Friday, August 15, 2008

On Abuse and Gender

I found this blog through my Google feeds, which bring me all kinds of random crap and the occasional nugget of wisdom. This is one of those nuggets.

The blogger at Beyond Mere Survival works for an organization called Middle Way House, which seems to be an advocacy organization for those who find themselves in abusive relationships. She recounts in a recent post the realization that the men involved in relationship abuse are often as in need of help as the women, and that given a better option, they would rather not be abusive men.

today, because of some oversight from the hospital, i found myself in a room with the woman that asked for assistance, and her boyfriend, whom she was calling about. i was not aware that he was her partner, i though he might have been a family member or friend. however, as i started explaining to her the services the middle way offers, he started yelling that “this country has gone to shit, and people are just reverse sexist and racist. no one give a fuck about men anymore, the only people that can get help are women and blacks”, he also yelled at the woman i was with, demanding to know why i was even there.

he proceeded to scream that the organization i was representing was sexist because it helped women, and not men. then he stormed out the door after slamming things around the room.

in moments like these there is no rational train of thoughts, i find myself usually oddly calm, and unfazed. i was worried that my presence might have triggered a worse situation than before i got there for the woman. we were able to talk a bit, and i gave her phone numbers and resources, and talked about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

after not so long he came back, and i approached him trying to explain the services the middle way has for men, and that we try to be as gender conscious as possible, and advocate for anyone that needs help.

he broke down and started to cry, and told me about how abusive his father had been to him, and saying that he just wanted to feel loved, and being in a relationship was just too painful. i ended up talking to him for a very long time.

he expressed feeling helpless, and hopeless, and that nothing or no one had ever helped him when he needed it. feeling completely hopeless at 18 is one of the saddest things i can think of.

in the end we all came together again and talked about things that they think could help their relationship, and where to find support with them.

it was strange, and i don’t think i have even quite digested the intensity of it all. what jumps out at me is that he needed help as much as she did, and that thinking of violence as a clear cut issue won’t help anything.

it makes me crazy to think that in a way he is right. what help is there for a man wanting support in learning how to be in a healthy relationship?
Go read the rest of the post.

Abuse is generally seen as a women's health issue, but if we ever want to put an end to it, we need to begin looking at it as a men's issue -- and that means that we, as men, need to step up to help other men when the situation arises. [OK, in fairness, there is an increasing number of women abusing men, but it remains a minority and the damage inflicted, most times, is minimal in comparison.]

Partner abuse really is about the lack of healthy role models for young men, especially young men who grow up with abusive fathers. We all know that abuse begets abuse, and the cycle continues until someone has the courage and the resources to end the pain.

I don't think the men who are abusive want to be that way. I think that many of them (maybe most of them) would gladly change if they knew how and had the resources and support to do so. The question is how we get them the help they need.

The system, as it is currently set up, criminalizes abusers, then puts them in jail where their anger grows and festers and they learn to be even more hateful and hurtful. This doesn't seem like a good plan to me. Healthy madculinity (either as a skill or as a model) does not exist behind bars.

Clearly, there needs to be some form of punishment for assaulting one's partner. But why can't we remove these men from the situation and put them into an environment where they are getting therapy and learning new skills that might give them options that are better than violence?

The criminal model isn't working -- it's time to try something else.

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