This is Real Stories - a blog by Let's Be Real members about their experiences with relationships, dating, and more. LBR is a movement by young people for young people about relationships.
It seems that up until recent years, not a lot of attention has been paid to the role of males in dating and domestic abuse, outside of being perpetrators. This creates an unhealthy narrative that corners males and other gender non-conforming individuals into limited labels only defined by violence, and leaves those who are victims of violence themselves without a voice. However, talking about what healthy relationships look like can change societal perceptions of masculinity, and ensure that people listen to all survivors and provide the necessary support, regardless of gender identity. Let's talk about some ways to do that.
Some hold strong beliefs that if someone’s in danger, the “man” is supposed to step up. He’s not supposed to be scared. He has to be able to defend himself - not because the world is full of threats or his own safety is important - but because he is a man. Yes, it’s absolutely true that current gender roles and standards can lead to violent outcomes, but for those cases that don’t, males still end up scrutinized under “violence waiting to happen” labels. A guy is supposed to always stand tall and be assertive. Don’t cry. Be that, be this. Unfortunately, these standard gender roles can sometimes clash with what healthy relationships look like. They don’t foster dialogue, love, and acceptance of self and others - all of which are necessary for healthy relationships to thrive.
The results are even worse for male victims of violence and abuse. Inaccurate beliefs like males can't be genuinely threatened by their partners because “real men” defend themselves, or that men like being submissive (AKA “whipped”) essentially work to silence them. Why speak up if no one will believe you’re actually threatened? The victim may tell himself:“No, I’m a man; I can deal with this myself; I don’t need help; I can get through this.” They find themselves without support, and the cycle of violence remains unbroken. This is important because 1/3 of college men report experiencing either abuse or controlling behaviors in a relationship.1 And 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.2
Now, let’s talk about what we can do (and are doing) to change this. Changing society’s definitions of gender roles will take an extremely long time, but we can encourage our friends and family to think critically about what it means to be a person in a relationship. Being a person in a relationship means just that: you’re a person. Your role in the relationship shouldn’t be defined because of the gender constructs that society associates with a chromosome combination, identity, or sexuality. As a person, your role is to love, listen, support, and help your partner grow. If we have this understanding in place, we can start to break other gender stereotypes of who we should be and how we should act based on gender.
That’s why this work is so important for me; because it means living in a society where I can safely be vulnerable with those I trust and know that if something were to happen, I would have people willing to listen and support. Similarly, I want to be seen as someone that can be there for others, and be given a chance to prove myself as trustworthy, regardless of my gender and the expectations derived from it. We can stop the silencing of survivors and acknowledge that true masculinity - one that is healthy - does NOT equal violence. When we accept this, it furthers our mission to stop abuse because it reduces exclusion and encourages more people to join our winning team.
Rodrigo is a contributing member of Let's Be Real. He previously interned with Break the Cycle and enjoys college in California.
1 Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks. (June 2011). College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.
2 Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S.L., Flint, K.H., Hawkins, J., Harris, W.A., Lowry, R., O'Malley, E., McManus, T., Chyen, D., Whittle, L., Taylor, E., Demissie, Z., Brener, N., Thornton, J., Moore, J., & Zaza, S. (2014). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report - United States, 2013. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.