It is essential we tell boys they can be victims too

Written by John Salmon

Recently, I went to see the newest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Captain America: Civil War. I mentioned this on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and that’s kinda what lead me to start this particular article. It wasn’t the film itself, but the adverts beforehand that started a bit of a snowball in my mind. Now, the film itself does actually have at least two scenes where men get kicked in the balls. Technically, that’s sexual violence but, of course, it’s not presented that way in the film. That’s pretty much all the depth I want to go into on the actual content on the film, like I say this whole thing was set off by the adverts. You see, there was an advert that used talking body parts to talk about certain situations a boyfriend and girlfriend may find themselves in during a relationship. Of course, these were not good situations, rather they focused on aspects on domestic violence that may not always appear obvious.

I’ve written on domestic violence on so many occasions in the past but the stone cold truth is that, in the near-three years I’ve been writing on this subject, nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing.

Every single campaign I see, every poster, every advert, every article, every celebrity that speaks out about domestic violence frames it in such a way that the men are always, always the perpetrators and the women are always, always the victims. I’m not even being hyperbolic. In every television campaign, whether it’s aimed at children, adults or teenagers the men are always the perpetrators.

It’s a dangerous and blatantly untrue narrative to promote.

This is a campaign aimed at teenagers, reinforcing the idea that, somehow, males cannot be the victims of coercion, physical violence or emotional manipulation. Around the same time, adverts appeared that included stars of a British soap called Hollyoaks. Again, the victim is the woman, the villain the man. 3 adverts aimed at teenagers (Hollyoaks’ audience is predominately teens) that paint men as villains and women as innocent victims.

Not only does that further an outdated and majorly off-colour narrative, it pigeon-holes both sexes into roles that they can’t seem to escape from. It’s a constant reminder to teen boys that they are just one step away from controlling behaviour, from violent behaviour, one step away from committing rape. It tells them to constantly be aware of the signs, to stop themselves from taking that final step into criminality. It’s also a constant reminder to teen girls that they are always, always the victim.

What it doesn’t do, is tell boys they can be victims. It doesn’t let boys know that it’s ok for them to be uncomfortable or scared, it doesn’t tell them to watch out for the signs of violence from their other half. Similarly, it doesn’t tell girls to watch out for the tell-tale signs of their own violence, it doesn’t tell girls that their anger and frustrations are not to be taken out on their boyfriend, someone they’re supposed to care about.

Think about any advert you see that talks about violence – childline, sexual abuse, rape, child exploitation, child slavery – you can guarantee it’s the men being presented as villains. Maybe the odd example of a woman but only occasionally. The point is very clear – only men are monsters.

That’s just general TV campaigns though, the kind of thing that lasts a couple of months and then we kind of forget. As I said, I mentioned on Facebook that I went to see the new Captain America film a couple of weeks ago and there was an advert there that really just exemplified the way we approach relationship violence.

Bear in mind that this is a film that, predominantly, will target males and, true to form, 90% of the full cinema screen that I saw it in was males. Males of all ages, from pre-teens to teenagers to young adults to fathers and grandfathers, there were numerous generations of men present in this particular screening. So, one of the pre-film adverts was another of these relationship campaigns that aim to tell people, particularly younger people, about the damaging effects of relationship violence. What did the narrative of this particular campaign say to the majority male audience? Yep, it told them that they are the ones who should be watching their anger and modifying their behaviour, especially when it comes to relationships. A perfect opportunity to tell males that they are also at risk from relationship violence and, of course, the narrative instead tells them that they cannot be victims. This is yet another campaign that fails to even hint that men can be, and are, victims of domestic violence. A cinema screen full of males of all ages and all that they are told is that, potentially, they can become monsters. A perfect opportunity missed.

Am I lamenting the existence of these campaigns in general? No, of course not, they are absolutely necessary and I’m hoping that we continue to develop ways to engage with a younger audience about how to spot signs of abuse in a relationship that may not always be obvious.

What I am lamenting is the frustratingly negligent way these campaigns treat men. Yes, men can be violent, I don’t deny that for one second. But here’s the thing – men are by no means the only ones who have the capability to be violent. Erin Pizzey’s been saying this for nigh on 50 years and Facebook pages like Destroy the Narrative are constantly posting stories where women are shown to be violent. I myself have posted numerous things on my Facebook page that show women are capable of extreme violence. Even George Takei, perennial purveyor of toxic gender narratives, has posted a story about a woman behaving in a way that, had it been the other way round, would have led to internet outrage. Of course, it was only one story and George was pretty swift in returning to posting stuff that only seems to demonise men and victimise women, but it’s a sign that this blindfold we seem to have when it comes to violent women needs to be removed.

The question that goes through my mind when I see these one sided narratives played out on a fairly regular basis is simply…why? Why is it so difficult to include men in these kinds of awareness campaigns? Do we really believe, as a society, that men are completely unable to be victims of the same types of abuse as women? For me, personally, a large part of the problem is that socially, culturally and politically we are either unable, or perhaps, more sinisterly, totally unwilling, to see women as anything other than victims.

The last article I wrote for The Libertarian Republic centred around this notion. We treat women more leniently with prison sentences, we seem more willing to justify their more violent behaviour, we find reasons and contexts that explain why certain acts were committed. Ever heard the phrase ‘there’s no reason to hit a woman’? Well, that’s just another way that we normalise and promote a toxic narrative that absolves women of blame.

Bill Burr brought up the point in one of his stand-up routines, the phrase ‘never hit a woman’ immediately halts any conversation. If we aren’t at least prepared to hear why a man may have hit a woman it doesn’t help the situation. All it does is pigeon hole the two sexes further into damaging roles. The phrase ‘there’s no reason to hit a woman’ completely absolves women of responsibility and instead burdens the man with it. It paints men as nothing but animalistic monsters who have no excuse and paints women as angelic innocents who can’t possibly have character traits that bring about such violence.

Do we have an equivalent phrase for men? Nope. What’s the first question we ask when a woman hits a man? It generally falls somewhere along the lines of ‘I wonder what he did to deserve it?’ When women are violent towards men, we don’t immediately condemn the action, we look at the context, the reason for it existing, and then we pass judgement on whether the act was justified or not.

On top of these damaging campaigns, there was an article that appeared on my Facebook feed that dealt with the signs of abuse that do not always manifest themselves physically.  Huffpost Women posted an article about a recent hashtag trend called #maybehedoesnthityou. ‘Maybe he doesn’t hit you’ aims to bring awareness to those acts of domestic abuse that are not physically violent. Things like manipulation, coercion and controlling behaviour are all present. The idea is fairly simple, and quite noble – just because it isn’t physical, doesn’t mean it isn’t abusive. Again, I’m not trying to diminish or dismiss the idea of raising awareness but, perhaps unsurprisingly there was a glaring omission from that Huffpost article – men.  Now, you could say that because the article was posted on Huffpost Women that, of course, the focus would be on women as victims. However, if the best place to allow women to see the violent side of women is not on a website that is geared towards women then where?

There are numerous studies that show rates of domestic abuse are higher in lesbian relationships, yet the domestic abuse narrative is still firmly centred on heterosexual male/female couples. Highlighting lesbian relationships doesn’t allow men to be painted as victims and it requires acknowledging that women can be violent, two key aspects of the narrative that we must not be allowed to mention.

I’ve mentioned this before, probably to the point of exhaustion, that I’m a teacher by trade. As a teacher, my students are predominantly boys. I’ve seen the effect this narrative has on them. I’ve seen the way girls treat them, hold them to ransom, manipulate their feelings and use them against them. Again, that’s not to say that all girls are like this, far from it, but if we only ever focus on a one sided-narrative, particularly in regards to teenagers, it not only doesn’t let boys know they can be victims, it doesn’t let girls know that they are just as capable of being abusive or, indeed, what those abusive behaviours can be.

We’re often told that the ‘friendzone’ is simply another aspect of misogyny, born out of an entitlement men have towards women based simply on the fact that they expect sex simply for ‘being nice’. I’m sure that has some truth to it, but there’s also a more nefarious reason for the ‘friendzone’ existing. Women use the friendzone to manipulate the men around them.


If they know that men have feelings for them then they seem unwilling to let them forget that whilst simultaneously reminding them they have no chance. Just enough tease and just enough rejection, just enough to keep the man hopeful but just enough to make him doubt. It’s emotional manipulation and I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen to teenage boys who have no idea that their feelings are being manipulated. I’ve seen teenage girls do it without realising what they’re doing is abusive.

When discussions on domestic violence, abuse, manipulation and ‘the friendzone’ are so centrally focused on the victimisation of women by men and can be dismissed as simply misogyny when anyone tries to reverse it, we forget to acknowledge anything other than accepted perceptions, no matter how warped they may be. When a girl orders a boy to go and buy her a coffee or when a girlfriend orders her boyfriend to go and get her a pen or when a girl orders her friend to carry her bags because ‘that’s what men do’, it’s a sign that the campaigns aren’t working. At what point does this normalisation of emotional manipulation begin to filter through? At what point do we finally start to open our eyes to the idea that women are capable of violence and stop pretending the issue is as simple as we are currently presenting it?

Focusing on men is not taking focus away from women. I’ve heard it so often in discussions on female victims. I’ve heard so many excuses along the lines of ‘I know men can be victims too, but this isn’t about men, this is about women. Write your own article if you’re that concerned.’ Well, what happens when people try to talk about male victims? York University found that on November 19th last year. They organised a seminar to discuss the male suicide stats (an epidemic that needs to be talked about) and the feminist organisation threw up such a goddamn hissy fit that the university cancelled it. How fucking pathetic. This the day after a male student hanged himself in his dorm. I’ve made my feelings on feminism quite clear on my personal blog, and this particular entry has very little to do with feminism really, but don’t ever try and tell me that ‘feminism simply means equality’. Feminism is a cancer on the face of equality. Men often talk about male victims on posts about female victims because where else are they going to do it? When a University has to cancel an event because some feminists cannot deal with not being the centre of attention then where else are men supposed to talk about it? You claim they should write their own articles?

Well, here I am. I’m talking about it. And it’s not to diminish what women go through, it’s not to try and dismiss the fact it happens to women, it’s not to try and say men have it worse, it’s simply to say men are victims too. The narrative needs to change. At the moment, it’s poisonous. It’s rotten to the core, it’s misguided and misplaced and, worst of all, it’s ignoring a huge portion of victims, both male and female. It’s telling men they are nothing but monsters and telling women they are nothing but angels. Anybody who tries to go against that notion is considered a misogynist and easily cast aside. Men don’t derail discussions on domestic violence because they hate women, they do it because they make up a statistically large number of victims and they simply have nowhere else to talk about it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

Please support Relating To Men. All donations gratefully received

About the author

John Salmon

  • Matthew Black

    I was at the same movie and my son saw the same anti male advertising. Coincidentally I’d just written to the Advertising Standards Board to complain about the ad and told him so. He was relieved that I was fighting on his behalf. He’s a kind and loving boy who already sees the anti male sexism prevalent today.

  • Thanks to John Salmon for publishing this. it’s important that we keep writing this and speaking up. Eventually our sons will go looking for information about men’s experiences and we will be the resources they find – but at least they will find something!!

  • mark mooroolbark

    Brilliant article, John. Thank you.

  • Gerry Burnie

    The truest statement in this excellent article is, “Nothing has changed (regarding assumptions and DM) … Absolutely nothing has changed. The good news is that articles like this have people talking about the issue, and that’s a start.

  • Tim Patten

    Thank you for this article