Let’s talk about gender, let’s talk about patriarchy and let’s talk about domestic violence (DV). No sooner than we hear ‘DV’, we see men bashing women and children, at least largely. However, the other end of the line is as relevant, as real and as painful – women battering or abusing men. As a matter of fact, it is as much a reproduction of patriarchy as the case of ‘wife battering’. Within the purview of intimate relationship, this blogger is trying to argue how battering of male partner and under-reporting of it are both part of patriarchy and its evil perpetuation.
Granted that in a country like India where muscle, along with money is overtly titled towards men, ‘male battering’ is much lesser. Notwithstanding the fact, one may observe that there is hardly any reporting of such incidents where they occur. A survey conducted in 2007 shows that about 25% of the victims face physical violence, 22% face verbal or emotional violence and 18% faces sexual abuse in intimate relationships in India. In view of this statistics, the reporting of spouse battering of male partners is exceptionally stumpy in the country. Neither do the victim reports nor do the media cover such cases.
In Men Don’t Tell (1993), Ed, the loving husband is shown to be assaulted by his wife Laura for years. While he tries to reach out for help from social services, his pleas fall to deaf years. Ed’s character in the movie is deliberately not shown as an effeminate, rather a masculine one yet a caring husband and father. This comes out when his daughter finally breaks her silence and mentions to Ed’s father that ‘mommy hits daddy’. In common parlance, we often envisage men who are subject to battering to be physically fragile, lacking agency of aggression and feminine in nature. However, that might always not be the case. While men in general have the potential to outdo women in terms of physical strength, women, those who batter their male partners, take recourse to props like kitchen knife or washing rods to hit them, instead of using their hands.
Coming back to the basic thrust of this piece that argues that domestic violence against male partners by their female counterparts is as much about patriarchy, let us explore why men never talk about such experiences. Patriarchal social norms and gender role playing suggests, if not insists that men are ought to be aggressive and assertive; on the other hand, women are to be submissive. Moreover, it is a “man’s” job to have his woman “under control”. A man’s “masculinity” lies in his ability to be in control of his woman, his family and his immediate social environment. Any slip from those socially set standards would make him fall from grace in the eyes of society.
Under such circumstances, a man suffers from as much performance pressure as a woman. As a result, when he is battered by his female partner, he is clueless how to handle it. He cannot go to social service easily as they would not take him seriously; it would be far more difficult for him to establish his case. Also, in many cases, like all other kinds of domestic violence victims, denial looms large for such men. However, their denial of spousal violence is accumulated by their social understanding of “manhood” which is quintessentially associated with assertion and aggression. Therefore, “coming out” as a domestic violence victim would make the man a piece of ridicule among his peers and sympathy and substantial help would be a far reaching outcome.
In that light, when it comes to being domestic violence victims, male victims behave no different than their female counterparts. It is patriarchy that dictates men to beat their women, it is patriarchy that discourages men to talk about their experiences of domestic violence meted out by their female partners, and it is patriarchy that silence all domestic violence victims (of all genders) from talking about it and seeking help.
In a country like India, where hundreds of women are victimized in intimate relationships by their male partners everyday, it is definitely a challenge to establish any argument in support of male battering by females. In view of the larger context, this blogger raises the issue of domestic violence against men within the broader question of patriarchy as a social pathology and tries to argue that patriarchy as a dysfunctional system victimizes both women and men and fighting patriarchy is a larger human rights concern.
About the Author
Former journalist, the blogger is a Doctoral Candidate at Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin.
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