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In Latin America, Gender-Based Violence Against Men Is Little Talked About

Categories: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Citizen Media, Human Rights, Women & Gender
Kalighat_Painting_Calcutta_19th_Century_-_Woman_Strinking_Man_With_Broom [1]

Kalighat painting; “Woman Striking Man With Broom” (1875) Unknown artist. Image of the Public Domain

There are numerous types of gender-based violence [2], but the term usually refers to physical or psychological violence against any person because of gender or the social interpretations assigned to it, something traditionally seen in violence against women. However, gender inequalities can also affect men. Gender based violences happen to men in a very much lower number, and when they do, they're little talked about. This has prompt us to ask, what do these gender-based violence look like? What are the structures behind them? 

It is important to underline the fact that gender based violence is overwhelmingly done to women [3]. When talking about gender-based violence against men, we look at numers that add up to the consequences of inequalities based to the interpretation of human sexes and shouldn't  minimize the gravety of the numbers that affect women. It is also important to point out that putting a light on the cases in which men are affected by this kind of violence does not mean that the violences that are rutinely done to women are less alarming. Some groups have used the Internet to increase the visibility of the conversation about these problems and to open more spaces, something that's not without controversy. For example, British Mankind [4], an organization that offers support to male victims of domestic violence, circulated a video [5] in early 2014 to highlight social perceptions of violence toward women perpetrated by men, and violence toward men perpetrated by women. The video remains today a source of frenzied discussion. A lot of the comments against these initiatives fear that these campaigns could play against the efforts to fight violence against women.

In Latin America, where traditions encourage big differences in gender roles, the problem of violence against men perpetrated by women is a very complex topic. The figures are based on complaints, and these acts of violence are not commonly reported to the authorities. In this regard, an essay published on the website of the University of Bio Bio [6] in Chile highlights the problem of domestic abuse toward men and how the inequalities prevent their observation:

Actualmente la violencia hacia el varón apenas se consigna, situación que hasta el momento no permite precisar la real magnitud de varones que vivencian esta violencia […] Dentro del espectro de la violencia intrafamiliar, la que se manifiesta con mayor frecuencia, según investigadores es violencia en la pareja […] Diversos autores en violencia intrafamiliar, coinciden en lo difícil de trabajar el tema, porque entra la campo de las contradicciones, polarizaciones, conforme se explica la problemática, pero ¿qué pasa con la violencia en la pareja cuando se manifiesta contra lo percibido como común?

Currently violence against men is barely recorded, a situation that so far does not pinpoint the actual magnitude of men who experience this violence […] According to researchers, intimate partner violence is the most frequent type of abuse within the spectrum of domestic violence […] Several authors in domestic violence agree that it’s difficult to work on this topic, because it enters the field of contradiction, polarization, as the problem is explained; but, what about intimate partner violence when it manifests as something different than what is perceived as common?

Other terms used to address this topic are domestic or family violence [7] because in many cases the attacks take place within the household, both against men or women. The portal Change the World [8] uses the concept of abused men [9] (hombres maltratados) and exposes some of the complexities of the problem:

Las formas más habituales de maltrato [de mujeres] hacia [hombres] son la humillación, el aislamiento familiar y social, el abuso económico, los celos infundados y la indiferencia afectiva. También el modo de resolución de algunos divorcios puede ser un tipo de violencia psicológica para los hombres, sobre todo, cuando se experimenta una dificultad para mantener los vínculos afectivos con los hijos.

The most common forms of female abuse towards men are humiliation, family and social isolation, economic abuse, unfounded jealousy, and emotional indifference. Also, some types of divorce settlements can be a kind of psychological violence for men, especially when they experience difficulty in maintaining emotional ties with the children.

Other forms of violence

Esther Pineda [10] explains some violent situations, although, according to her, it is hard to recognize them [11]:

Pese a la renuencia de muchos/as por reconocer el hecho de que algunos hombres son víctimas de violencia física, verbal y psicológica a manos de sus parejas mujeres, en el contexto de relaciones sexo-afectivas como el noviazgo, matrimonio o uniones libres, así como, la violencia ejercida contra los hombres por su preferencia sexo-afectiva no heterosexual, estas también son violencia de género.

Despite the reluctance of many to recognize the fact that some men are victims of physical, verbal and psychological violence at the hands of their female partners, in the context of sexual-affective relationships as dating, marriage or civil unions, as well as the violence against men because of their non-heterosexual sexual-affective orientation, these are also types of gender violence.

Through the website administered by Equidad's [12], a Mexican organization devoted to promote gender equality through policy proposals, Ben Wadham analyzes evidence of violence against men in Mexico, where a certain growth in statistics [13] shows how women´s violence toward men is increasing, although not dramatically. Wadham shows how violence perpetrated by men against men can collaborate with the structure that silences most cases:

El hecho de que la mayor parte de las investigaciones sobre violencia doméstica reporte predominantemente violencia de los hombres contra las mujeres no constituye un ataque personalizado contra los hombres, sino una representación de cómo la violencia masculina amenaza la seguridad de mujeres y hombres. […] Los hombres que son agredidos por mujeres podrían no reportar estos ataques debido a vergüenza y tensiones con sus ideas sobre la masculinidad, o porque un policía podría reírse de un hombre que reporta violencia pues “un verdadero hombre jamás dejaría que su mujer le pegue”…

The fact that most of the research on domestic violence predominantly reports male violence against women, it is not a personal attack against men, but a representation of how male violence threatens the safety of women and men. […] Men who are abused by women may not report these attacks due to shame and tensions with ideas they have about masculinity, or because a policeman could laugh at a man who reported violence because “a real man would never let her woman hit him.”

And from a personal perspective, he adds:

Es contraintuitivo sugerir que las mujeres perpetran las mismas clases de actos violentos, en las mismas formas y por las mismas razones que lo hacen los hombres. […] Más aún, personalmente, como hombre, son otros hombres quienes amenazan mis sentimientos de seguridad, no las mujeres. Para mí, esto implica que los hombres tenemos la obligación y responsabilidad de analizar la violencia masculina, no sólo por el bien de las mujeres, sino también por nuestra propia salud y nuestro bienestar. 

It is counter-intuitive to suggest that women perpetrate the same kind of violent acts in the same ways and for the same reasons that men […] Furthermore, personally, as a man, other men are the ones who threaten my feelings of security, not women. For me, this means that we, men, have the obligation and responsibility to analyze male violence, not only for the sake of women, but also for our own health and well-being.

The legal question

The Argentine group Padres del Obelisco [14] complains and gathers evidence of instances in which a mother prevents a father from having contact with children following a separation. Groups like this one argue that family laws protect women and leave fathers who lose contact with their children without any legal remedies. However, the group has also been challenged for defending cases in which the legal sentence was due to sexual abuse or violence. Sites like IndyMedia Argentina [15] have been vocal about this. 

On his website, Fabio M. Baccaglioni [16], one of the most famous bloggers in Argentina, takes on this subject and talks about how the law treats people unequally [17] because of the definition of gender and highlights the base element in all inequalities: power.

Y en el poder se centra la cuestión. […] una mujer tranquilamente puede ejercer poder sobre un hombre y si la justicia, legislación y policía actúa de forma tal que las leyes sólo se aplican en un sentido, entonces puede ejercer esa ventaja por sobre su contraparte. 

Es exactamente lo mismo que hacían los machistas (y siguen haciendo) cuando a la mujer no la dejaban ni votar, ni tener propiedad ni nada, ¿hay poder disponible? si lo tengo lo ejerzo en contra de otras personas, en ese caso, otro género. 

And the issue focuses on power. […] A woman can safely exercise power over a man, and if justice, legislation and police act in such a way that laws apply only in one direction, then she may exercise this advantage over her counterpart.

It's exactly what chauvinists did (and still do) when women were not allowed to vote or own property or anything. Is there power available? If I have it then I practice it against other people; in that case, another gender.