The abused man is not a phantom…

In growing up we are fed a lot of nonsense in the form of fairytales, folklores and other forms of oral tradition that we discard as we grow up – learning that the earth is round when we were raised to believe it was flat.

Perhaps it is rather harsh and irreverent of me to dismiss it all as ‘nonsense’ but some of these notions have caused more harm than good and sometimes it is hard to reverse the thinking of years.

Such as thinking that men can’t be hurt by women, that men can’t be victims; that men don’t lie awake at night crying or enduring some deep emotional hurt or psychological trauma.

It is testament to the rigidity of my upbringing that writing this article should be so taxing an exercise because it requires me to challenge accepted notions of how men cannot be victims of abuse and how women cannot be the aggressors and perpetrators of such abuse.

...who told you men don't cry?

The abused man is not a phantom – he is real and he lives, walks and breaths amongst us – wearing a mask of normalcy layered with a thin coat of machismo; he fools us all into thinking that he calls the shots over his life.

A while ago, I met and conversed with two gentlemen that expressed disappointment over my bias and lack of objectivity in how I treated the subject of abuse in my writing.

They said that women were just as abusive as men and the slant of my articles often served to obscure this fact.

One of them challenged me to research on the prevalence of abuse amongst men and advised me to approach men in their various pubs and watering holes where they relaxed and socialized and find out from them what kind of abuses they were enduring at the hands of women.

I was skeptical.

It was difficult for me to see beyond my own prejudices against how men have historically enjoyed dominance and prominence in their public and private lives at the expense of women.

These two men told me of men who are scared to go home at night because they fear the abuse that awaits them at the hands of their wives, girlfriends or partners.

They spoke of men who live in a state of constant anxiety fearing that they would be verbally emasculated in public by their abusive partners who chose confrontation in inappropriate forums to air real and imagined grievances.

They told of women who were manipulative by faking pregnancies to keep men stuck in relationships they were no longer interested in and then faking miscarriages and letting their reluctant partners endure emotional torment needlessly.

They gave examples of women who file for maintenance for children they knew very well were not fathered by the man they claim money from.

They gave instances in which some men remained trapped in relationships because their partners threatened to commit suicide if they attempted to terminate the relationship.

They spoke of women that used the threat of terminating a much desired pregnancy if they did not get their way effectively holding their men to ransom.

They spoke of women that habitually threatened to lace food with poison as a means of compelling their men to toe the line.

Even as they narrated some of these things; my mind kept coming up with excuses as to why these women would behave in such a despicable fashion because at the core of me I had no desire to admit that men were as vulnerable to abuse as women and that perhaps for men, that abuse was exacerbated by the fact that no one would believe them as I myself found it hard to believe.

The conversation I had with these two men has haunted me since, taking up residence in my subconscious and incessantly nudging at me but I have ignored it for fear that it would be hard for me to write convincingly of something I, myself, was skeptical of.

...society "guilts" men into staying in abusive relationships because a 'real' man is expected to "roll with the punches"...

In many instances the fervency with which I write is often an extension of my own personal convictions regarding the subject I am writing about – and the subject of an abused man seemed implausible.

Recently, my maternal aunt came to see me off at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and while waiting for my flight she entreated me to write ‘something’ about how badly men are being abused.

She made an impassioned plea to me; saying she felt there was little awareness about the issues of man abuse which she said was rampant, cruel and often kept secret by the men themselves out of shame.

Again I was skeptical.

But she is my mother and the least I could do was hear her out, especially since she had taken the opportunity of my departure to bring the matter up – it must have mattered deeply to her.

She told me of a casual acquaintance that she had been doing business with who was in an extremely abusive relationship with his church-going wife who was a complete tyrant at home.

She said she only got to know what kind of marriage the man was in after the man’s wife had called and thoroughly insulted half of the women in their company for interacting with her husband.

The man was extremely embarrassed and had had to apologize to all the affected female colleagues whose numbers had happened to have been saved on his phone and had since been deleted by his wife.

She said the man’s wife collected his pay check although she was gainfully employed herself, that she checked on him and gave him curfews.

The man was scared of his wife and eventually did as she asked to avoid confrontation which his wife seemed to thrive on.

Still, there was a part of me that remained skeptical; thinking if that man really wanted – he could always leave that woman.

But my aunt said he didn’t want to traumatize his children.

That’s right.

The man’s excuse for staying with his abusive was that he was doing it for the children!

It is not only women who use the, “I am staying in this marriage for my children” line – men use it too.

Because they are just as committed to bringing their kids in ‘whole’ families as women are – no parent (father or mother) wants their child to grow up in a broken home.

Sensing my incredulity at her tale, my aunt just asked me how I would feel if it was my brother who was the victim of abuse or if my son grew up and ended up in an abusive marriage?

Did I want to wait until someone I know, love and am close to was a victim before I started addressing the issue of man abuse?

That hit a raw nerve; because heaven knows I would do anything to protect my son, my brother and other male members of my family.

Perhaps protecting them begins with an article such as this one – an article that tells the world that men suffer too; that men need support too; that men are victims too and that the abused man is not figment of the imagination like a phantom.

Parting shot: When I am asked why a man/woman doesn’t leave their abuser I say: They stay because the fear of leaving is greater than the fear of staying. They will leave when the fear of staying is greater than the fear of leaving. Rebecca J. Burns TheLastStraw

…intolerance: a mirror of self

Sometimes when a person is confused and they don’t know what they want – I usually say, “Well, if you don’t have an idea what you want, at least tell me what you don’t want.”

...the Vatican sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil whilst pedophiles prey on the young flock... who will protect them?

The same goes for those facing some kind of inner struggle, identity crisis or such dilemma – I often tell them if they don’t know who they are, at least they ought to know who they don’t want to be.

The things we negate often are a reflection of what we instinctively embrace as our values, extol as virtues and they are indicative of our deeply held convictions.

I believe a scrutiny of our cultural beliefs, of the things we were socialized to reject will always be reflective of what we consider to be normal, acceptable and appropriate.

So our intolerances are a reflection of self – a reflection of who we are essentially.

Bigotry often derives from our revulsion towards that which is inconsistent with our belief system; it is like a knee-jerk reaction to that which contradicts our worldview or our interpretation of the world.

Anything that does not align with our own prejudiced perception is like a smudge marring the lens we use to view our world and we seek to obliterate it so that we may continue to enjoy the same view we are accustomed to – the status quo upheld.

The homophobia that currently informs the discourse on homosexuality in Zimbabwe is a case in point, reflecting the deeply ingrained cultural and social beliefs of what manhood entails – for what repulses many is not lesbianism but rather gays.

For a man to sleep with another man is almost inconceivable to most people and to those who can conceive of it – it is like an abomination.

And as a collective people pride themselves in holding on to these prejudices, tacitly condoning hate speech and other abusive reactions that have been central to the backlash created by the debate on homosexuality.

Of late, the media has been awash with reports of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church – narratives of how young boys have fallen prey to unscrupulous members of the clergy who fail to curb their ‘appetites’ and resort to feeding off the proverbial flock.

The allegations also point to a systematic cover-up by sections of the church’s leadership to shield the perpetrators, silence the victims and protect the all-important image of the church.

The Pontiff, having been so vocal on the issue of condom use, reinforcing the church’s unyielding anti-contraceptive position has been rather subdued on the subject only recently making a show of weeping with the victims of abuse – a gesture many feel is contrived.

It worries me that these attitudes are prevalent even in our own societies, that perpetrators of child abuse or molesters will find a sympathetic audience in our society – and probably will be regarded as being a lesser ‘evil’ to homosexuals.

The culture of silence is one that is deeply ingrained in families and society insists on sacrificing the individual (especially a child) in order to protect the status, image and standing of the collective (especially the family and clan).

There are many who would abhor homosexuality more than they do child molestation and abuse – it is the nonchalance towards these victims that serves as an indictment to our conscience as a society – we are worse than the monsters we seek to protect through our silence.

For our silence is acquiescence, it trivializes the pain and trauma of the abused, diminishes them and diminishes us as a society.

Whilst it may be argued (as it often is) that it serves “the greater good” to sweep such cases under the carpet and retain confidence in the sanctity of religious institutions and the authority of male figures in families, our culture of silence makes hypocrites of us – for we constantly defend the status quo, refusing to interrogate our long held convictions.

If our intolerances essentially reflect who we are – then the same goes for the things we do tolerate, the things we turn a blind eye to and those heinous deeds we excuse under the guise of protecting the ‘image’ of institutions and persons of authority.

To identify what you believe – it may be necessary to know what you do not believe. I do not believe that there is any institution (religious or otherwise) worth preserving at the cost of the wellbeing, security and preservation of the rights and dignity of children the world over.