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

…men are people too

Someone paid a visit to our newsroom recently and the first thing the person remarked on was the fact that the place was crawling with men.

During the course of a 30minute dialogue, she managed to punctuate every other sentence by exclaiming, “hey, but there are so many men here, how do you work with all these men around?”

Eventually I got tired of the remark and retorted, “men are people too” so when I go to work I don’t think about all the men I’ll find there, in my mind I think of all the ‘people’ I will find there.

What has their manhood got to do with anything?

They are people too and I don’t understand why that lady had to feel so intimidated by them – does she walk around in the streets feeling nervous every time she comes across a group of men or she just figures they are just people going about their business while she goes about hers?

Perhaps I have no reverent awe for men because I figured a long time ago that we (women) had been duped into believing they were superior beings somehow when in reality they are just ordinary people who have had the great fortune of being born with the ‘right’ organ in a society that celebrates such anatomy.

I have since found that everything I was led to believe about girls and boys, about men and women was grossly inaccurate and bordered on the mythical rather than on reality.

I remember growing up in rural Siyoka, there were strict rules regarding showing respect and when a male person entered the room we where in we would all get off the chairs or stools and immediately sink to the floor.

We did it without questioning, conditioned to be submissive and to accept our ‘natural’ place as being inferior.

What I loathed was having to kneel down then lie on my side with my arms stretched out and my palms held together, sinking my head till my forehead touched the floor and I was inhaling the cow dung we used to polish the floors and then choking on the dust I would wait for the male family member to acknowledge my greeting so that I could sit up again.

This was ‘respectful’ I was raised to believe but over the years I have had occasion to wonder why someone has to lie on the floor, roll in the dust and act like a groveling dog could translate to a show of respect?

So these and other practices we inculcate lead us to believe that men are super beings, super human and ‘better’ than us but all these a superficial social gradations, a well-woven tapestry of illusion and a ploy to justify the continued oppression of one group of people by another along gender lines.

When someone asked me recently whether I thought women could ever be equal to men, I told him that I didn’t think that women could ever be equal to men.

I told him that as far as I was concerned women have ‘always’ been equal to men – we were merely socialized to think otherwise.

And the fact that he could even ask such a question is indicative of the fact that he too was raised to erroneously believe that men and women ‘could’ not be equal when in fact our humanity demands that we have equality.

One consequence of feminism has been that it has challenged the idea of male supremacy upon which patriarchy has rested for centuries.
What really makes a man better than a woman? Men are just people too.

They have frustrations and fears. They have insecurities and anxieties. They have stresses, fevers and ailments. So in a newsroom filled with human beings – I see a person before it registers in my mind whether the person is a man or a woman.

I especially liked the way my friend Bhekilizwe Ndlovu put it, “There is no need to even discuss equality. We are equal but different. It is the difference we must embrace and never allow it to create discrimination.
It is discrimination that makes us begin to think that perhaps we are not equal. If we concentrated on exploiting and enjoying our differences we would be better off. No one would even talk about equality or lack of it. Women would never even ask because they will be busy enjoying difference.
The biggest enemy to community is the refusal to accept the fact that we are different. The web gets bigger as other variables come in. Such variables as race, ethnicity, place of origin etc and in post colonial Africa we are faced with the reality of hybridity of cultures and the false belief that patriarchy is infallible.”

At the end of it all – men are people too and women, women are human too.