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Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

“Ensuring our manhood stays intact”

– Posted in: Gender socialisation Male perpetrators Why does he do it

Speakoutloud.net manhood masculinities Clare Murphy PhDMen and women are socialised into a society founded on social hierarchies. In the west, those who are considered to have higher status than others are white people, people with higher education, men, people in the middle age range (that is not children and not elderly), people who are physically and mentally able, the rich, heterosexuals – I think you know this, even if you don’t believe in the validity of these hierarchies – they exist for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of most.

These social hierarchies are sustained across all levels of society – at the political level; at the institutional level such as the judiciary, education and health system; in relationships with family, peers, colleagues and at the individual level – those of us who consciously or unconsciously internalise beliefs and do things that uphold social hierarchies (including laughing at racist, homophobic or sexist jokes).

Masculinities represent one form of hierarchy. Some ways of behaving bring about honour, kudos, respect, prestige, heroic status, acceptance and recognition, whilst other ways of behaving lead to abuse, bullying, denigration, shaming, humiliation and ostracism.

Men’s violence against men is glamorised (thus violence is an honourable masculine practice). Men’s use, abuse and objectification of women is encouraged in some levels across the social ecology (images abound in the media that glamorise such masculine behaviour). Thus a man who controls his dating or live-in female partner is practicing an honourable form of masculinity.

Colonialists transported British laws that condoned men’s ownership and control over wives, into USA, Australia, New Zealand in the 1700s and 1800s. Remnants of this legal legacy impact our society today.

One of the strongest influences on men’s perpetration of intimate partner abuse is other men. Research shows men face constant badgering from their peers: “Who wears the pants in your house?” “What are you mate, are you under the thumb?” “Who makes the decisions in your house? Don’t let your woman control you!”

When I interviewed some men who had abused their partners, some said that over the years they had nearly always responded to such peer pressure by: 1. Pretending they were in control of their partners in order to save face in front of men; 2. Actually going on to control their partner; 3. Remaining silent in order to maintain relationships with male peers; 4. And as one man said, “Try to make sure our manhood stayed intact” by using verbal abuse or physical abuse.

It is rare for men to challenge other men who promote sexism, misogyny and abuse of women. There is a culture of silence and protection. It had been rare for the men I interviewed to stand up for a close caring relationship with their female partner. Yet underneath, many men want this.

Many male perpetrators of domestic and family violence and psychological abuse and control attempt to suppress vulnerabilities, signs of weakness, anxieties, any behaviours considered feminine (including showing care, love and empathy). Instead they attempt to climb the hierarchy of masculinities by behaving in violent, bullying and controlling ways in order to claim acceptance, recognition and heroic status in the eyes or real or imagined other men. MOST people do NOT bestow this kudos on men who abuse and control others. However, the reality is that in our contemporary society – you will observe multiple messages and practices that honour certain masculinities and dishonour others.

Individual men abuse individual women. But social messages (in practice and ideologies) support and encourage this. For intimate partner abuse and control to stop, support for social hierarchies of all kinds has to stop. It takes a whole community to stop power and control over others.

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  • Clare 7 December 2010, 12:45 pm

    Dear Mary – In my work as a counsellor and researcher with men seeking to stop controlling their female partners I have never had men act defensively – though that could partly be because they’ve wanted to change or to become more self-aware. I think there has been a legacy of black and white thinking that has put a lot of men (in general) off-side – as if they are all being blamed. There is so much about the ways that many men struggle for power on the hierarchy of masculinities, the pressures they put on each other to conform to social standards of being a so-called “real man” that is never spoken about out loud. This struggle is taken for granted as if it’s normal, natural and inevitable. Yet when I talk with men using an attitude towards them that presupposes that they do not want to abuse women, that they actually want a close caring relationship, that they don’t truly enjoy posturing and jockeying for position on the hierarchy everyday of their lives – then men feel as if – at last – what has been a thread running through their lives is finally being brought out in the open for discussion and challenge. Men experience many costs because of this socialisation to perform to such narrow rigid standards – yet all around us are people who remain silent about those costs and people who condone the model of high-status masculinities. Research shows that many men who are complicit with this harsh socialisation and who remain silent about it and remain silent when they witness other men abusing women – actually do not agree with it all. Work is actually starting to happen in schools and amongst some male peer groups to raise this issue of remaining silent. For example there’s research about school bullying that asks children if they think they should tell a teacher if someone’s being bullied and more than half the children say they should tell a teacher. Yet – silently most children assume everyone is thinking they should not tell a teacher.

    So what’s my point here? How to combat men’s defensiveness? Hmmm…. stop presupposing they all like the patriarchal system, stop assuming they’re all bad, stop assuming they don’t want to change given the benefits they do receive because of male privilege and entitlement, and stop assuming they truly want to abuse and control their female partners. When I excavate men’s real motivations for using abuse and control – there are often other motivations – one of the major motivations is to maintain the tough facade that the whole of society is encouraging them to develop – an armour – a false self. I think that talking to their “real” self that exists alongside their social conditioning is a place to begin. PS: I know that many men who abuse and control their partner definitely do want to hurt her purposefully. I am not negating that – rather other motivations are included in the mix and it is those motivations that need to be addressed.

  • Clare Murphy PhD 7 December 2010, 12:16 pm

    Dear C . . . It is always important to be aware of warning signs of possible abuse and then get on with your life knowing that if you see the signs you will know how to deal with it. It might be useful to read my post on a Belief in a Just World . . . https://speakoutloud.net/myths-about-domestic-violence/belief-in-a-just-world/coercive-control-7

  • C 5 December 2010, 12:21 pm

    I am reading your site as I have been so upset today since I was in a situation where I nearly got myself pushed down some stairs & nearly got punched in the face by a male neighbour in the corridor of our flats. It really disturbed me & I have realised that I have not been hit by a man since I was 24. Now 43, 19 years later, I am in shock that I have re-entered this world. Wierdly, I blame myself as I am so used to standing up for myself that I had forgotten the consequences. I do hope that the incident will not turn me into a person too feartful to speak out but at the same time, I think I have learned a valuable lesson. Or am I just being positive?!

  • Mary 27 October 2010, 12:52 pm

    Hi Clare

    I just found your website and I’m really interested in your posts. Particularly this idea around masculinities and the hierarchy of masculinities. What interests me is the reaction by men around masculinities discourses. It can be a difficult task to get men to listen to this type of message without them somehow taking it personally or acting defensively, even if they themselves are not perpetrators of violence. Do you have any comments around how to combat this? Or perhaps if we should even try? I’m of the mind that it would be great to educate men on the construction of masculinities and how these constructions can sometimes constrain them to act violently in order to save face as you mentioned.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts.