1 out of every 4 women 18 years or older have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. All too often this violence ends deadly. But violence against women is not just a women’s issue. This could be your sister, your mother, your daughter, your neighbor, or even your own intimate partner — and it likely is.
I have to admit that before I began working with the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center in 2018, I was mostly oblivious to how prevalent violence against women was around me. However, I no longer have the privilege of being so ignorant. In fact, I now witness women walk through the doors of HCWC on a daily basis seeking support for the trauma they have experienced, often at the hands of men in my very own community. I see the locked gates at our domestic violence shelter at a hidden address, guarded by a security system and law enforcement on speed dial. I see how the shelter is almost always at capacity, sometimes with multiple families sharing one bedroom just to stay safe for the night from men in my community. These are things you can’t un-see.
I also see some other interesting things. I see that over 90% of our staff are women and I see that 89% of our supporters on social media are women. I see the women in my community stepping up to serve and protect their fellow women in what may be the most difficult time in their life. But where are the men? Do we truly believe that supporting women is a job just for women? It’s no wonder the phrase “toxic masculinity” is so pervasive in our culture.
Masculinity Isn’t Toxic
I’ll say it again for those in the back. Masculinity is not toxic. Traits that come to mind when I think of masculinity include strength, courage, leadership, and assertiveness — all traits that we NEED in the battle against domestic violence. What is toxic is using these inherently positive traits to control and dominate those deemed weaker than oneself, which has become all too common (and often applauded) in our society. But before we go out and grab our buddies, our pitchforks, and our sense of moral superiority, I think it is time for a reality check. The reality is a large amount of the damage done by domestic violence to our community is not physical. In fact, the wounds from emotional abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and digital abuse often take much longer to heal than those of a physical nature. These wounds tend to hide in the depths of our individual and collective psyches.
As men in our community, it is our obligation to be role models for the other men, young men, and boys around us. It is our obligation to use our masculinity as a tool to stand against injustice happening around us. In order to do this, we must be brave. For example, if you hear someone using language which degrades women, it is your obligation to tell them this kind of talk is unacceptable. Even as a joke, this language perpetuates the concept that women are less than and therefore are property of men. While this may seem awkward or difficult to do in the moment, we must choose to practice standing up for what is right if we are to honor our masculinity in a healthy way.
How Men Can Step Up and Support Victims of Abuse
The purpose of this article is in no way to call out my fellow men and tell them what they are doing wrong. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This is a call to masculinity. This is simply a reminder that part of your purpose in life is to embrace your masculinity in order to better support your community. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Educate yourself on the dynamics of abuse. Healthy and unhealthy relationships exist on a spectrum, and domestic violence can be a complex issue. Learn about the dynamics of abuse at stopthehurt.org.
- Be a better bystander. If you notice someone being verbally abusive in public, and as long as you can do so safely, take a moment to ask the individual being berated if they are okay and if they need you to call anyone.
- Be a role model. There seems to be a lack of positive male role models for boys in our society. Whether it be your son, nephew, or the kid down the street, take the time to educate our youth on the right and wrong ways to treat their partner.
- Get involved. Everyone has a part to play in creating a healthier community. Learn the ways to get involved with HCWC at hcwc.org/get-involved.
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