Women seem to be steaming ahead of men in many areas, including education and business appointments. Although not (yet) in terms of places in government, or rates of pay. At the same time, the reported rates of male gender violence and domestic abuse continue to rise; too many men are harming their current or ex-partners, and in the process ruining their own lives. And the news regularly contains shocking stories of women being harmed by men, not to mention the entrenched violence against women that we hear about in countries like Iran and Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, women are finding it harder than ever to trust men. And many men feel shame about how some other men are behaving, and a sense of paralysis because of not knowing what they can do to change the situation. I take the view that all human behaviour – psychopaths aside – has an explanation, and that most men who behave harmfully are not intrinsically ‘bad’ but are at core unsure of themselves – like any bully. Having worked with abusive men, I concluded that most use violence as a way to feel they have power over others as a reassurance of their masculinity – that elusive quality that all men feel they should have, but which so few of us feel secure about. And it’s getting harder to find because the kind of ‘masculine’ jobs in which a man could take pride using his strength and skills, are disappearing
At the same time, there seems to be a growing confusion about the term Toxic Masculinity, as if it means that ‘masculinity is toxic’ rather than that the way some men express their maleness is harmful to the women they are involved with. There has been a similar misunderstanding of the term ‘feminism’, as if it were ‘anti-male’ rather than (as I interpret it) an aspiration by women to have equal rights in everything – a state of affairs which would also be advantageous to men by releasing us from the fear of being seen to fall short of being a ‘real man’.
Some conspiracy theorists gain huge audiences by managing to convince some people that shocking events – school shootings, or the holocaust for example – did not actually happen. They have their own distorted reasons for doing this, but I think their appeal is that it feels much nicer to believe that the world isn’t the kind or place where such horrific things could happen. I think something similar is going on with mainstream attitudes towards male gender violence. It’s painful for us to hear that that less than 2 percent of rapes reported end in convictions, that 1 in 3 women are assaulted by a man in their lifetime, that male gender violence causes more harm to women than malaria, driving deaths and war combined. It’s much more appealing – especially for us men – to believe that the situation is not really all that bad. But we can become stuck in a perpetual state of half-believed denial (because most of us aren’t that stupid) – looking the other way, and feeling bad about ‘toxic masculinity’, but not really doing anything to help violent men change or make the world safer for women.
It’s long overdue for the seemingly perpetual global pandemic of male gender violence to be seen for what it is – a kind of emotional disorder, possible based in a deep-rooted fear of women, which affects a significant proportion of the male population and which causes more harm than many other more recognised diseases. Then, like with the corona virus, society would feel compelled to invest whatever resources are needed in order to understand the causes of this global ‘illness’, and to develop treatments which can then be made widely available, with an absolute conviction that the scourge of male violence can, and must, be wiped out.
It’s a fact that not all men perpetrate violence against women, and so more understanding is urgently needed as to why some men are more or less likely to abuse women, and to provide appropriate sanctions and support to those who do. There’s also evidence that any man’s readiness to use violence can be rooted in them having received poor levels of care, or of having been abused, when they were children; and so one of the best antidotes to this must be in providing better advice and support to new and expectant fathers
I’ve also seen from my own work running gender-awareness workshops in schools, that more support is needed for boys when they are forming their ideas and beliefs about gender, about masculinity, and about themselves. Expressions of toxic masculinity need to be countered with ideas about ‘tonic masculinity’. Boys are not getting the same level of support and encouragement as that given to girls, including in emotional literacy; many teen boys have little emotional support, feel lonely, and are cut off from their hearts because “no one listens to boys.” This is a major obstacle to them learning about and managing their emotions in a constructive way, especially in relating to women and girls when buried fears can rise to the surface and lead to aggressive behaviour.
I sincerely hope that in 2023 there will be a more widespread awareness of the urgent need to provide support for boys and men who may, for whatever reason, present a danger to women, at the same time as allocating sufficient resources to ensure that all women and girls are, and feel themselves to be, free from the risk of male violence. In this way people of every gender can go forward with optimism into a future in which everyone feels valued and respected, and able to fulfil their potential – surely a basic precondition of a civilised society. It’s up to us men to do whatever we can to bring this about; that would be a legacy to our children that we could justifiably feel proud of.
This Post is republished on Medium.
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