Being the Man Does Not Automatically Make Everything Your Fault

Jackie Summers responds to “Are Men Really Assholes or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?”

“What did you do?”

Singularly, this is the question I am asked most frequently when I tell people I am divorced, as if possession of the Y chromosome automatically means the dissolution of my marriage was intrinsically and entirely my fault.

I respond with what is—in my mind—the primary reason I’m no longer married to that particular individual. “My wife was abusive, physically and emotionally. In four years of marriage, I was kicked, punched in the face, she’d fly into a rage and destroy my things.”

This is usually the part where the initial question is repeated: “Why, what did YOU do?”

Implication: her unconscionable behavior must have been predicated by some even more loathsome act, perpetrated by me. In other words: clearly you deserved to be punished, it’s your fault, what provoked her to such uncontrollable anger?

I am trying to imagine the scenario where a wife describes her husband kicking her and punching her in the face, which is not immediately followed by righteous indignation, and a call to 911. None exist.

I go deeper. I explain that my ex-wife was massively insecure and venomously jealous. Once again, instead of assigning ownership of behavior to the individual responsible, my character is brought into question. “Well, what did you do to make her so insecure?”

Insecurity is a toxin of the soul, a condition that issues forth from the inside out, not the reverse. While you can do many things to—well, attempt to—reassure an insecure individual, ultimately these are doomed to failure, and may even backfire.

Example: About two years into my marriage, my best friend of 20 years moved to Atlanta. After moving beyond the initial despair, I decided that no matter where he was in the world, he was going to be my friend. I decided to visit twice a year.

I waited six months before I went to visit him the first time, and I wanted my wife to feel special before I left for a ten-day trip. The day before I was scheduled to leave, I got up, got dressed like I was going to work, drove her to the bus stop, and kissed her goodbye, like any other day. Then I turned around and drove home.

I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I went to the grocery store and got everything I needed to fix her favorite meal. And then I went to the florist and bought a pound of rose petals.

When she got home from work that day I greeted her at the door with her favorite robe and slippers. I undressed her at the door, as her favorite CD played, the scent of vanilla candles wafting through the room. Rose petals adorned the floor from the front door to the bathtub, where I had a bubble bath run. I helped her into the bathtub, bathed her from head to toe, shampooed and conditioned her hair, and then fork-fed her her favorite meal as she relaxed in the tub. I pre-warmed the towels, dried her off from head to toe, and allowed the path of rose-petals to guide her to the bedroom. After a full-body massage and several hours of love-making, I fell asleep.

When I awoke it must have been almost midnight. I got out of bed; I had a seven A.M. flight the next morning, and I hadn’t packed. Apparently I woke her as I arose, because the comment she made upon waking was:

“Well, I see we got ‘fucking the wife’ crossed off the list.”

♦◊♦

The idea that simply being the male in the relationship meant that I bore the brunt of the blame for the deterioration of my marriage was—(un)surprisingly—also implied by our marriage counselor. During one counseling session, the therapist asked us each to state one thing about the other that bothered us.

“He’s sarcastic,” she said.

“That’s true,” I responded, “but she hits.”

Before I could continue, the therapist turned to me and said, “You know, sometimes words can hit like a fist.”

Dumbfounded, I looked at her. “That’s true,” I said, “but sometimes fists can hit like a fist, and she hits.”

I left that session promising not to be sarcastic for an entire week. By the third day, my wife asked me why I was giving her the silent treatment.

“I’m not NOT talking to you,” I replied. “I am trying to live up to my promise not to be sarcastic, and I can’t even answer this question without breaking my promise.”

Contrary to what fairy tales and rom-coms want us to believe, love is not enough to sustain a relationship. It’s just a good place to start—and a great reason to try.

♦◊♦

My ex-wife grew up believing that any and all problems in a marriage ultimately stemmed from a husbands inability to be trustworthy. In her defense, she was reenacting behavior she’d observed as a child. Her dad had cheated on her mom—repeatedly—and when he did, she beat on him. In her mind, the second you truly trusted a man, he was going to betray you. I wasn’t an asshole per se; I was an asshole waiting to happen.

For what it’s worth, her parents are still married; they just hate each other.

Are some husbands assholes? Sure. Husbands are people; people are assholes. It’s not gender specific. Either sex is capable of lying, cheating, poor communication, and any number of anathemas to a happy marriage. Ultimately it takes two to make it work; it only takes one to fuck it up beyond all recognition. In the case of my marriage, the absolute inability to own responsibility for her poisonous thoughts—and the resultant heinous acts—proved too corrosive to overcome.

The idea that owning a penis makes you wrong by default is sexist—as outdated a social meme as any still plaguing modern woman. The sooner we dispense with the idea that simply being male means you are wrong in any scenario, the sooner we can address real problems in a meaningful way. Contrary to what fairy tales and rom-coms want us to believe, love is not enough to sustain a relationship. It’s just a good place to start—and a great reason to try.

♦◊♦

Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are? Lisa Hickey
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Men: The Martyr Complex of the American Husband, Hugo Schwyzer

♦◊♦

—Photo via The Accordance

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About Jackie Summers

Jackie Summers is an author and entrepreneur. His blog F*cking in Brooklyn chronicles his quest to become a person worthy of love. His company, Jack From Brooklyn, Inc. houses his creative and entrepreneurial enterprises. Follow him on Twitter @jackfrombkln and friend him on Facebook

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Calhoun says:

    “This is usually the part where the initial question is repeated: “Why, what did YOU do?””
    Yep, women too get this all the time. It’s assumed that she provoked him into hitting her. Sucks both ways.

    • Elizabeth, I agree 100%. We have to hold individuals accountable for their behavior, not entire species.

      JFB

      • Nice piece, Jackie. Obviously, some fringe types will ask a woman what her she did for her husband to strike her. I’m guessing, percentage-wise, that many times more “reasonable” people would ask what a fella did to get a knuckle sandwich from his lady as women aren’t “naturally” violent. Is it that roughly all of us (in word if not deed) were brought up to believe you should never raise a hand to a woman? How many of us were ever taught not to hit a man? It seems like a cornerstone of human civilization that sometimes a guy (almost any of us) needs to be socked.
        Jim Jefferies has a joke about how awesome being gay would be because you could solve relationship fights with your fists. I wonder how many gay couples spar and if it resolves anything?

        I digress. Part of the problem is that there’s a weird and somewhat intellectually dishonest current of male guilt. Below someone said something about the patriarchy and it sort of hit on something. I’m not blind enough to miss that men haven’t enjoyed thousands of years of being the master and commander in western culture (I firmly believe that subtle, feminine power has had a much stronger grip on western civ than the history books acknowledge). Are modern dudes being held accountable for the transgressions not just fathers but father’s fathers and so on? And not just on a developmental psychological basis but on a cultural one? There are a billion and one gender double-standards and men and women are too different to solve them all. My guess is that 900 million of these dub-stands have been kicking since we traded in our cave real-estate for something in the valley.
        Jesus, I sound like a 50 year old man who can’t understand why his son wants his ears pierced.
        Sorry you got punched in the face, I’m glad you didn’t have a lady friend or sister beat the shit out of her. At some level, it seems like that’s maybe she wanted.

        • Tom we were raised very much the same: a man who hit a woman had forfeit the right to his teeth. I was not taught to strike a woman, even if she’d hit me first. I too pondered how this particular stereotype affects gay couples; if the man is always wrong, how do male on male relationships exist? Who’s at fault when two lesbians fight?

          I think you’re right, I think it’s far more nuanced than it seems on the surface, and I think the apologist movements misses the point entirely. If we’re going to move out of the caves and into a truly modern society, we need to ditch these truly ancient social memes.

          JFB

      • Wait a minute, women and men are not separate species.

        • Sarah I agree. The point was to lampoon hyperbolic statements, like “women are crazy” or “men are assholes.” The concept that the xx/xy chromosome combination makes us subsets of a genus is fallacy. If we can recognize our differences, maybe we can learn to respect each other in an entirely new way.

          Because this is all going to be very difficult to explain to the ALIENS when they arrive.
          JFB

        • So why say “don’t hit women” rather than “don’t hit anybody?”

  2. Ahh, a breath of fresh air.
    But forgive me while I regurgitate what will be the majority feminist (not all but certainly the most vocal) response to this article:
    But teh patriarchy! Men are at fault even when they aren’t personally at fault because they possess teh penis! Womyn can’t abuse men! They lack the institutional power!

    • Clarence, I will personally consider that kind of criticism from that particularly vocal minority, sheer praise. Anyone can abuse anyone, and preserving the lie that only those in power can be held accountable only prevents us from addressing real issues in a real way.

      JFB

    • Clarence, please try to understand how patriarchy works as a system.

      Yes, women can abuse men and people of color can abuse whites, but we still live in a male-dominated, white dominated society. And our culture stil thinks men are superior to women and whites are superior to people of color.

      • Sarah, in the short time I’ve written for GMP, I’ve addressed sexism, classism and racism. I completely understand the society we live in; how it benefits some and is designed to restrict others. The problem is: we are society. It’s made up of the thoughts we entertain, the ideals we embrace. And honestly, we can do better than this. It is on us to (re)define our humanity: to reject what’s been handed to us. Let’s create our own ethos. Let’s level the playing field, eliminate the double standard, hold everyone equally accountable.

        Let’s remake society over in our own image.
        JFB

      • “Clarence, please try to understand how patriarchy
        works as a system.
        “Yes, women can abuse men and people of color can
        abuse whites, but we still live in a male-dominated,
        white dominated society. And our culture still thinks
        men are superior to women and whites are superior
        to people of color.”

        These beliefs are a reality in society. This a repulsive reality. This makes it all the more important that individuals that abuse others or act inappropriately based on those beliefs be held accountable for those actions – to do otherwise not only condones those beliefs it perpetuates them.

      • The problem with patriarchy theory is that feminists use it to steadfastly ignore the suffering of men.

        By painting everything in the broad brush of “teh patriarchy”, men in suffering are not deserving of help because they are part of the “ruling class”. “Men are the problem”.
        By basing it’s premise around patriarchy mainstream feminism routinely offers very little to men. It varies from something good-intentioned but horribly broken that ignores men’s suffering, to something horribly bigoted and evil that actively fights against the equal rights of men.
        This can be seen in the VERY VERY active feminists groups (i.e. those groups that are the largest membership-wise and self-identify as feminists) active fight against shared parenting groups.
        Another example of the worst aspects of feminism is NOW’s closed door meeting with Obama to re-direct 42% of the $800 billion stimulus for shovel ready jobs to female dominated fields. In NOW’s statement, Kim Gandy said they did not want the jobs going to “burly men”.
        This signifies a key change in nuance for NOW. The issue is no longer men being on top. Men having lost their jobs can hardly be called “power brokers”. The flavor is now an unwillingness to help men (even when they clearly need it) specifically for no greater reason then that they are MEN.
        This is plain old bigotry, and I find it astonishing that nobody has called them on it in the mainstream media.
        In the last several years almost 80% of the jobs lost in the recession were male oriented (like contstruction and manufacturing). NOW’s deal with Obama re-directed 42% of the stimulus to medical and education which were largely went unscathed from the recession.
        When a movement engages in actively ignoring those in oppression, disenfranchisement, suffering, or peril based on a physical aspect of their birth (not to mention meeting with power-brokers to ACTIVELY DISSUANDING them from helping those in trouble) the veil needs to be torn aside and call these groups what they are. Groups like NOW and AAUW use catch-phrases to carry out a very bigoted campaign.
        These groups are only different from groups like the Klan and Aryan Youth in the cleverness. These groups should have their tax-exempt charity status yanked.

        • When pointing to the large percentage of power-brokers that are male, feminists are engaged in a magician’s sleight-of-hand tricks.
          There seem to be two presumptions:
          1. If all power-brokers are male, this makes all men powerful
          2. If all power-brokers are male, they will make laws favoring men

          The first is more of an emotional appeal. Feminists rant about the need to tear down male-dominated political structures, and bring more women into politics. This seems to me to be nothing but gender-baiting.
          Just like the movie Roots was not to educate people, but to stir up black hatred of whites.
          Talking about the patriarchy is just a simple way to keep the flames fanned of the faithful.

          The second point is a somewhat reasonable supposition.
          However, it isn’t born out in reality. When we stop pecker-checking the power brokers and do something novel like taking metrics we use to show black powerlessness and disenfranchisement and apply them to gender, you know what we find?

          Men live on average 7 years less than women.
          Men are 38% of all college graduates
          Men are the targets of 80% of all violent crime
          Men are 90% of the incarcerated
          Men are 98% of those on death-row
          Men are 80% of all suicides
          Men are 90% of all homeless
          Men are 95% of all workplace fatalities
          $7 on women-specific disease research is spent on each $1 for men
          Despite these STARTLING statistics there are a national and 50 state Commissions on The Status of Women. There is only 1 for men in Massachusetts, which is unfunded.

          In April of 2009 Alpha Phi Alpha the oldest nationally recognized black fraternity wrote a letter to Obama imploring him to create a cabinet level office on men and boys as he did for women and girls when he first took office.
          Of course Obama resoundingly ignored them. Despite that male-help programs would disproportionately help the most disenfranchised and at-risk men (like blacks and latinos) Obama is too dependent upon feminist support for his re-election.

          Considering their reaction to his “shovel ready jobs” stimulus, Obama knows that if he were to create such a position he would lose his re-election.

          Feminists (and by feminists I mean specifically the largest organizations by membership that self-identify as feminists and their leaders) are NOT here to help at-risk men. In fact they are specifically against it as can be seen by the re-writing of the stimulus bill, the feminist-minded Obama’s ignoring of a plea from Alpha Phi Alpha to help men, and the dog-pile of feminist organizations that routinely fight against shared parenting.

          Any woman or man who calls themselves feminist should open their eyes and actually start doing some research of what your largest organizations are doing in the name of “equality”.

      • Yes, Sarah, and please remember how patriarchy casts all women as victims and all men as perpetrators. Men are agents, women are victims in the patriarchy. That is what Jackie is attacking and you are reinforcing. You are reinforcing the patrairachy.

        “And our culture stil thinks men are superior to women ”

        Our culture still thinks women are morally superior to men.

        • And WORTH far more, and more deserving of help and protection, and that they should be excused from anything bad they do, and that they should receive only half the punishment asa man for the same crime etc. etc. What a patriarchy indeed.

      • Yes, Sarah, and please remember how patriarchy casts all women as victims and all men as perpetrators. Men are agents, women are victims in the patriarchy. That is what Jackie is attacking and you are reinforcing. You are reinforcing the patrairachy.

        “And our culture stil thinks men are superior to women ”

        Our culture still thinks women are morally superior to men.

        • Women are seen as psychologically more sophisticated, as wiser, as more capable in relationship, as more compassionate, as more moral, as more socially competent, as more capable at working in and leading in lateral organizations. MSM is full of memes about how women are really better leaders, how the combination of women’s roughly equal to men iq but superior eq makes them more capable than men etc. I reject the notion that our society sees men as more capable than women as hogwash. In virtually every capacity women are lauded as the standard men should be working towards. Men must learn how to be in relationships from women, men must learn how to have friendships by learning from women, men must learn how to deal with their own emotions from women, men must learn how to be students like women, men must learn how to work in the relational information society organizations from women, men must learn compassion and morality from women, men must learn how to take care of their health from women etc. etc. Matriarchy would be a more fitting word than patriarchy. The ones promoting these memes of female superiority the hardest by the way have been feminists.

  3. The Wet One says:

    Yeah, I had that ex-fiance too. Almost married her. But then, somehow, I managed to grasp a measure of sanity and gonadal fortitude and said “No, the wedding is off.”

    Best decision of my life, bar none with no doubts whatsoever. Dropped a girlfriend like a hot potato on Valentine’s Day for basically the same reason (i.e. the attitude that it’s all men’s fault).

    Flee those kinds of women like fires of Hell. That’s my motto.

    Too bad the author learned that lesson a little too late. Sad…

    • TWO, gonadal fortitude cannot be underestimated. Sadly enough, this behavior began AFTER we signed the papers. In her mind she became her Mom and I became her Dad, and she started to recreate her childhood. Fortunately, I did learn, and am the better for it.

      JFB

      • I’m glad this happened (I’m assuming from my reading of your post here, forgive me if I am wrong) before you and her had a child. Lots of abused spouses stay either to try to give the child a better financial environment (providing the child is not being abused too) or to protect the child by taking the abuse. It’s also much harder for a man to find genuine useful help. Heck, in some jurisdictions if you called the cops on her for hitting you, there’s a very real chance they’d arrest you as the primary aggressor even if you were bleeding and she was not.

        • Clarence, about a month into being married, we got into an argument over her then best friend, which culminated in her throwing a blue coffee mug branded by the Wall St. firm that employed me at my head. It made a hole in the wall over the bed. As I hung a painting over the hole, I thought to myself: mmmmmmmmmaybe we should wait a while before we had kids.

          Best. Decision. Ever.
          JFB

  4. Excellent.

    The best and most rational piece I’ve read here on male / female relationships. Contrary to the notion spun in the articles written by feminists, the man is not always unilaterally to blame for relationship problems.

    • Eric, blaming all men for sexism is akin to blaming all white people for racism. Personal accountability will allow us to move forward in an intelligent manner. Placing blame based on intrinsic qualities hamstrings human evolution.

      JFB

  5. Excellent article! I agree, generalizations about who’s at fault when relationships end is not helpful to anyone.

  6. The Bad Man says:

    In theory yes, but in practice no.

    Women have always been privileged in the ability to blame men. Society listens and believes women’s sob stories. Women and men are biased towards women in pain. Men’s pain is often neglected.

  7. Loved this article.

    Been following the series with interest. I’ve been trying to work out why I was uncomfortable with Lisa’s, utterly hated Hugo’s, and really liked this.

    It is about generalisations. Lisa tried to look for generalities, patterns or trends in how American men view their relationships. I don’t think that’s something that can really be done with a self-selected sample of friends etc. But at least she was starting with individual accounts and worked out towards generalisations, and that’s a reasonable approach.

    Hugo did the opposite. He started with generalisations and stereotypes about how men behave, then worked backwards to fit the accounts presented into a pre-ordained framework. Consequently he entirely devalued and disrespected the individual perceptions offered by men about their relationships. the title alone is grossly offensive, but the whole piece was just an exercise in confirmation bias. How the hell Hugo thinks he can know whether individual men are in the wrong and their wives are in the right from a few lines of text is one of the great mysteries of our time. The only explanation is that he has a hard and fast rule that women get it right and men get it wrong. It’s kindergarten playground stuff.

    This article is entirely personal. It is one person’s account (and whlie I’m sure Jackie’s ex could tell a different story, it is not her perspective we are reading here). Jackie makes no claims about men or women beyond his own personal experience, makes it quite clear that he is not generalising with the lines: “Husbands are people; people are assholes. It’s not gender specific. Either sex is capable of lying, cheating, poor communication, and any number of anathemas to a happy marriage. “

    This is exactly right. Marriages and relationships are – must be – equal, bilateral, dynamic. Anyone who attempts to force individual circumstances into generalised frameworks is showing not insight but prejudice.

    • Ally, this may be the most thoughtful comment ever. You elegantly sum up all of what I was trying to say in this: “Marriages and relationships are – must be – equal, bilateral, dynamic. Anyone who attempts to force individual circumstances into generalised frameworks is showing not insight but prejudice.”

      Ever consider writing for The Good Men Project?
      Jackie

      • Thanks Jackie. I’m waiting for The A-Bit-Crappy-But-Trying-Not-to-Be-Too-Much-Of-A-Dick Men Project to come along, would feel more comfortable there ;-)

        • Kind sir, you may already be at home.

          JFB

          • There are two websites you gentlemen might be interested in that both often do a better job than this site (this site is not entirely useless it depends on the writer) of listening to men’s experiences:

            http://noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz.wordpress.com/faqs/
            This is the first and only feminist founded blog that I’ve ever seen that actually worries about men’s problems. Don’t be put off by the name which is a parody of the dismissive language “what about the menz” used by some feminists.
            http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/about/what-feminism-got-right/
            Once again, don’t be put off by the blogs name.

            Both these blogs lead to lots of egalitarian and sex positive feminist links. I hope you all find those two blogs useful.

            • Kirsten (in MT) says:

              Clarence, you might also want to check out ifeminists.com.

            • Kirsten:
              Thanks, but I’d dare say that “mainstream” feminism does not regard Wendy McElroy as a feminist. She’s too libertarian and egalitarian for them. There are exceptional feminists like her, but they are a minority :(

            • Kirsten (in MT) says:

              Are they really the minority, or are the minority just more vocal and more public than the majority of reasonable, decent people?

            • Wendy McElroy is far and away a minority among “feminists.” Many feminists even claim that she’s not really a feminist because she finds a way to be pro-female without being anti-male.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Hey Ally,

      I actually agree with you. I much prefer individual stories that lead to an insight. However, in this case, someone else collected the stories, and then couldn’t write it. And so many people who contributed to that article who were afraid to have their name used. After much internal debated, I felt that if nothing else, it was a conversation starter. Which it was. I wasn’t so much trying to generalize about men as to say: “If people are thinking like this and feeling like this but are afraid to talk about it — shouldn’t we at least be talking about it?” And agree, Jackie’s post rocked. As always, love the raw power of honesty.

  8. Anonymous Male says:

    You’re fortunate you got out before you were an example of the extreme version of this common phenomenon. The one where she’s on trial for murder and everyone is speculating what you did to force her to kill you.

  9. The violence is perpetrated by the woman then is justified by most of the people around her,
    because of this she won’t get the help she needs until it’s too late.

    Great article, we need more like this.

  10. “love is not enough” – I agree in 100%. great post Jackie!

  11. “I am trying to imagine the scenario where a wife describes her husband kicking her and punching her in the face, which is not immediately followed by righteous indignation, and a call to 911. None exist.”

    I work in crisis intervention with domestic violence – basically, every day I talk to women who need to be convinced that – despite what they have been told (by parents, by their partners and by some “friends”) it is okay to think about leaving someone who has hit them, choked them, sexually abused them, etc.

    Yes, it does happen to men to, and there are a whole other set of issues surrounding getting men to admit to violence against them and getting legal help for it.

    But domestic violence is underreported because people DO ask what women did to start the fight, the courts DO often side with manipulative men in courts because fear makes women appear nervous when they testify, women DO feel shame when it comes time to admit they have been abused and some friends and family DO encourage women to stay in a relationship against all odds (the you made a committment, now stick to it argument.)

    When I think of the occasions of abuse against a wife by a husband where it doesn’t result in indignation or a call to 911, I know of hundreds of cases that I personally have talked people through.

    • That’s not quite what he’s saying. The indignation and call to 911 would come from those hearing about the abuse. Men get “what did you do?”

      Maybe women got that 40 years ago, but I really doubt most people would say that today.

      • I know for a fact people don`t say that now because I have known a number of women who have been in abusive relationships and they where told by everyone to leave them after the first punch. Also whenever some woman writes about this online I have never seen anyone suggest anything other than leaving.

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  5. […] men do speak up, they seldom find sympathetic supporters. In “Being the Man Does Not Automatically Make Everything Your Fault,” Jackie Summers relays his experience of sharing his history of being abused by his ex-wife: […]

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