Male Domestic Violence is a Feminist Issue?

Can men really be victims of domestic abuse?

By Manisha Matthews
Subedited by Oliver Roberts

Feminism is one of the most powerful movements that has been established within the last century. Their promotion of equality between the both sexes has frequently been credited with the revolutionary changes introduced into the socio-political sphere in relation to female rights. This can be seen in 1928 where women aged 21 and over retained the right to vote, in 1970 the Equal Pay Act legalised equal pay for equal work performed by both sexes and in 1979 the United Kingdom was governed by our first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Women have made huge strides in the feminist movement and whilst many may focus on the positives, it is easy to overlook the issues that affect men with society͛s sole focus fixated on equalling women͛s rights to that of a man. ManKind Initiative has affirmed that 13.2% of men have been victims of domestic abuse since the age of 16, amassing to 2.2 million male victims within the UK. Moreover, ManKind Initiative has stated that 29% of men suffer physical injury in shocking contrast to 23% of women, portraying men as retaining a higher proportion of those suffering from severe bruising or bleeding.

Furthermore, their data concludes that male victims (29%) are over twice as likely to not expose the abuse that they suffer to anybody whereas only 12% of women felt that way. In situations where 26% of women would seek help from the police, only 10% of male victims would. In circumstances where 43% of women would seek help from those seated in an official position, only 23% of male victims would and where 23% of women would seek help from a health professional, only 11% of male victims would. Despite these shocking statistics, it is glaringly evident why men hesitate to disclose such information about the abuse that they suffer from their partner.

Firstly, it lies with the fact that whilst women have made great strides in renouncing the traditional female role, the same has not been done for men. Emma Watson after being appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Women acknowledged throughout her speech for the HeForShe Campaign in September 2014 that whilst women constantly feel the pressure to act ͞feminine,͟ men in turn feel the pressure to behave in a more ͞masculine͟ way.

With the burden of societal pressure, men will go to great lengths to not risk exposure of emasculation, especially by actions displayed by that of the stereotypically ͞weaker͟ sex, women. It is evident that society already portrays men as being the ͞stronger͟ and ͞more successful͟ sex with the UN Special Adviser in 2009, Rachael Mayanja, declaring that women only constitute 47% of the UK workforce. In the Parliamentary Briefing on Improving Gender Pay Transparency by the Equality & Human Rights Commission in 2010, women working full-time in the financial sector earn 55% less in annual average gross salary in contrast to their male equivalent.

Furthermore, the Government Equalities Office in 2011 stated that the average woman who works full-time between the ages of 18 and 59 would lose a total of £361,000 in gross earnings when compared to her male equal. Not only is there a lot of pressure for men to uphold this image and comply with what their societal role dictates which is that of success and physical strength, but it is also difficult for society to picture a man as a potential victim, especially by that of a woman, due to the fact we still, arguably, live in a patriarchal society. Society͛s opinion on male victims is also heavily influenced by those controlling the media. A prime example of this is the campaign launched by Women͛s Aid in 2007, ͞What’s it going to take?”, where nine female celebrities were photographed and altered to appear as if they had themselves been victims of domestic abuse.

This received a huge amount of attention and aided in increasing awareness but instilled in the minds of many the idea that only women could be victims of such and that men naturally were the abusers since 95% of the UK population still self identify as heterosexuals, according to the UKOffice for National Statistics in 2010.This sexist attitude is further adopted by our very own government and the initiatives they themselves implement. This can be seen coming straight from political leaders such as Harriet Harman, the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who introduced, as part of her manifesto, the Violence Against Women and Girls Bill in an effort to combat rates of domestic abuse. Just from examination of the title of the Bill, it is clear to see that its aim is to help female victims but how does it aid male victims as domestic abuse is a two way street? This clear lack of gender neutrality not only perpetuates the image of only women being victims but also that men are the only members of society that are capable of being perpetrators and it is solely characteristic of their sex. The Mankind Initiative in 2016 stated that victims of domestic abuse were 1 in every 4 for women and 1 in every 6 for men.

The difference between both genders becoming potential victims is unmistakably small, yet no initiative has been implemented to the degree it has for aiding women. It can be said by many that this almost legitimises female violence against men if its own government do not see it as a severe enough crime to warrant neither solution nor satisfactory retribution. This gendered outlook is also assumed within the judicial system. Pannick͛s belief that with the judiciary having always been typically composed of white, elderly and middle to upper class men, they will naturally assume a very traditional and outdated position in cases which prevents them from understanding ͚contemporary concerns.͛ Phillip Cook, in Abused Men, hones in one man͛s desperate plight in escaping their domestic abuser whilst trying to maintain custody of their child.

When the judge was shown pictures released by the doctors and those working in the emergency room of the injuries sustained from one of the attacks inflicted, the judge laughed and was quoted to say, ͞Well, you have to expect one knock-down drag-out fight per divorce.͟When applying for spousal support the judge believed that instead of receiving such from his wife he should ͚go out and get a regular job, and fulfil a more traditional father role.͛ However, this same approach would not have been taken had it been a woman asking for such and when further interrogated by his attorney, the judge responded that he naturally had difficulty in ͞adjusting to this new social order.͟The problem is further exacerbated through the attitudes employed by law enforcement. Police are often labelled as the ͞gatekeepers of the justice system but they often disregard claims that male victims are being domestically abused, especially by their wives.

This can be seen through the research completed by Ann Grady where when using non-gendered language to describe a domestic abuse situation, police often assumed that the victim was female. This is not only a reflection of the general societal view on this topic but begs to question whether they would take a claim seriously if it comprised of a man reporting his wife for domestic abuse. Furthermore, she reported that the typical response to a female-on-male domestic abuse claim was to laugh which further substantiates the reasoning behind why men feel uncomfortable seeking help from the police.

A natural solution to ending the stigma surrounding male victims of domestic abuse is through educating the public and increasing awareness over the severity and regularity of such crimes. Feminism could potentially be a powerful tool to promote this but many women supporting the feminist movement retain a fairly radical approach. Cook, in Abused Men, mentions that these ͞radical͟ feminists will outwardly attempt to silence anyone that speaks out about the abuse that male victims of such violence will suffer as they believe it would cause injury to the already established campaign supporting female victims of domestic violence.

They seem to adopt a very ͞man vs woman͟ approach that Cook points out and believe that not only would people not see domestic violence as such a serious crime if it affects men also but it would also allocate some of their given funding to male victims. Figures such as Gelles, Straus and Steinmetz, who have often been accredited with increasing the available research on male victims such as presenting statistics proving that there are just as many male victims as there are female victims, have felt the brunt of these so called ͞radicalised͟ feminists.

Each of them have received death threats and even have been alerted of potential bomb threats at conference centres in where they were due to speak. Steinmetz even had individuals write to the university she was working at demanding that she should be denied tenure and that her government funding should be terminated. What hope is there for male victims if any effort to educate the public is constantly hindered? With society only having recently adjusted to the fact that women can be victims of domestic violence, with one of Women͛s Aid͛s first campaigns being launched in 1999, Living Without Fear, to raise awareness, it seems far-fetched to believe that society would be so quick to accept the reality that men can be victims too.

Feminism could be the potential vessel that carries and promotes gender equality in the treatment of both sexes when dealing with domestic abuse claims but so far no substantial effort has been made. Cook points out the irony in many feminists being unable to accept the notion that men could be victims too when this is the same, exact treatment female victims received in the 1950s/60s.

If we truly expect to progress as a society, especially on the feminist front, Emma Watson rightly questions in her speech for the HeForShe Campaign in 2014, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

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