When a woman is accused of or arrested for domestic violence, many minds may go to one thought: she’s crazy. Unintentionally and subconsciously, this word often comes to mind. Why is that?
We have many myths and stereotypes about female perpetrators of violence and about male victims. We tend to chalk female violence up to the “crazy girlfriend” syndrome; we don’t see the perpetrator the same way we’d see a male perpetrator. We may not think about the abuse as a calculated, manipulated choice to maintain power and control in the relationship, even though that is what it is. It tends to seem more unexpected, more erratic, and even more shocking.
With TV shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we depict women as the psycho-but-cute stalkers and laugh at the lengths they go to in order to get their love interest’s attention. Except it’s not funny; it’s harmful and scary. And don’t get me wrong; I think the writing is hilarious, but the premise is what’s problematic. If we made the main character a male in that show, all of a sudden it becomes “Oh my gosh that’s so creepy” but since it’s a quirky, cute girl, we find it amusing.
In reality, we should think of female perpetrators no differently than male perpetrators. Abuse is abuse, regardless of gender.
In the same vein that we treat female perpetrators differently, we also treat male victims very differently. There are many harmful stereotypes that create a hostile culture of intense victim blaming, shame, and disbelief towards male victims of abuse.
There are attitudes that men should be able to “take care of themselves”, which roots back to our rigid gender roles we’ve embedded since the day they arrived in a little blue blanket. I have no doubt that many men and women alike can absolutely take care of themselves, but there is 100% nothing weak about acknowledging that you’re being abused or asking for help. And it is never the victim’s fault.
We hold these harmful stereotypes for men that ultimately silence many male survivors of both domestic violence and sexual assault. We need to hold space for all survivors to feel safe, believed, and supported. When Terry Crews came forward about being sexually assaulted, many people were shocked due to his stature and physique, assuming it couldn’t happen to a “guy like him”. But you can be the strongest, toughest, and most educated person and you’re still never at fault for being abused and deserve to be heard just like every other survivor.
We can begin to change the way we treat male victims and female perpetrators by shifting our language around gender roles and expectations. Instead of defining strength as not expressing emotion, we can define it as the opposite. In my opinion, it takes a lot more strength to open up and talk about your feelings and experiences than to hold it all inside. We can also challenge the harmful stereotypes about both men and women that we see in movies and TV, or in our everyday lives.
Do your part and stop the hurt.