Growing up with a mother who came from an abusive upbringing, and has centered her career on helping battered women, it has been hard to escape from the realities of domestic violence. Gender-based violence and the effects of “doing masculinity” can be detrimental—physically, psychologically and emotionally. There are many factors that lead to physical, verbal and sexual abuse, such as our cultural environment and the way hegemonic masculinity is reinforced in the media. The impact of abuse is cyclical and has been shown bleed over from one generation to the next.
According to the National Violence Against Women survey (NVAW), 78% of rape victims are women and 80% of the time, those who were sexually violated knew their perpetrator. Out of those who reported being physically assaulted, stalked or raped, 64% of women (and 16% of men) reported that the perpetrator was an intimate partner, someone they probably trusted.
Beyond the bruises, fear and anxiety, abuse is also linked to several other harmful effects. Reporting on findings from the NVAW, the American Bar Association notes (here) that girls who have experienced physical or sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs when compared to those who have not had such experiences, 32% of girls who had been abused reported having eating disorders, while only 12% of girls who had not been abused reported such disorders. The fact is that there are enough women who have suffered abuse at the hands of men that most of us know a victim of abuse and can put a face to these statistics.
Is it any wonder why there is so much masculine violence aimed toward women when misogyny virtually floods the airwaves and can be so easily downloaded? As demonstrated in the documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes, today’s hip hop often depicts violence perpetrated against women and seems to depend on exploiting and objectifying female bodies. This music may be catchy, but having it all over the radio is sending the wrong message to our youth.
The extent to which masculine abuse against women is ultimately the result of hip hop may be debatable, but it is less debatable that abuse is cyclical. Those who abuse are often themselves victims of abuse. This was the case with my mother’s stepfather, who was her abuser. Not surprisingly, he was also abused as a child. The only way my mother knew how to break out of her abusive world was to reach out for help and spend decades in therapy.
We have been raised in a society where masculinity is defined by muscles, strength, power and control. Just as the young men stated in “Tough Guise,” masculinity defines who men are and when men are not masculine enough, they are too often taunted as pussies, faggots, babies or bitches. If a man cries or appears emotional, he is stamped with any or all of these dreaded names. Jackson Katz’s film reminds us that true men are to be tough and emotionless, and there is evidence to suggest that the imperatives of masculinity are only becoming more severe. As Katz brought to our attention, G.I. Joe’s biceps have doubled in size over the past 20 years, and the musculature sculpted onto the Superman action figures has steadily increased. Young boys in our society are under the impression they will only be men if they are huge, muscular and powerful. They see men in the movies, television, music videos, and in the intimacy of their own homes demonstrating their masculinity in part by degrading women. These televised role models physically and verbally abuse women in order to gain respect, power and control.
Even though my mother got the help she needed, I still see how it affects her and her sisters. I have watched how they struggle to create healthy relationships with non-abusive men and how they find it difficult to become attached to people who truly care about them. They have battled with addictions and depression and are paralyzed when somebody close to them slips away. As I have observed with my mother and her sisters, it is incredibly hard putting a stop to abuse because those who are abused are often too scared to seek help. The men who are doing the abusing often do not feel the need or desire to change because they have been so thoroughly immersed in a culture which ties violence and aggression to their masculinity. As I have mentioned above, many of these men grew up with their fathers abusing them, watching their own mother’s get beaten up and raped, or even witnessing gender-based violence on television and in their communities.
It is often the case that even when abusive men realize they are doing something wrong, they make excuses for their actions. Anderson and Umberson point this out in their article, “Gendering Violence: Masculinity and Power in Men’s Accounts of Domestic Violence.” They write that men often “excuse, rationalize, justify, and minimize their violence against female partners,” and moreover, “batterers deny responsibility for their violence” (p. 488). They typically blame women for “extreme provocation, a loss of control, or a minor incident that was blown out of proportion. The abusive men participate in the violence because they are ‘doing gender’ ” (p. 488). Violence, therefore, is a means of achieving masculinity, and men likely use violence to achieve their masculinity because it has been modeled for them time and again as an effective means for doing so. Abusive men, then, are following in the footsteps of the men in their lives.
In order to end this destructive, devastating pattern, young men need to be taught how to interact with women without the possibility of violence. I believe violent speech acts and images, especially in music and video should be made illegal. I understand that depictions of violence toward women are only a fraction of the problem, but making such depictions illegal would be start. This would end to flippant justifications that society somehow approves of abuse from men, that “all men are doing it” anyway, or even that truly manly, men beat and rape women.
Additionally, women need to understand that help is easily accessible. My mother is a supervisor for the Center for Abused Persons and there is a 24 hour hotline that anyone can call if they need immediate assistance or if they simply need to talk to someone. If you are being abused please seek help, and if you know someone who is being abused, please encourage them to seek help. There may not be a second opportunity.
~ Terrapin Love
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.