Why society's perceptions of domestic abuse towards men need to change
The concept of masculinity means different things to different people.
On an individual basis that will never really change. There will always be a plethora of contradictory views and opinions. But on a societal level, there is a need to challenge preconceptions. For far too long, masculinity has been viewed in generally myopic terms which are neither realistic nor healthy.
Now in its third year, the Being A Man festival is doing a sterling job of redefining what it means to be a modern man/boy, and addressing the pressures of masculine identity in the 21st century. BAM take up residence at the Southbank Centre between November 25-27, when they'll challenge attitudes and tackle of a number of vital issues.
On the Sunday, the event will host a debate featuring actor Timothy Watson, who plays Rob Titchener in The Archers, and chairman of the domestic abuse charity ManKind Initiative, Mark Brooks.
ManKind Initiative have been providing support, guidance and help to male victims of domestic abuse for the past 15 years, and work tirelessly to raise awareness and challenge stigmas concerning the cause. Speaking to Mark, it's clear that prevailing ideas of masculinity form damaging barriers to men in abusive relationships seeking the help they need.
"There are a number of challenges that male victims face," he explains. "Firstly it's about their own sense of masculinity. Quite often they don't seek help because they feel a sense of shame and embarrassment, and a very real fear of being laughed at, especially by other men."
"This perceived sense of masculinity is sadly keeping men in abusive relationships, and can used by their abuser as a means of preventing them from escape.
"The second issue concerning masculinity is that society still has a problem with accepting that men can be victims of domestic abuse. There is a mistrust of men who come forward, and a struggle to accept that women can be violent towards men. Sadly these two factors keep men in abusive relationships far longer than they need to be."
Mark feels that current perceptions of domestic abuse are outdated and dangerously mistaken.
"Society's beliefs are still driven by the gender-exclusive perspective that only women can be victims of domestic abuse, which are horribly outdated. We absolutely cannot tolerate domestic abuse towards women, but nor can we accept it towards men."
Mankind Initiative carried out a social experiment to drive the point home, with startling results.
When a woman was physically and verbally abused in public, a number of bystanders interjected. But when the roles were reversed, there was a lack of action and even laughter. Mark explains that such reactions are widespread.
"The thing with the experiment is that only the two protagonists were actors. Everyone else was a genuine member of the public. The prevailing attitude is that only women can be victims of domestic abuse and that only men are the perpetrators - which is wrong and doesn't represent the reality in Britain today."
"At [BAM] we'll be talking about barriers relating to masculinity that are born of society's views, and also some of the other factors such as ideological and political beliefs.
"Essentially society, the media and politicians need to be far less tolerant of domestic abuse towards men, and take those who are brave enough to come forward far more seriously. They must accept that both male and female survivors require help and support."
Mark does feel that soaps and TV shows are helping to change attitudes, as well as raising awareness and understanding in the viewing public.
"I think it has improved. For instance, three years ago we worked very closely with Coronation Street on a storyline involving Tyrone Dobbs (Alan Halsall) experiencing domestic abuse at the hands of Kirsty Soames (Natalie Gumede). A number of our survivors did a lot of work in advising the actors, and we worked very closely with the producers.
"Often the depiction in soaps and television programmes isn't the problem - there was another storyline in Doctors which highlighted domestic abuse towards men - but often there's an issue with the tone and perception within the media."
As for his charity's male focus, Mark is keen to stress that Mankind Initiative want to bring an end to domestic abuse of any kind, and that violence towards men can often affect female relatives, such as the children of those experiencing abuse.
"Mankind Initiative are a very progressive charity and we've been pushing for a gender-inclusive definition of domestic abuse for 15 years now. We stress that domestic abuse is a multi-dimensional crime; it can happen to both men and women, in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships.
"We are all about fairness, equality and inclusion. Our charity has seven trustees - four women and three men, and all of our support staff are women. Whilst we ourselves specifically focus on male victims, we also want women to come forward too. Both genders need support, even if that support comes in different ways."
Being A Man runs between Friday, November 25 and Sunday, November 27. The debate on Domestic Abuse will take place on Sunday, November 27 at 3pm-4pm, Weston Roof Pavilion at Royal Festival.
If you or someone you know would like to speak in confidence to Mankind Initiative, you can contact them on 01823 334244 or find out more here.