how to hold men accountable for their violence against women

Sharks and men

(Clearly one of my favorite reminders about the incompetent way we choose to respond to domestic violence.)

All sorts of trigger warnings because this is about violence against women. Also, I’m talking here exclusively about violence committed against women by their male partners. I know that women alone aren’t the victims of violence, I know men can be victims too, I know it’s “not all men” (this is such BS) – I’m not talking about “all men” (go to hell with this nonsense); I’m talking about the men who do commit violence, and chances are, you know at least one man in your life who does it, but you either don’t see it or choose not to see it or aren’t aware of it. Yet.  This post is about violence against women. Emotional, physical, psychological, verbal, financial, sexual, and so on. That’s to say, don’t derail this conversation. Any comments that mansplain violence to me will be deleted. I’m highly suspicious of individuals, especially men, who choose to talk about violence against men *only* and *especially* when a conversation on violence against women is taking place. For those people, here’s an excellent and enlightening read – because domestic violence against men committed by women isn’t nearly the same, and it certainly doesn’t have the same consequences, as violence against women committed by men. Another essential article you need to read, like yesterday, is this one called Not all men commit abuse against women. But all must condemn it.

This topic of domestic violence – and violence against women in its various forms – keeps coming up in conversations with a lot of my close friends, women and men. Too many women I love have been victims/survivors of domestic violence – physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological, financial. Here’s a list of definitions (or here) of these different forms of violence. And in almost all of their cases, their parents/families/communities and even other female friends were fully complicit in perpetuating that violence.

Here’s what women I love have had inflicted on them by people who know of their violent marriages or relationships, people who were supposed to support them, people who are supposed to wish them well and safety.:

“So he’s forcing you to do X! So just do it! Why be such a bitch – you need to work to protect your marriage. Marriage is about sacrifice, you naive girl.”

Except that the person making all the sacrifices is almost always the woman.

“Oooh, have you tried cooking X for him? That’s his favorite dish! Do it! It’ll make him happy and he won’t hit you or yell at you or threaten you and so on.”

Except that’s not the issue, that’s not the point, and that won’t help. As a close friend of mine said regarding this patriarchal piece of “advice,” “How nice. Men get to be so violent towards us, and in exchange, they are rewarded with their favorite dish!” I legit can’t help but wonder sometimes how wonderful it must feel to be a man. All this nonsense you think you’re entitled to, that society keeps bestowing on you because you are a monster to at least woman in your life, when you need to be punished for the violence you inflict on others.

“Oh! I know I KNOW! You need to have a baby! Men always become better husbands when they have babies.”

Except what the fuck – that’s not true! And that’ll only worsen or complicate things, even more, especially in the very possible and real case of divorce.

“Look, here’s the thing. You just never smile. If you smile a little more, he’ll be happier.”

Yeah, because, after all, we were created to be the source of a man’s happiness, even of the men who are violent to us.

A friend of mine was once told this by another woman. People think that because women, too, play a role in enabling violence against women, this issue can’t be about patriarchy. This always blows my mind.

“But he’s so nice! Are you sure?… Really?… It’s just so hard to believe.”

For more on this, see image below under “Some abusers put on a great public image.” Besides, you don’t get to decide, as an outsider, whether he’s abusive or not. Just because he’s nice to you and to all others who are not his partners/wives/girlfriends doesn’t mean it’s impossible for him to violent to his partners.

“Just don’t respond to trigger him further.”

One of my close friends was told that she should never, ever speak back to her husband when he was yelling at her or otherwise attacking her, and that if she is afraid she might defend herself (verbally), she should chew a gum while he’s yelling so that she’s not tempted to speak back.

Another of my close friends, a performer, would get severely hit by her partner, who was also a performer, even hours before a major performance they had to do together. And it’d be on her to figure out how to cover her bruises just before the performance. He’d just go to the performance all chill – and he’d just know that she won’t tell anyone and/or that even if she does tell, he will still be celebrated. He just knew, as all abusers know, that the woman will be told to change something in herself, that she must’ve done something to trigger the monstrous, violent behavior of the man.

Because, as we all know, of course, men are such rational, thoughtful, sensitive creatures that they would never do something as emotional, irrational, unacceptable as commit any sort of violence against another human being.

Notice that in all these cases (and in all cases not mentioned here), the woman is held accountable for the violence she has just been subjected to. It is always somehow her fault. What’s worse, when she leaves it’s her fault; when she stays it’s her fault. Women who stay in abusive relationships often do so because, believe it or not, it’s sometimes safer than leaving; staying in abusive marriage/relationship/commitment is a survival tool for many women. Check out real stories from women who “chose” to stay in abusive relationships here in this Twitter search (or google #WhyIStayed and then #WhyILeft).

On a theoretical level, I understand why a woman’s own family, own mother even, her own community makes her believe she’s the problem, she’s the source of the violence she’s facing. E.g., in a patriarchy, a woman is better off in an abusive marriage (that is, ANY kind of marriage, be it abusive) than to be single or divorced. A woman is simply incomplete without a man, even if he is an abusive boyfriend or fiance. Then, of course, we’re trained to grow up to believe that it’s easier to control women than to raise men to be better humans. And related to this is the fact that, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in We Should All Be Feminists, we invest so much of our energies in raising girls to be “proper” wives, to desire and value marriage and emotions and essentially all forms of domesticity and subjugation, while raising our boys to be the complete opposite: devoid of love and emotion and empathy and compassion and not to  value marriage, at certainly not nearly to the extent that girls are socialized into doing. And then we’re surprised when these boys and girls grow up and marry each other, and there’s a terrible, violent gap in the way they approach marriage and relationships.

On a human level, though, I absolutely don’t understand it. Your own family enabling it? A community that claims to love you? The irony is that when families do this, especially families that belong to cultures (like South Asian ones) where a woman’s ultimate value lies in whether or not she’s married–again, to any kind of man, as long as she’s married. And this is precisely what makes this a patriarchal habit, a reality grounded in patriarchy, “even when” women are the ones perpetuating it, promoting it, enabling it, allowing men to get away with it, telling their daughters and sisters or other female loved ones to just suck it up and deal with it because, as I keep hearing, “ALL women have to deal with it!” Because it’s women who face pressures to marry, maintain their marriage, sacrifice their lives and careers and overall being for their marriage. Why shouldn’t, then, women be the ones to enable it?  We’re doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t. And in cultures that fundamentally hate girls from the time they’re born–no, from the moment they’re known to be “girls”–I’m constantly told, “This is precisely why we don’t like to have girls. Because who knows what kind of men they’ll marry, and there’s nothing we can do about it if they end up in abusive marriages.” This is just completely fucked up, and I can’t even. I’ll have to talk about this separately in a different blog post.

So, yeah, on a human level … I don’t get it. And I’m grateful that I don’t get it. I pray I never do.

Slamming doorsStatistics tell us that at least 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence (not just physical necessarily but any form) in their lives. I don’t trust these stats. If this were true, then a smaller number of my own female friends would be in abusive relationships. The issue here is that 1) too many cases of violence don’t go reported, 2) we’re not defining violence in the all-encompassing way that women often experience it. That is, when men yell at us or threaten us or mock us or otherwise hurt us emotionally – that’s also violence. Too often, abusive partners project their own emotional, intellectual, and other insecurities on their partners, perhaps to make themselves feel better by making their partner feel worthless. That’s violence, too. Oh! You can also click here for 9 signs of emotional abuse.

When you threaten a man that you’ll call 911 because he’s being abusive and he goes, “Do it! I dare you!”

When they say, “Do it – I dare you, they know that you won’t end up doing it because they’re pretending not to be scared.

I have been a witness to this. A man was threatened in front of me with 911, and he threw the phone to the woman  issuing the threat and said, “Do it. Here’s the phone. I dare you.” The woman felt so helpless she didn’t. He was supposed to feel scared and stop her from doing it and at least temporarily stop abusing whoever he was abusing.

Some abusers put on a great public image, but in private, they are monstrous to their partners. Almost all of the cases of abuse I know and have witnessed fall under this. In some cases, the man is a social, political activist! In other cases, he is so, so good to the woman in public, in front of her friends and families, that if she were to ever speak up about what she goes through, no one would believe her.

abusive men in public

Source: Willpowered Woman on Facebook

When this happen to women I know and love and they make a comment about the abuse of their husbands/partners, a typical response I’ve seen is, “You know, I’ve noticed he loves you so much, and you don’t reciprocate that love at all.” We don’t realize that maybe she doesn’t reciprocate that love because she doesn’t love him (then again, this isn’t a good enough reason for a woman to not want to be with her husband! Especially if he “loves” her and has made that public so as to secure support just in case she attempts to leave him or complain about him to anyone who knows him), or because she knows that this is just a show.

Remember when Amber Heard came forward with Johnny Depp’s violence against her? A male friend of Johnny Depp said on Twitter (I’m not gonna go searching for this now) that “There’s no way he’d do this to Amber! I have known Johnny a very long time, and he’d never do something like this to anyone!” Okay, bruh. Even Johnny’s former girlfriends were like, “He’s never done this to us! It’s not true!” It’s not okay to not trust a woman who more than likely went through that abuse just because acknowledging that she did will cost the abuser his career. Which, let’s be real – we live in a patriarchy: nothing, nothing ever costs (a heterosexual white) man his career. Also see: Why Do Famous Men Keep Getting Away With Violence Against Women?

Many of my empowered, independent, brilliant female friends are either currently or have in the past been in abusive relationships/marriages that it leads me to the reality that marriage is a huge risk for all women. It’s a serious risk for all women, but some women end up in better marriages than others. (This is not an invitation for anyone to tell me, “Oh come on! Not all marriages are bad.” Be quiet. That’s not the point.)

I was telling a friend of mine recently that when I think about a marriage that I think is good, the type I’d model my own marriage after, I can think only of her relationship with her husband. May God continue to bless their marriage. (It’s my friend’s second marriage; the first one was a disaster, like too many marriages are.)

This reality is genuinely terrifying.

We stigmatize and demonize – we punish – women for being the targets of men’s violence, when we should be stigmatizing, punishing the men. But as my friend asked today in our conversation on this, how can we hold such men accountable? Especially when these men are activists and such and people think they’re great. When people from these abusive men’s social circles discover that they’re abusive, what do they do? How should they react? How should they treat these men?

Violence against women is actually a men’s issue. Women have been saying this since forever, but I heard people go, “oh my God this is so powerful! It’s so true!! yes!” on social media when Jackson Katz did his Ted Talk on this issue and made this argument. So since thanks to patriarchy, we need men to repeat what women break their backs saying just because we need men to validate our knowledge and experiences for us, here’s a link to Jackson Katz’s Ted Talk. Here’s a link to the script.


What does accountability look like?

So this was the main reason I decided to write this thing today. I think that in conversations on abuse, this is one issue that’s not discussed.

What is or should be the correct reaction to men who commit violence against women, esp from men who have a pretty supportive, prominent social circle? How should we hold them accountable? Should people close them off, defriend them, never speak with them again? If so, would that work? He could easily start over elsewhere, where no one knows of his criminal history of violence against the women he has claimed to love, get more girlfriends/wives in this new community, and repeat his abusive history all over again.

I don’t have an answer to this. I don’t know what accountability should look like. I don’t know what exactly it means to hold abusers accountable for what they do to the women they abuse, the women who have to start their lives all over again, the women who have to gather the courage to wake up and live the next day despite what they’ve been through.

My friend suggested that there’s no need to shut the guy off, but the community should make sure that he understand that they do not endorse what he’s done. That the community should support the female by a) trusting her, believing her (because too often, women are told they’re being “emotional” – lolz: when men are emotional and literally kill women, no one bats an eyelash; when women open their mouths to speak of the horrors they have to live with daily, they’re just being emotional, dramatic, exaggerating and hating men for no reason); and b) being there for her as she recovers from the trauma of said violence, directing her to resources that can help her get through this trauma.

Cutting him off can be one tactic, sure, and it may work for some. Especially victims/survivors are entitled to whatever works for them, whatever helps them recover and deal with what they’ve experienced.

As a community, however, we need a more long-term method to respond to this. We need to think, as a community, as a society, about how we can protect other women and girls around us. E.g., what are some appropriate, safe ways for me to, say, warn a girl when she’s dating or marrying or a man I know to have been abusive to at least one woman or girl?

Captain Awkward does suggest de-friending an abuser — but it’ll work only if more than one person does it, perhaps? In this post “‘Our friend hits women,'” Captain Awkward suggests:

“…what if losing all your friends is a reasonable, predictable consequence of beating up your romantic partners?

What if we could make it so? What if we could support good people like you who are ready to draw a line in the sand and stop the way our culture coddles and supports misogynists? I want you to make it that easy for yourself, inside your heart and inside your brunching circle: Paul hurts women = You are done with Paul. It can be that simple.”

Maybe it really is simple like that. I’m currently trying that tactic out with abusers I know.

For celebrities: You just don’t consume whatever it is that they work in (their movies/films, their TV shows, their talk shows – their fashion lines, and so on). If they’re musicians, you don’t listen to their music, don’t go to their shows and don’t listen to their music. It’s hard, I know, I know, but there are little ways that actually do pay off eventually. When enough people do it, it works. And enough people can’t do it if individuals don’t.

People go, “Wait, what if EVERYTHING I love is produced by some abusive dude?!” Well, that tells you something, doesn’t it? Why aren’t we talking about it more? Why isn’t more well-known that the things we love are made by dudes who are violent?

It’s often more dangerous for women to speak up or call men out on their violence, and it’s not nearly as dangerous for men to do so. (It’s actually not dangerous at all, no? Thanks, #MalePrivilege.) So men have a bigger responsibility to do something about it. In which case, in response to my question of what accountability looks like, here’s something to consider, from an article titled Why men must hold one another accountable:

It looks like men speaking up when they witness other men inflicting physical violence upon women and girls. It looks like men teaching their sons — by example — to engage in collaborative relationships with women as opposed to [hierarchical] ones. Accountability looks like men reminding one another that any justification of emotional, verbal or physical abuse toward women is problematic and requires intervention. Accountability also requires reminding such men that seeking intervention does not make them “weak” or lesser men and can actually help them transform such destructive behaviors into healthy ones. Accountability looks like men explaining to one another that any such abuse and violence toward women will not be tolerated and will surely be met with consequences.

This is a great way – but I’m more interested in holding accountable the violent men themselves. How do we deal with them when we see them around, when we see them doing great while the women they have inflected lifelong pain on are still dealing with the consequences of what they’ve gone through?

bye. but i’ll be back to say more.

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll be back with more on the reality of domestic violence. Meanwhile, you should fulfill your moral obligation as a human being (and a good one, I’m sure) and pay more attention to your surroundings so you can see how much more common abuse is than you currently believe. So that you don’t ever, ever make the fatal error (fatal for women around you) of telling women, “Oh, c’mon! None of my male friends would ever hurt a woman! I don’t have any abusive friends.” Except that women’s experiences prove otherwise. Don’t dismiss them. Pay more attention, iss all.

For reasons I can’t figure out myself yet, I’d like to leave y’all with this – you’re welcome ❤

You're welcome to share your thoughts - but I don't accept bigotry and don't publish all comments <3

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