Last week Amen, a helpline a support service for male victims of domestic abuse, released its 2013 report, which detailed that 7,758 incidents of domestic abuse had been reported by 2,263 men last year. Since 2011 face- to-face meetings with men who reported abuse rose 64 per cent.
Amen service manager Niamh Farrell said the majority of men calling the service were between the ages of 40 and 50. Another stark fact: there is no refuge for men and their families suffering domestic violence in Ireland. The story kind of disappeared. It’s difficult to talk about male victims, thus rendering them doubly invisible.
It’s hard enough to come forward as a victim of “domestic violence”, but there is another level of complexity in coming forward as a male victim of violence in a relationship or in the home. When society positions men as aggressors and women as victims it must be incredibly difficult for male victims to announce themselves.
I recently started to watch the BBC television drama The Fall. I lasted no more than one episode of the new series, on realising that the plot revolves around a handsome serial killer, played by Jamie Dornan, stalking and attacking young women in Belfast. I don't really want to settle down on the couch and watch women being strangled on TV. There's much discussion these days about the female body count in contemporary television drama. It feels as though nearly every critically acclaimed series involves the murder of a woman or, if it's set in "olden times", the inevitable depiction of women as prostitutes. Or just murdered prostitutes if the writer is looking for two birds with one stone.
Yet there’s been little discussion about how men are depicted in these dramas. What does it mean to men that so many representations of them as lead characters in television shows depict them as borderline if not fully blown psychopaths? Tony Soprano, Walter White (
), Nidge (
), Paul Spector (
). Isn’t that a bit strange?
Stranger still is the positioning of these murderers as twisted heroes, when the aggression and disturbing nature of their characters is sometimes packaged as something desirable.
If women get sick of living in a world where they’re constantly seeing themselves reflected as beaten corpses on morgue trolleys, then are men sick of seeing themselves as murderers and rapists? How can men expose their victimhood when we nearly always depict them as perpetrators?
These incredibly narrow and blunt characteristics of masculinity are reinforced all around us. In much of our education system we segregate genders – a ridiculous idea – meaning young men and women have spent much of their formative years living in gender bubbles.
Potential for violence
Advertising and media reinforces the idea that men must be stoical and physically stronger and must have the potential for violence as a problem-solving approach and view sex in animalistic, unemotional terms.
How can we expect more men to come forward as victims of violence in the home when exposing any kind of vulnerability is usurping this “norm”? And how can we expect men to report crimes perpetrated against them when we make fun of men as victims?
In Love/Hate a horrifying scene in the final episode in which one of the characters, Fran, was raped in prison with a broken snooker cue, was met with "jokes" on Twitter. If the victim had been a woman such attempts at jokes would have caused uproar. But for many commenting online it was clear men being raped was something to be laughed about, so uncomfortable and derogatory are we about men as victims.
Patriarchy doesn’t just punish women. It also places an unsustainable pressure on men to uphold a system that is rigid and stifling.
Patriarchy harms us all. In reality, victimhood is not gendered, yet we’re uncomfortable with seeing men as victims, and as a result, the vulnerability necessary for male victims to seek help is suppressed. We need to dismantle patriarchy not just for the benefit of women but for men who are subjected to ridiculous “rules” and assumptions about their masculinity and how they “should” express themselves and in turn how they “should” be viewed.
Why would anyone – male or female – want to uphold a society that is unfair to both men and women? Patriarchy screws everyone over, and seeking to maintain it does men a disservice just as much as it oppresses women.
Amen operates its confidential helpline Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm on 046-9023718.