Abuse Against Women Is Not a ‘Women’s Issue’.
Any time there’s a situation in which a woman is the victim of abuse, it seems she is usually scrutinized first to make sure she’s not lying.
Then, we often put the responsibility on her to fix the problem. How many times have you heard someone say, “Why didn’t she just leave?” or “Why is she just now speaking up?” Being a victim of an abusive relationship myself, I can fully attest to this experience, the most frequent question being “Why did you stay?”
A better question: why wouldn’t I?
He was stronger than me, and he used that to intimidate me. Subtly at first, and then increasingly more and more physically. He was damaged, and used manipulation to convince me that I was helping him, that I was fixing him. That we should keep going at this thing called a relationship because it was sure to get better.
I stayed, but he was the one who called me 30 times screaming at me when I went out with my friends. He was the one who told me that if I left, he would get me back “when I least expected it.” He was the one who threw me into a wall in front of my roommate, inevitably ending us by finally exposing to an outsider what was really going on in the relationship.
My roommate called my parents, and all of a sudden my dirty secret was out. I had kept letting this happen. How could I?
The truth is, yes, I take responsibility for continuing to believe that it could get better when I knew deep down it wouldn’t. I take responsibility for not seeking help sooner, for not telling someone sooner. However, women who have been assaulted or abused are backed into a corner of not knowing what will happen if they leave. Or if they tell someone. I was afraid for myself, but also for my family.
There are so many horror stories. Similarly, with the silence-breakers from the recent #MeToo movement, many of these women were afraid of losing jobs, of losing entire ways of life.
So why do we call these abuses against women a women’s issue, when it is so clearly a men’s issue too? Women should feel empowered to speak up, yes, but men need to stop abusing women.
The belief that the abuse of women by men is acceptable stems from the idea that they deserve a seat of power in the relationship. And why shouldn’t they? When those men take a look at the world, they see male presidents, congressmen, CEOs and pastors. In every corner of every business, there’s a man looking to lead the employees he stands over.
The advancement of gender equality has sped up in recent decades, so women do sometimes share these seats as well, but men are still overwhelmingly represented more.
Not only do men see themselves as the right people for the job of controlling things like businesses, countries and relationships, they also see women being held to higher ethical standards than they are.
A 2004 study from the Department of Justice found that only eight percent of rape prevention and education classes were designed for men. Instead, they were all geared towards women, while men continued to see that almost half of all domestic abuse calls never led to arrest.
Our society repeatedly shows men that if they abuse women, the chances are good that they won’t have to face consequences for it.
It Doesn’t Require Change
If men were to suddenly take responsibility for their actions towards women, it would mean two things. The first is that they would be publicly admitting to the horrible abuse they felt comfortable committing behind closed doors, and the second is that they would have to change their behaviors. Admitting to doing something wrong requires introspection, and an effort to make a serious change.
This adjustment is an important way to break the cycle of domestic abuse. Once men start holding themselves, their friends and their family members accountable, once we start referring to this as a men’s issue too, change may begin to take place.
Important changes for abusive men to make include things like seeking professional help and finding new ways to channel anger and sexual aggression. And we need to start teaching them these things much earlier in their lives too. These things seem like they should be common sense, but the widespread problem of abuse proves that they’re not.
In fact, there’s a stigma around men seeking psychiatric or behavioral health in our society, and that is so disheartening. We need to take a serious look at our supposed gender roles.
Since early fall, the #MeToo movement has been sweeping the globe. Women have been speaking up against their abusers to demonstrate the prevalence of the problem. The millions of voices helped take down powerful men and start a conversation about sexual assault and harassment.
Amazingly, this movement has already started to spark change. New procedures for the reporting of sexual misconduct in the workplace are being discussed across the nation, and more and more women are also becoming empowered to speak up.
This means that dangerous, skeevy men are being outed for who they really are, possibly preventing other unsuspecting women from coming into risky contact with these men. Again, it’s unfortunate that women have to take matters into their own hands in that regard, but at least the conversation is shifting.
And that’s the sad thing. People knew, but there was no conversation. There were inevitably quiet, everyday people behind someone like Harvey Weinstein who helped enable a powerful man by keeping victims silent, muting the media and changing the way the story was told. So in the end, it’s great that we’ve got this hashtag and that powerful men are being taken down and exposed.
Ultimately, though, change has to start happening with the average, everyday men who contribute to enabling this issue to continue by saying and doing all the wrong things.