“Real men don’t hit women”…

10 mins read
TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains subjects readers may find distressing such as domestic abuse, murder, and violence. For support on these topics please see the links and information at the end of the article.

This week a national conversation has been reignited by the Sarah Everard case, and a UN study that shows a culture of fear experienced by women in the UK.

There have been gestures, rhetoric, and suggestions for initiatives that are nothing new and have been called for many times over the nearly three decades of my life. It is understandable that this week has prompted fear, anger, and a national forum for women to discuss their experiences. These emotions are perfectly reasonable responses and the national conversation over women’s experiences regarding violence and harassment is nothing but a good thing. You can’t tackle an issue without first being aware of it.

What these responses, for the most part, have failed to do, is offer any new and actionable solutions that have not been tried before. As a society, we have, for want of better words, hit a ‘glass ceiling’ in the struggle to tackle violence against women. The emotion many have noted follows this anger and fear women have been discussing, is frustration. We’re more aware of the problem but things aren’t improving, so what comes next?

There has been a backlash from certain individuals regarding the framing of men, with statistics being quoted that show the majority of murder victims in this country are men. This argument over who is the more valid victim sidelines any discussion over how to move forward from this situation that sees hundreds lose their lives each year, with thousands more injured and traumatised.

One of the responses I’ve seen to this argument makes a very valid point.

“When people mention male on male violence they tend to also fail to recognise that men are still the problem.”

This is a useful starting point that countless people are aware of but then fail to approach the problem as a whole.

As a child, I was taught by my parents to abhor violence against anyone of ANY gender. An experience at the age of 11 hammered home that message when I struck my six-year-old brother in anger which almost led to serious consequences and injury for him. Since that day I still experience anger but have eschewed violence at all costs.

Another ethos I was surrounded by in my formative years came from wider society. It’s still a trope that is prevalent today, “real men don’t hit women”. This sentiment lays out that “real men” should not hit anyone of the female gender, and this is something I believe in wholeheartedly. It is a point I see brought home even now as I scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. However, there are harmful consequences when we fall back on this sentiment.

Whilst many will fiercely dispute this, that expression makes violence by men against other men somehow less unacceptable. It sidelines women as weak and relegates them entirely to victims in society rather than stakeholders. More crucially it perpetuates the belief amongst many males that violence, as long as it is directed against their own gender, is not taboo, and in many situations is even celebrated and encouraged. If a boy strikes a girl in the playground the consequences and reactions are rightly swift and usually severe. If a boy strikes another boy in the playground the reactions are consistently less and the expression “boys will be boys” can often be heard in the aftermath. 

image credit: Clipart Library

This is not an attempt to move the conversation from female to male victims of violence. We cannot tackle the culture of male violence and aggression against women if we do not tackle that culture as a whole. In a burst of anger, it is common, and to be expected, that various lessons we are taught as children are tested. Should that burst of anger be significant enough the line between hitting a boy and a girl blurs and you’re left with a situation where a man, who was taught to never hit women, strikes his wife or his girlfriend. 

It is also important to acknowledge various biological and psychological factors that make males more prone to aggression and violence. We are the louder, more physical, and often impulsive sex, something we must take into account and be aware of when adapting our behaviours.

This line of argument does not dispute nor make excuses for the existence of bullies and people who are inherently controlling. I’ve witnessed firsthand, male-on-female domestic abuse, and been the victim of domestic violence myself.

The point that is being made is that if someone is taught to feel revulsion towards all types of violence it tackles that culture of solving situations with clenched fists, raised voices and violence.

I’ve seen calls by women for men to hold fellow men to account when cat-calling, being violent towards women, and partaking in that culture that intimidates women. The call I would like to make does not discount that at all, men SHOULD hold other men to account in these situations. What men should also consider and enact is the rejection of violence and threats amongst themselves. If you see a man striking another man, treat it with the same level of revulsion as you would a man striking a woman. ALL violence is unacceptable and we cannot tackle violence against women if we continue to perpetuate the myth that SOME violence is acceptable when it is male-on-male.

Returning to the playground we must replace the mantra that “boys will be boys” with, “men should be men”. Retire the tired anachronisms of “real men” and that “real men don’t hit women”.

‘Real men’ should be good men.

Good men don’t hit anyone

image credit: Reclaim These Streets, @ReclaimTS

Featured image credit: Refuge

The Discussion

The discussion we are having right now as a nation and a society is an important but incomplete one. This is not an attempt to lecture or speak down to women about the reality of violence in our society. We cannot enact change if the discussion is one side making points whilst the other nods in agreement without putting any real thought or soul-searching into the issue. We can all agree that the violence and fear women experience is horrific and we should work to change this. Simply agreeing with this sentiment though, does little to nothing. We’re essentially left sitting at our keyboards or on our phones highlighting a situation women have known about for decades and that men need only agree is horrific. This call to end violence is an attempt to engage with that discussion and to see men as stakeholders in this dire reality women face. We all have mothers, sisters, and friends who have experienced violence, harassment, and fear.

We cannot sit back and simply nod our heads in agreement anymore. We must think about this situation and offer solutions, as men, to change this grim reality. Women have been offering solutions for years, it’s time we joined them in that effort.

Not passively, but as stakeholders: as brothers, sons, fathers, and friends.

As men.

For those affected by issues raised in this article, there is support available from many charities and organisations

Domestic Abuse Support (for women and children)

Domestic Abuse Support (for men)

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger please call 999

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Journalism Studies undergraduate at the University of Stirling

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