By: Rich Harold – When the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) bought a billboard spot at Davenport and Avenue Roads in downtown Toronto, they expected some push-back. Their poster was designed to draw attention to the plight of men who suffer domestic violence and featured an angry, shouting woman, photographed to appear as though she was about to lash out violently. But that wasn’t what made the poster controversial; it was the claim , in huge lettering overlooking Davenport Road, that half of all domestic violence victims were men. It was a bold claim and one that immediately had the media in a tizzy. So outraged were some journalists that they attempted to debunk CAFE’s claims in print, albeit with little success. Days later CAFE members met with press in downtown Toronto to discuss the poster and found the same, unresponsive audience. No matter what they did, no matter how reasonable their message, they couldn’t make those assembled understand two simple facts: men are sometimes victims of domestic violence, and men need help too.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this refusal to acknowledge basic realities stems from. Clearly, there are individuals and groups who are hostile to the ideas that organizations like CAFE espouse. Repeated demonstrations and protests at CAFE events, some of which bordered upon violent, attests to that.
For many in the feminist movement concepts like misandry are complete misnomers; the very idea is bogus because it stands in direct contradiction to one of the central tenets of feminist theory—patriarchy. Under this model, society is structured by and for men, to the detriment of women. Applying this standard to domestic violence results in a framework where only women are seen as victims and a model that denies the suffering of men—at least on a scale comparable to women. Not only that, but those men who are victimized are actually regarded as victims of patriarchy. At least, that’s how the theory goes.
But while the media may display incredulity at the idea of the existence of male victims of domestic violence and while feminists may display antipathy towards an equitable solution to the problem, there’s still a much bigger part of the picture.
The general public.
As people, we have become utterly desensitized to the ideas of male suffering. This is evidenced by the obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of homeless people are men. The majority of suicide victims are men. The majority of combat victims are men. The majority of assault and homicide victims are men. The majority of workplace deaths are also men. In almost every category, where people are hurt, abused, or victimized, it is men—not women—who suffer most.
As a society, we place immense expectations on men’s shoulders. They are the protectors, the breadwinners, the builders, the fixers. They keep the lights on, keep the water running and are encouraged, at almost every point to never complain, to never ask for help or to never admit that they might have a problem. Men are told to “suck it up” to “man up” when they fail to meet the expectations demanded of them.
Little wonder then, that there are no services for men in need. We’ve shamed men into fearing to come forward to tell their stories. We’ve shamed men into thinking that the abuses they suffer and the needs that they have must always come second. Society would stop functioning, after all….
It’s time for that to stop.
Society will not stop functioning because we allow ourselves to recognize men’s needs. Society won’t collapse under its own weight because rather than telling men to “get over it” we take some time to pause, and to listen. If anything, our society will be all the better for it; we’ll move one step closer to a society that’s truly inclusive and accepting.
In Canada today there are some 593 shelters for abused women. That’s a good thing. There are hundreds of helplines in almost every language in the world. That’s a good thing. There are groups, lobbies, organizations big and small that do outreach work and awareness raising all to reduce the impact of domestic violence on women. That’s also a very, very good thing.
But when we look at the services afforded to men there is practically nothing. There are no shelters. There are no helplines. There are a handful of bodies that operate to raise awareness and offer some basic psychological services—but most of them are operating on a shoestring. For those groups the mountain of work that they stand before has no summit.
It doesn’t have to be this way and it can’t be this way if we are to continue to call our society fair, if we are to continue to call our society civilized.