be seen as an insult to manhood. It can also cause men to stay silent where abuse is concerned, hence one of the reasons we hardly ever hear about it.
Even when reporting domestic violence, men simply do not garner the same amount of sympathy as women. While we may consider it unpleasant that a woman hit a man, it is not emotionally compelling as the flip side. They are often ridiculed and told to “man up”, undermining not only their masculinity but also their position as a victim.
When we unwittingly depict women as the face of abuse, what we are doing is effectively deleting men from the conversation, and this further perpetuates the belief that men cannot be victims because they are men, or that the violence meted out against them is not serious enough to be properly addressed.
Continuous sidelining and refusal to see men as victims do not actually help the conversation on violence, but rather stymie it.