In an article in the Australian newspaper The Age, a man named Edward discusses his journey of finally admitting to his compulsion to manipulate, denigrate and control successive female partners. He said that,
”As her partner, I knew her most intimately so I knew exactly how to hurt her the deepest, and I did.”
Edward came to his admission whilst listening to a radio interview with another man who used to abuse his wife. Quite often it is not until men hear other men’s stories that they finally start to admit that their years of denying, minimising and blaming were actually a cover up for behaviours they were refusing to face.
Many boys learn during their school years never to share emotional vulnerabilities otherwise they may bear the brunt of bullying by others – especially by other boys. This brutalising socialisation of boys entails denigrating boys for seeking help for anything – from school work to emotional and physical needs. And so it goes on into adulthood – where many men are extremely reluctant to seek medical help and hugely reluctant to seek help to change behaviours.
Henry, a man I interviewed for my PhD research said that sharing vulnerabilities amongst men was “this big hush hush. ‘Oh no men don’t talk about those things’.” David said that revealing vulnerable feelings amongst other males “wasn’t encouraged. You were a bit of a sissy or you were soft if you talked about your emotions… Usually picked on.”
This brutal socialisation process labels males who seek help as weak – and appearing weak is treated as being unworthy as a man. Chris, another man I interviewed, attended a stopping violence programme and said that this “was about the only place” he felt he had the option of showing weakness – an opportunity that he welcomed.
Anthony also welcomed the opportunity to attend a programme with other men to help him stop abusing women. He said that, “to actually be with other men and talk about things, that was probably the very first time I’ve been able to do that in a counselled situation.”
Some of the men I interviewed said that once they gained a level of ease with other men in the group they were able to challenge each other about their abusive behaviours. Chris believed this kind of relating amongst men was an important dimension “instead of sitting in a classroom with two teachers at the front.”
Peter said that attending a men’s group to help him stop abusing his partner was the first time he’d ever been amongst a group of males that were saying “No” to power and control over women. Peter said that:
“What was useful, was getting challenged… With that whole men’s group … you are being held accountable by other men … there’s an element of humiliation … you gotta face up to what you’ve done to a bunch of other blokes with check ins and stuff. The blokes wouldn’t let you get away with, they’d really interrogate what was behind what you’re saying, so it’s being made to be accountable would be the important aspect of that, to your peers… It probably took me a month before I got comfortable enough, and I still didn’t get comfortable, but enough to open up and do my check-in. So it was a fairly unique situation, something I haven’t experienced in my life before that. Just very life changing.”
Men are socialised to be strong and courageous – and to NEVER show weakness or vulnerability. Men are also socialised to believe they are superior to women and that they are entitled to act in superior ways over women. Yet such socialisation squashes half of boys’ and men’s humanity, which is one of the causes of family violence. This socialisation makes many men so afraid of appearing weak and cowardly that they end up grappling for control over themselves and also by controlling their partner. Men are taught never to be big blouses or sissies – a notion that means they should consider themselves as inferior and so should beat themselves up for having vulnerabilities. It is also a notion that means girls and women should be considered inferior and so should be beaten up – psychologically or physically.
This brutal socialisation of the male gender has to change – we all play a part in shaping each other and shaping our society. We all need to be part of letting boys and men know that it is ok to show vulnerability, that it is a myth that seeking help to change behaviours is a weakness. In reality it requires inner strength and courage to make yourself vulnerable and seek help to change – especially to change abusive behaviours.